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Punkt Festival 2017

Henning Bolte By

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Punkt Festival
Kristinsand, Norway
August 31-September 2, 2017

Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Southern Norway, is a festival of internationally high artistic reputation and esteem. Founded in 2005, its 13th edition presented a wider range of musical performances and seminars plus a special art exhibition, featuring artists Tori Wrånes, Kristin Evensen, and Sandra Mujinga in co-operation with the Kristiansand Kunsthal. It's one of the few festivals that cuts through genres for purely artistic reasons. In general Punkt Festival never repeats a set-up. Certain key elements are permanent though, and certain artists reoccur every once in a while. A constant is also engaged and competent London radio journalist Fiona Talkington, the festival ´s likeable voice and MC. There is one probable change planned for next year's edition: Punkt shall be returning to the Agder Theatre, the place where it all started in 2005. The defunct theatre is currently being renovated and will regain a cultural/artistic function.

At the festival's core is the immediate live remix of an initial musical performance as a whole, performed by varying combinations of highly respected electronic, electric and acoustic musicians loosely gathered around the inner circle of Punkt musicians. This article starts with this year's artist in residence, Daniel Lanois, continues with the philosophy and processes of the festival and deals with this year's live-remixes, young(er) generations' musicians and new works/albums of Punkt musicians.

Along with Lanois

Legendary Canadian musician/producer Daniel Lanois figured as "artist in residence" at this year's edition of Punkt, like Laurie Anderson did in 2014. With two young fellow musicians, electric bassist Jim Wilson and drummer Kyle Crane, he engaged in music and a production master-class in a band setting at the music department of the regional University of Agder, in a live-remix the same day (of The Necks' concert) and concert with work of his own on the last day of the festival. Daniel Lanois is a strong-willed, patient and dedicated person with melancholic traces, a self-taught master who learnt from the cooperation with masters and innovators cutting through all areas of pop, rock, hip hop, jazz and ambient music. He has done this in search of strong unifying element(s). In one of his interviews he describes how (t)his line emerged from sensitive perceptions and the urge to investigate and sort it out.

In his younger years he had a strong tie with Peter Gabriel (So) and Brian Eno, which lead him to U2, then to Bob Dylan. He worked with Dylan in New Orleans on Dylan's Oh Mercy album shortly after he had worked there with the Neville Brothers (a decisive school as Lanois always emphasizes). The session with Dylan has been described by Dylan himself in his autobiographical "Chronicles part 1." A lot of witnesses of this legendary session can be found on the internet. The line of collaborations (Harold Budd, Jon Hassell, Brian Blade, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Willie Nelson) can easily be elongated. Looking at his own, recent work it turns out that Lanois is returning to the ambient thing and the rhythm component, which were of great importance in his early days.

Lanois emphasizes that the key element in his work as producer is the personal state of the artist he is working with, his/her actual emotional state and her/his actual state of mind. He emphasizes that he always has to 'read' it and his sonic decisions and operations emerge from that, are dependent on it. Producing for him is a joint socio-emotional and related sonic sculpturing process. Bob Dylan's testimony of the recording days in New Orleans is a significant indication of resistance that you go and have to get through to arrive at an artistically coherent voice and valid results.

Lanois is open to share his experiences in honest ways. In the Punkt master-class he demonstrated many aspects regarding dynamics of instruments, recordings sessions, interaction and collaboration with musicians, electronics and types of music. It was quite instructive—in and out of the music played -but could have been more interactive with 'the students.' Punkt and Lanois 'really' met first in some performance moments of the last festival day. Lanois provided a great 'input' with his dub reggae Caribbean thing and the Punkt people gave something in return of their world, their understanding and their rhythms, sounds, space and breathing.

Processes

After 12 years of practice the core of Kristiansand's Punkt Festival, the live-remix, is still a challenging, thrilling and surprising affair. What musicians will do a live-remix in which combinations and how will it work (out)? This year's edition had seven live-remixes in three nights and, like every edition, it had its novices like bassist Mats Eilertsen, reedist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, Annemari Drecker and Daniel Lanois.

