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Punkt Festival 2015

Henning Bolte By

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Punkt Festival
Kristiansand, Norway
September, 3-5, 2015

Kristiansand, home of the Annual Punkt Festival for the past decade, is a municipality situated on the southernmost point of Norway on the Skagerrak strait. It has a population of 86,000 (the greater urban area 155,000) and is the county capital of Vest-Agder.

Crystallization of new concepts and development often take place and are given a push from the periphery, and Punkt is a good and prominent example. The festival is organized by Jan Bang and Erik Honore, two musicians who know each other very well and have done since their adolescent days in Kristiansand. The festival saw the light in 2005 and this year has reached its 11th edition.

Prelude

This 11th edition offered its audience several newly developed features. The festival relocated to Kristiansand's Kino that has a multitude of differently sized halls in one building (1); it offered three parallel remixing sessions (2a); it organized an active artistic participation of students of the regional Agder University (2b); it presented an aggrandized program of documentary films and video works by electronic arts pioneer Peer Bode who attended the festival with a seminar and live performances (2c), and it had a strong Asian focus (3).

As usual the visual arts activities and exposition could be experienced at the Kunsthal. The Kunsthal presented an exposition of Belgian artist Arnoudt Jacobs, Once also this was a mutation, curated by Kjell Bjørgeengen, Norway's most prominent video artist. Special spoken word and musical performances by Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, saxophonist Espen Reinertsen of Streifenjunko and Marcus Schmickler highlighted the exposition.

Aernoudt Jacob's work has its origins in acoustic and technological research and investigates how sounds can trigger sonic processes that affect the listener's scope of perception. His installations focus on a central question: how can the complexity, richness and stratification of our direct, daily environment be translated into something that can clearly be experienced. Jacobs co-directs Overtoon, a platform and production facility for sound art based in Brussels.

The Punkt Film program included the premiere of Adrien Le Gall's Punkt documentary which features interviews with Laurie Anderson and other artists, in addition to concert excerpts from Punkt events in Kristiansand, Prague and Paris. German director Ingo Biermann's documentary about Maja S.K. Ratkje premiered and several full concerts from earlier festivals, including David Sylvian's "Plight & Premonition" (Punkt 2011) and Three Trapped Tigers (2012) were screened. The musical program offered 18 remixes of six original performances plus five freestanding performances. More than 20 student musicians from Agder University were involved in the remixes.

There is a strong association between the term 'remix' and the dj culture that emerged from advanced studio techniques, digitalization, turntablism, sampling, plunderphonics and genre-crossing three decades ago. 'Remix' at Punkt always is a live-remix: musicians create a new piece of music based on elements from a freshly performed piece of music, in real time, a l'improviste. Remixing R- musicians do not only have the musical piece in mind (like jazz musicians decades ago, transforming popular standards), they manage to manipulate it in its recorded form, extending, transforming, reducing, crumbling etc.. Compared to the direct (re)action of an old-school acoustic jam session with digital means/sampling the process can be stretched and rewound. From that perspective, Punkt is very much about all facets of listening.

A key technique in this real time thing is sampling and using sampled parts of music just performed before. It can be music from the original performance or the performance instantly going on. These parts can be manipulated and re- entered into the performance. Considering music is organizing/organized sound in time, sampling and remixing entails that musicians and listeners operate with(in) multiple layers of time. In this process assumed or asserted boundaries are blurred, become liquid and have to be redefined dynamically again and again.

Even with respect to practice, every piece of music has been a 'remix' (and reflection) of pre-existing pieces of music in the past. The live-remix makes this explicit with all its consequences. Live remixing opens up a whole new scale of possibilities. The R-musicians (re)act to a whole piece of music, on the spot. They have to choose suitable parts, aspects or features of the original performance to work on in the remix—alone or together, with electronics, acoustic instruments or voice.

Opening

Punkt 2015 opened with a recital by Malaysian female pianist Mey Yi Foo (1980). She performed works by contemporary British composer George Benjamin (1960), Korean composer Unsuk Chin (1961), currently residing in Berlin, and Japanese composer Dai Fujikura (1977), a longtime London resident. Mey Yi Foo, London resident and winner of BBC's Best Newcomer of the Year award in 2013, is a passionate performer of new contemporary music and an internationally rising piano star. Her brilliant recital in the distinct elegant environment of Kristiansand's highbrow Klubben, which for the first time was used as a Punkt venue, set the tone for this boundary-crossing, interdisciplinary and multifaceted festival.

Composer Dai Fujikura (1977) collaborated with Jan Bang on David Sylvian's Died in the Wool—Manafon Variations and for Bang's album Narrative From The Subtropics made his first appearance at Punkt. What until now had been a purely electronic collaboration finally turned into the first physical meeting. Fujikura's work has been advocated and fostered by two major figures of contemporary European music, Peter Eötvös and Pierre Boulez. Dai was one of only two people asked to write a piece for the official Boulez 80th birthday celebrations at Cite de la Musique. Fujikura was featured during the festival in a remix of Dances & Canons by composer Kate Moore (1979), and in an extended interview session with Fiona Talkington in the seminar program.

