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Punkt Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Three Punkt novices gave acte de présence on this day: the Zapp4 string quartet, saxophonist Raffaele Casarano, and, the most experienced of all, drummer Hamid Drake. Casarano is from the Puglian town of Lecce in the deep south of Italy. Since 2006, there saxophonist has maintained his own Locomotive festival, recruiting top Italian and Scandinavian musicians. He has collaborated with the likes of Paolo Fresu, Gianluigi Trovesi, and Manu Katche. Zapp4 is a unique, multiple award- winning ensemble of string players from the Netherlands that conceives itself as a band with the lineup of a string quartet which has been on the music scene and matured for more than 15 years. It combines groove, improvisation and fantasy with passionate solos. Out of that it has developed a hybrid way of playing. Chicagoan Drake is one of the most experienced and farthest-reaching improvisational musician of this time. He has collaborated with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Marilyn Crispell, Herbie Hancock, Joseph Jarman, George Lewis, William Parker, David Murray, Sabir Mateen and Joe McPhee amongst many others. Grown into music-making under the tutelage of legendary Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson (1929-2010) and driven by the impact of his most significant drumming influences, Ed Blackwell and Adam Rudolph, Drake has collaborated intensely with trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry in the '80s and a large variety of other improvising musicians. He participated in the Mandingo Griot Society with Foday Musa Suso, Adam Rudolph and Hassan Hakmoun, but one of his most longstanding collaborations is in his trio with flautist Nicole Mitchell and bassist Harrison Bankhead.

Seminars and Book Presentation

The seminar program started with "Seducing the seducer: A conversational navaid to Bangsonics," featuring this writer in conversation with Jan Bang. Bang is a person in fluid motion who has a natural inclination to turn this motion into sound—which is like catching clouds. He is a person who also knows, very well, that the other one—the other person—is needed to get a good sound. And he knows how the other person has to be invited. He also needs the right flexible, not predetermined, patterned instrument. He found it in the Akai Remix 16 Sampler. It has allowed him to be in the moment and (re)act in a flash— rapidly hunting for sounds, two urges coming forth from the initial impulse. Bang invited this writer, who invited him to "conversail" a passage along abysms and swirls, banks and cays, cliffs and reefs as well as panoramic views revealing characteristics of Bang's way of shaping sound in improvisational action, in order to to end up musing together with the audience around the ultimate: "why not just sit on a rock, bang with a piece of wood and sing along with the wind?"

Morten Qvenild gave an account of his artistic research program on "The HyPer(sonal) Piano," where he investigates the possibilities/restrictions of electronic extensions of the piano—like pitch dissolving, shadowing and expanding dynamics—in a practical performing perspective. The quite unique program (only Belgium has something comparable), with its autonomous action research, promises better possibilities for systematic, controlled reflective exchange, experimentation, evaluation and problem-solving. Qvenild especially addressed "going bananas" situations, how to take risks, cope with loss of control, interconnectivity, solve control problems, shape the devices and internalize action chains. Qvenild's appearances on the second Punkt day were good examples of the field phase of his project.

In its seminar, Zapp4 gave a cumulative concert demonstration of its strategies and techniques, culminating in demonstrating its very much appreciated approach of rhythmic cycles plus its transposition of Radiohead pieces into Zapp4 remixes on We Suck Young Blood—The Radiohead Songbook (Buzz, 2012).

According to Italian writer Luca Vitali, Norway played a crucial role in the emancipation of European jazz from its Afro-American roots. Fiona Talkington had a conversation with Vitali about his recently published book, The Sound of the North or, in its native Italiian, Il suono del nord. La Norvegia protagonista della scena europea (Auditorium, 2013). In his book, Vitali has sought to dismantle distorted views on jazz in Europe and the role of the Norwegian scene, recounting it from his point of view on his first-hand recollections of the participants on the scene and his own experience at the scene's clubs and festivals which brought him to its latest shoot: Punkt. As his enthusiasm grew and he learned more, he realized how much there was to discover besides the nucleus of musicians popular at festivals around Europe. Pursuing this interest, and following the scene more and more closely, brought him into contact with the musical world of Jan Bang and the Punkt Festival, founded with Erik Honorè and characterized by Live Remix.

Remix Concerts

It was not the first time that Jan Bang and Dutch string quartet Zapp4 had played together. Earlier, they collaborated successfully at last year's edition of November Music, a New Music festival in Den Bosch in the southeast of the Netherlands. Working not only with strings (which happened earlier) but directly with a non-classical, improvising string quartet, makes a lot of sense considering Jan Bang's history of recording and live performances. Their first performance together at November Music pushed the envelope in the sense that it was a 100% extemporaneous performance, creating a type of music that was clearly a piece of chamber music but which would be difficult to notate and then render live in the same quality.