Contrary to sound bricolage in the studio, for the live-remix at Punkt Festival almost everything has to happen in real time, and quickly: listen intensely to the 'input' performance and take decisions on what to act on and how, and then (re)act wurh the live-remix crew in a reworking process to build up a 'new' piece of music in real time from the 'input' performance.

The Punkt live-remix has some resemblance with the deeply ingrained practice of reworking standards and evergreens of popular music in jazz. The original versions are usually memorized and deeply absorbed by jazz musicians. For the live-remix the 'input' is however always new and has to be apprehended and stored immediately. From this jazz tradition perspective it might be a bit strange to immediately react to a whole live performance and rework it. The more direct approach in front of an audience is quite challenging for the musicians. For the audience the experience of the immediacy of transformation and possibly de-familiarizing, estranging effects is the attractive side.

Part of the game of the Punkt live-remix is its working with/on varied 'input.' This year's edition had live remixes on rock and dub-reggae, soul jazz, pop and various forms of free improvising music and genre-defying composed music, although Punkt has been and is open to techno, hard rock, classical, folk and singer-songwriter music. However, this is not a Punkt exclusive thing. Punkt is unique when it comes to the immediacy of the incorporation, orchestration and transformation. It happens in attendance of the audience. In the Punkt live-remix the (transitional) process is more transparent, not directed by one authoritative hand. It's a joint adventure instead. It offers the audience/listeners more insight into the process, thereby providing extra thrills and stimulating curiosity. Some time ago film director Tom Tykwer applied this in his highly successful movie "Run Lola Run." The authority lies in the exposing and directing of the process, no so much in the exposition of the authority of the omniscient artist. Punkt's transparent way is non-hierarchical, the redefinition of things a continuous, open process.

Live-remixes

In/through live-remixes different musical spheres get in direct contact, are confronted with each other and meet. The live-remix practice also leads to special combinations and constellations of musicians, as you can see from the list of this year's live-remixes at Punkt Festival.

1. Ole Andreas Undhjem Hagelia: Rohey
2. Daniel Lanois / Kyle Crane / Jim Wilson: The Necks
3. Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Eivind Aarset / Anders Engen / Mats Eilertsen: Sidsel Endresen / David Toop
4. Anneli Drecker / Peter Baden / Rolf-Erik Nystrøm / Ole Andreas Undhjem Hagelia: Broen
5. Jez riley French / David Toop: Arve Henriksen "Towards Language" with Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Eivind Aarset
6. Yann Coppier / Peter Baden / DJ Strangefruit: Punkt- Ensemble with Johannes Vaage / Idar Eliassen Pedersen / Jens Kola / Stian Balducci
7. Audun Kleive / Eivind Aarset / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Arve Henriksen: Daniel Lanois / Kyle Crane / Jim Wilson

Live-remixes arose from studio-technology and techniques migrating to live stage settings (Bugge Wesseltoft played a seminal role in this). Sampling, looping, distorting, extending, layering etc. sound(s) offered a lot of new musical possibilities and a fresh start, but from the beginning electronics coexisted in a productive way with traditional acoustic instruments. Electronics also changed the use and sound of 'old' acoustic instruments. In these live- remixes acoustic instruments were clearly present, in some cases electrically or electronically modified. There were the drummers Anders Engen, Audun Kleive, and Kyle Crane, the bassists Mats Eilertsen and Jim Wilson, the reedist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, the singer Anneli Drecker, and David Toop's various flutes. Hereafter both live-remixes as initial 'input' performances will be dealt with.

The second day's concert started with legendary Australian group The Necks. Since the '80s this band has played an unabatedly fascinating kind of music. Every performance of The Necks has to be built up from zero, acting on the actual space, its vibes evoking a mighty ascending and descending wave bigger than the musicians' joint maneuvers. As a consequence every continuous set is and works differently (see my report of recent performances in Ljubljana and Wroclaw). ). This time the arc was more flat-bottomed and 'introvert' in a way (see also DrawNote in the slide show).