The piano recital was wonderfully contrasted and topped by the performance of Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, a Paris resident. Miyazaki is a traditionally schooled virtuoso on this wonderful and rich Japanese string instrument. In her performance she crossed eras, cultures and styles, fully exploiting the enormous possibilities of her instrument accompanied by singing. A witty and jesting narrator, she went through classical pieces (autumn, states of water) to differing folk songs of the Okinawa islands and entanglements with Western tonalities, winning over the audience. Miyazaki would later play a prominent role in the silent movie concert "A Page of Madness." Long-time visitors were reminded of the legendary performance of Michiyo Yago, another koto-player, at Punkt in 2007.

Remixing route 1

Dutch pianist Saskia Lankhoorn performed the Dances & Canon pieces by young Australian composer Kate Moore. Punkt director Jan Bang saw Lankhoorn performing these pieces recently in Amsterdam. Without hesitating he invited Lankhoorn to this year's edition of Punkt. It promised to become a Punkt-affine performance -contrary to the almost harmless title.

Lankhoorn gave a performance of gradually rising tension and expansion terminating in the piece "Sensitive Spot," a stunning climax of intricately layered piano lines causing an overwhelming, hall-high sound wave. Compared to earlier performances of that program by Lankhoorn this rendition was a daring big leap.

In these pieces Kate Moore very creatively applies repetition, a basic element in music, according to the old contrapuntal canon technique. The sound expands vertically, mingles, gets layered, then flies. It is the great dynamics of the sound expansion that causes the aforementioned effect. In "Sensitive Spot," the last piece, Lankhoorn by pedal triggered a pre-recorded version of the same piece, overlaying her own playing. It was a great opening of the festival day with a special sensation: being wrapped by gorgeous sounds.

It must be a challenging task for the pianist to stay on track within these multilayered sounds and overlapping lines. Lankhoorn accomplished it fluently and with bravura, revealing she is more than an ordinary interpreter of the music. It could be sensed that Lankhoorn loves to operate in this transitional zone. It was a memorable opening of the second day and great trigger for the R-musicians as the third party in the sequence, a sequence starting with a deliberately constructing composer, continuing with the preparing, rehearsing and performing pianist and next the musicians immediately remixing her performance.

This year, for the first time, the audience had the luxury to choose between three parallel live-remixes: In this case the R1-crew of composer Dai Fujikura, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and guitarist Bjørn Charles Dreyer, the solo R2 musician Morten Qvenild, and the R3-duo of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and Agder-student Stian Balducci. Moving between different parallel remixes might be fruitful in terms of experiencing the variety, but can also be distracting and inhibit focus. As it is, it turned out to be a practical thing mostly.

The R1-crew (Dai Fujikura, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Bjørn Charles Dreyer) produced a radically muted variation. They went up to outer space and made audible how the echoes of Lankhoorn's O-performance sounded from that remote place. The music was both quite detailed and veiled. High tension and release alternated throughout its remix, applying changing perspectives and filters. It could be considered the opposite of the O-performance's expansion and layering.

Pianist Morton Qvenild crumbled the selected parts of Lankhoorn's O- performance into a slow and provoking process, as if preparing ingredients for an exquisite meal that first would taste a bit strange, but would set free some special silvan flavor in the long run.

The R3-duo of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and Stian Balducci on electronics went further into the landscape opened up by Lankhoorn's performance of Kate Moore's pieces. Deeply focused they painted its echoes in lyrical colors and fine textures.

The program was continued by collaboration between Polish electronic musician Michał Jacaszek and Polish contemporary music ensemble Kwartludium. They performed Jacaszek's work Catalogue des Arbres released on the British Touch label. Kwartludium, founded in 2002, comprises Dagna Sadkowska (violin), Michał Górczyński (clarinet, bass clarinet), Paweł Nowicki (percussion) and Piotr Nowicki (piano). The quartet performs music by contemporary composers especially of the younger generation. The piece aims at giving sonic impressions of the breezing and gentle whispers of the wind through the branches of the trees. Jacaszek's work integrates field recordings of tree's sounds with minimal gestures on the acoustic instruments highlighting, contrasting, nuancing the sub-musical, sub- melodic biophonics. Jacaszek's appearance was a continuation of the collaboration of Punkt with Touch, last year represented by the work of Jana van Winderen.

The pace of the music was low, almost imperceptibly. It lacked condensing, pointing and sharpening of contours; instead these were only hinted at. In this concert performance it was both a strong and weak feature. The ensemble succeeded in achieving and maintaining a highly subtle balance of the different sound sources, but succeeded less in triggering and reinforcing an apt concentric or selfless listening attitude. As a consequence the audience looked forward to the remixes with more tension and expectance.
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