The music departed into dark moods, deep abysses and inferno sceneries moving on to forcefully hammered pizzicatos reminiscent of cellist Tom Cora at times. Zapp and Bang maintained the gripping high tension over the whole, the complete stretch with lots of impressive shiftings and swelling overflows, a highly dynamic, increasingly intense piece of work that, in the end, triggered a standing ovation and made a real mark. It lifted the qualities of its earlier performance to a still higher level. So this format clearly proved to be "Punkt suitable" and open for further explorations.

The remix was reserved for Erik Honoré and saxophonist Raffaele Casarano. Raffaele produced long stretching cantilenas of a Jan Garbarek kind, above a sample of Visser's cello as the remix's pulse. Casarano's electronically enhanced saxophone became a bit too dominant in the long run, loosing its contrasting tension and release effect.

Next up was Danish trio Friis/Osgood/Dodebum, also new to Punkt. Maria Laurette Friis is a Danish composing and improvising sound artist who explores the space between primal, ceremonial sound, classical eastern influences, 20th century classical music, noise and folk song, currently using processed voice, Korg MS-10, cembalo, flutes and tamboura. She has collaborated with the likes of Pamelia Kurstin, Stian Westerhus, Eivind Lønning, Fred Frith and Mat Maneri. Kresten Osgood, a member of Kopenhagen's ILK collective, is one of the most colorful and busiest drummers on the Danish scene, covering a broad range of musical idioms. He has collaborated with likes of Sam Rivers, Tim Berne and Paul Bley, and has his own annual Musketeer Festival, where musicians from all styles of music meet and break down the walls of the music scene of Copenhagen. Dodebum is Henrik Sundh, electronic musician and producer from Copenhagen. His musical universe is mostly dark, spooky and almost empty, with some decrepit leftovers inhabited by sparse, lonesome flitting melodic fragments.

The trio's performance became an utterly darkened affair, with Osgood's razor- sharp muscular and sweeping drum cycles, Sundh's inward directed electronics and Friis' multiple sound extensions and layering. What started quite fascinating became more and more locked in a feeling—what might have been intentionally or unintentionally accepted. It seemed the trio was caught in an endless electro-acoustical loop that reproduced itself with only minimal shifts that constantly reentered the cycle. A kind of dark doom trance which did not appeal to everybody.

Again, a remix crew with a strong signature—Nils Petter Molvaer, Hamid Drake, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang—was ready to take up the challenge and do their collective thing with it. The piece of departure and the remix should be considered as constituting a special kind of working unit. And then it becomes fascinating what the remix musicians hear in the source music—what they can get out of it and how they do it. There are so many possibilities to fail gorgeously or splendidly, or get stuck in one's own routines and patterns. In this case, however, something happened—far from expectations or set frames. Provoked by a strong initial attack from Molvær, the crew turned it all radically over into a brilliantly shining light and banned the dark spirits...an ingenious prank! Once underway, the music started to vibrate, quaking like a pow-wow and conjuring up the spirit of Jim Pepper. A wonderful unexpected segue which, for the time being, brought into existence a new brotherhood of breath. And it was a remix that brought forth an encore. Many things were at work to bring all this about, one of them, apparently, the strong impulse given by the source material and, of course, the strong chemistry of the remix crew.

Another remix concert, a concluding apotheosis was still waiting to happen in the big hall of the Fønix cinema: the performance of Laurie Anderson and Arve Henriksen, remixed by Christian Fennesz, with visuals by the great master, Tord Knudsen. The stage setting was brilliant, the commitment high. So were expectations. Both Anderson and Henriksen were—as usual—good in focusing on intimate sounds, gestures and narratives. Both manifested themselves in full strength unfolding rich and flourishing sonic landscapes, but maybe it was just that which prevented moments of sudden bare wonder to arise, unforeseen transmutation to happen or cross-fertilizations to occur. Some elements did not find their place, getting lost. Nevertheless, moments of pure beauty, reminiscence and near- surrender occurred, strengthened by Fennesz's remix, which followed immediately. The shrieking sound streams of his guitar, full of subtleties, gradually burned away the sonic landscapes just experienced. It remains a miracle how he managed this appealing equilibrium of loudness, noise, texturing and sub-melodic traits.

Conclusion

2014, at the end of a cruel summer, was a less abundant and euphoric edition than some editions in the past but it was very much focused and structured with lots of striking contrasts and fits. There were clear highlights, some doubts and even dislikes.

The core crew of Punkt artists has succeeded in establishing the festival internationally, as a non-negligible quantity and, at the same time, retaining its original spirit as something upon which can be relied. Punkt has played a leading and guiding role and has, therefore, had quite an impact and abiding influence on various musical fields and musicians. The achievements have clear contours. The challenge is not only to expand and enter new territories and musical scents (like the string quartet, the sound artists or involving younger generation's attack like that of sPace moNkey), but also to sharpen the focus on the quality of contrasts (and counters) in the remixing chain. Is it endless open-ended variation or will it be more urgent to find out how to pave the path to germination and discover 'the best" striking fits?

Photo Credit: Henning Bolte

Thanks to John Kelman, long time, experienced Punkt-reviewer
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