In the subsequent musical actions of Daniel Lanois, Jim Wilson and Kyle Crane something substantial was missing in regard to what constitutes a live-remix. The way Lanois approached it, did not really allow incorporating and unfolding things from the 'input,' the performance of The Necks, or countering that clearly and productively. The trio seemed to be too much locked in. This also said something about the uniqueness of The Necks. A deeper exchange failed to appear, both pieces of music stood on their own.

It was the first time Sidsel Endresen and David Toop met in performance. David Toop, author of a couple of key books on music as "Rap Attack," "Ocean of Sound," "Haunted Weather," "Sinister Resonance," and "Into the Maelstrom," is a measured and mindful performer. Sidsel Endresen is a quite visceral, strong and at times accelerating explosive performer. How would these two different temperaments catalyze each other or intertwine? The performance started with sparse tonal gestures letting time pass. After a longer Endresen switched to a higher gear and speed of vocal articulation while Toop kept his more sedate pace. Thus a fine-grained soil emerged traversed by crinkly vocal traces—open to a subsequent live-remix.

The somewhat rudimentary performance of Sidsel Endresen and David Toop provided a wonderful draft to work with and convert into a marvelously fitting complement of a two-part unity, which Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Anders Engen did joyfully and brilliantly (see the DrawNotes in the slide show). It was also accomplished due to the close familiarity of the remixing crew with the work of Sidsel Endresen: it was a home game to enjoy.

The live-remix of Broen (pronounce /brew-an/) by Anneli Drecker, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, Peter Baden and Ole Hagelia was a fantastic Punkt-debut of singer Anneli Drecker and saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm. Nystrøm, one of the most sophisticated and broadly operating saxophonists—I know him from his collaboration with violinist Nils Økland and with (classical) bassist Håkon Thelin—used his capabilities in a strong way also accompanied by a visually daring attitude. Anneli Drecker, also covering a broad range from pop to more free areas, used her vocals masterfully in great timing: cutting through, stirring up and unifying it led into a finely tuned fabric of all involved genes.

A highly fascinating thing was Arve Henriksen's live-remix of Towards Language by the duo of Jez riley French and David Toop. French, a sound artist working with extended field recording technique, is connected to Punkt via a sound project around the Humber Bridge of Hull for which he collaborated with Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and the Opera North earlier this year. They worked on the sound of the 2, 2 km long bridge, elaborating on it with the orchestra of the Opera North in the context of Hull as European Capital of Culture (together with Aarhus).

During the live-remix French left the stage shortly after the start of the remix he did together with David Toop. He left the stage to play the metal railings amplified by contact microphones. He had used those same railings before to record the 'input' of Arve Henriksen's group, filtered through the architecture of the building. That recording he left playing on stage along with one of the empty building resonating with the infrasound of its surroundings. It resulted in a highly fascinating sound flow and sound expansion that his fellow musician David Toop provided by extra layers, accents and highlighting. Actually French literally re-mixed the 'input' sound.

The concert of Daniel Lanois attracted a specifically dedicated and expectant audience. It became enchanted by hearing Lanois playing a rock solid concert with his young and dedicated fellow musicians in such an intimate setting. Leading his trio with tight hand he played the "old songs" that have become a cherished part of their/our collective memory. You could have expected Lanois would have dug deeper into his ambient side as shown on Goodbye Language, but Lanois relied primarily on his deeper Americana singing and his well-known roots songs, although he also happily went into a great Caribbean dub reggae thing finally. There is a striking (and thought provoking) opposition of the title of the album of Henriksen, Towards Language, and the title of the Lanois album Goodbye To Language.

The concluding live-remix of the concert of Daniel Lanois by Audun Kleive, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Arve Henriksen became a truly stunning affair and the joyful highpoint of the festival. The four musicians brought it 'auf den Punkt,' nailed it. Lanois and his fellow musicians ended up with a darker dub reggae passage, something Lanois started with drummer Brian Blade a few years ago. It was just that part that was taken up by the live-remix of Punkt's inner circle crew. They transformed it into a light, springy and joyful conclusion of the festival.

From the very first moment the live-remix became a strong move full of surprise. For instance the reciting voice in the beginning at the beginning: where was it coming from and whose voice was it? It even took his fellow musicians some time to discover that Arve Henriksen himself was extemporizing in a voice quality (I) never heard from him in a performance before. It was a similar sensation when he joined in spontaneously in the second half with a strong piece of toasting to the instrumental riddim. Meanwhile Eivind Aarset's laptop had died completely and urged some extra improvising by his fellow musicians. As a whole it turned out a bravura move. It was a Punkt where Lanois and Punkt really met. Lanois provided great 'input' with that dub reggae Caribbean thing and the Punkt musicians gave something back of their world, their understanding, their rhythmic feel, sound, space and breathing.

New generations

This year there were five young Norwegian newcomer units of different forms of appearance, but all with a strong attitude fitting the genre-defying context of Punkt. Rohey is a very young and strongly convincing band redefining the soul-jazz area with Rohey Taalah's unique voice carried by electric bassist Kristian B. Jacobsen, keyboarder Ivan Blomqvist and drummer Henrik Lødøen: three highly skillful, dynamic and original musicians. This year the band released its debut- album A Million Things on the Jazzland label. It was an overwhelming appearance at the small Punkt venue Vaktbua where the band as always went for the full. Rohey played music that made people smile and feel good. Rohey Taalah is an exceptional vocalist and performer of great credibility and warmth who thoroughly personates the situations, characters and issues she is singing about in gestures, gaze and movement. Her performance is amazingly powerful and effortless. Rohey has made a powerful perpendicular start and it seems that it will take even more youthful speed in the coming months when touring different European countries. Be warned: listening and attending shows can have a strong ignition effect.

Broen is a strikingly colorful unit of five younger musicians with an avant-garde background cutting through the areas of pop, rock, hip hop with bravura. It's an attractive extravaganza kind of thing that has made a strong mark already in the UK where they have recently been signed by Simon Raymonde's Bella Union label. Broen is Anja Lauvdal (keyboard) and Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck (tuba) of the much in demand duo Skrap, drummer Hans Hulbækmo of the group Atomic, guitarist Lars Ove Fossheim and vocalist Marianna S. Angeletaki Røe. At Punkt they gave a cool loose show highlighted and enforced by the excellent visuals of Tord Knudsen, the regular VJ genius of the Punkt Festival for years. Broen's music evoked reminiscences of Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians now and then. It is remarkable that the greater part of the Broen musicians also has a significant role in the free improvising scene. There is more of this kind inside and outside of Norway: a valuable thing worth receiving a weightier place at other festivals too. It would be worthwhile to dedicate an article to that kind practice and kind of music.

There were strong indications from visitors that the performances of Rakel Nystabakk / Ingrid Wesenberg Eskeland and Frøkedal & Familien were highy appreciated by the audience. Anne Lise Frøkedal is an already internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter (and producer) presenting catchy tunes with instrumental sophistication. Nystabakk/Wesenberg is a young duo of classical double bassist Ingrid Eskeland and electronic musician Rakel Nystabakk. They are ready for festival stages while still studying at University of Agder. Rohey, Broen and Frøkedal have absorbed a lot of US-American influence without sounding American, which is a remarkable achievement.

Finally there was the Punkt Ensemble comprising four young musicians from Kristiansand: Johannes Vaage, Idar Eliassen (electronics) Pedersen (trumpet), Jens Kola (drums) and Stian Balducci (electronics). They have worked together within the confines of Punkt Klubb, live-remix activities at Punkt Festival and similar outings since 2014 and meanwhile have built an identity of their own as individual musicians and as an ensemble. The group played a highly sophisticated set that of course sounded very Punkt, but with its own accent, color and rationale. It appeared to be an ensemble to take into account for both, initial performances as well as live-remixes.

It should be clear that Punkt is not only seriously and enduring engaging in up-and-coming Norwegian forces. Punkt also built a strong regional bond of three angular points: the international reach of the festival, education at the University of Agder and the emergence and fostering of strong young musicians from the area. It is an obvious concept but the strength of its impact is still quite unique in Europe. It seems that only in France there are efforts and effects in that same direction.

Many jazz festivals, especially the larger ones, program big pop/rock acts primarily to attract audience. Also, when there is some affinity with the programmed pop/rock acts, there seems to be not much overflow between those two parts, which is a pity because both need each other as the past clearly shows. It would help if groups like Broen and Rohey— there are a lot more fitting in that genre-transcending category -would get a weightier part in the programming of jazz festivals to strengthen the bridging component. The program structure and schedule should also emphasize that through direct temporal and spatial proximity of relevant acts from both fields. Even at open multi-genre festivals, like November Music in s'Hertogenbosch (NL), two-way traffic and overflow happens less than possible and desirable. It is, by the way, not the intention to wipe out genres and genre boundaries. It is meant as a remedy for rigidity and fossilization. Punkt Festival demonstrates—now since 13 years—how to do that in an organic, meaningful and significant way.

New works/albums

Punkt Festival is also the place where the inner circle of the Punkt crew premieres new work. This edition offered listeners four new works and albums: Arve Henriksen's Towards Language, released by Rune Grammofon and performed at the festival, Erik Honoré's album Unrest that has just been released by Hubro, Greta Aagre and Erik Honoré's album Tuesday Gods, released on Jazzland, and finally a new album by Audun Kleive and Jan Bang The Periphery of A Building, just released on Gråtone, a new label run by Stian Balducci. Erik Honoré gave some valuable insights into the making of both Tuesday Gods and Unrest in a seminar and the new album of Jan Bang and Audun Kleive waits to be listened to.

Henriksen's Toward Language has been produced by Jan Bang and was performed by Henriksen together with Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Eivind Aarset. Jez riley French and David Toop worked on it in the subsequent live remix on the second day of the festival. The newest album of Daniel Lanois is conspicuously entitled Goodbye Language. Upon listening you will learn that the music of both albums share a lot and have a lot of common ambient ground, which becomes evident when listening to the album's opening tracks "Patient Zero" and "Low Sudden." Lanois' album is the darker and heavier variant, Henriksen's album the lighter, more airy variant. In the music of the album of Henriksen you can sense the traits of Norwegian folk music. In the music of the album of Lanois you can clearly sense the Americana traits. Lanois went away from the sung form of that source whereas Henriksen operates close to the qualities of the human voice. The performance of the work of Henriksen took place in an admirable cast. Through its delicate balance and rich debauchery it cut deep, moving the soul and enlightening the inner eyes of a lot of people in the audience, evoking deeply touching moments.

With their specific sonic material and manipulations Punkt musicians work very much like classical composers. The dynamics of their multidimensional collaging, layering and texturing resembles very much complex orchestral works. It gives a specific depth to the music, where the conscious and unconscious, dream and realness states can meet in the listeners' experience. The nature of the approach leads to open works with endless variation and transmutation. This was further elucidated when Erik Honoré in a seminar reflected on the modes of operation, considerations, driving forces and taking decisions in the making of two new works Tuesday Gods and Unrest.

The openness of the works keeps mind, ear and body sharp and sensitive without getting lost in variation/transmutation. The Punkt musicians and their works have a clear, recognizable signature and various leitmotivs. A good example is the new album of drummer Audun Kleive and Jan Bang entitled Periphery Of A Building. The work is "reconsidering live Punkt remixes of Etenesh Wassie & Mathieu Sourisseau, AtomTM and Clarinet Factory & Floex. In their selection of source material for the Gråtone LP, they eradicate, and then reconstruct tradition." (for the sources mentioned see the reports of the Punkt Festivals , 2013. The Periphery of a Building "brings the past into the present and draws a red thread between genres. It juxtaposes disparate ideas between the dance floor and jazz, and ensnares itself in the tangled web of tradition and progress" and that's something Punkt is essentially about.

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