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Punkt Festival 2021

Courtesy Henning Bolte

Henning Bolte BY

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Eivind Aarset
Hotel Norge, Blå Kors
Punkt Festival
Kristiansand
September, 2-4, 2021

Live remix is the key element and trademark of Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, southern Norway, now in its 17th year. Life itself had been remixed severely by the COVID pandemic that struck at the beginning of 2020. It left its traces at Punkt. However, Punkt succeeded in securing continuity with scaled-down editions in 2020 and 2021. Strikingly Punkt took no recourse to streaming. The scaled-down edition 2020 took place live with a reduced audience and a line-up of artists almost exclusively from Norway. This worked due to its character as a personal meeting place in a family-atmosphere, which through all the years has been the basis of the creative work of the festival. This year's edition had no seminars, no art exposition and only very few musicians from abroad, namely electronic musician Alessandra Bossa from Italy and cellist Svante Henryson from Sweden, but it worked its way to the former range and reach of previous editions. The Punktheads are looking forward to how lost territories will be regained.

A positive side-effect of the 2020 edition was the use of a new comfortable location for Punkt concerts: STUP on the top floor of the completely renovated Hotel Norge. The hall occupies the entire top floor and has a panoramic view of the city and the sea due to its large-scale glazing on both of its long sides. It was used for the concerts and its live remixes this year too, with the exception of the opening concert.

Opening

The opening took place in a totally different ambience of a location never used before by the festival. It brought the audience to the meeting-hall of Kristiansand's Blå Kors/Blue Cross, a well-known charity organization taking care of drug addicts and homeless people. Here the opening with the Jazzland 25th Anniversary Concert happened under the icon of the great savior portrayed in naïve, light-hearted, 'dancing' way, a bit Chagall-like and a striking counterpoint to the New Objectivity/Neue Sachlichkeit modernistic style of the STUP venue.

Thus, Blå Kors became an apt expression of Punkt's salvation and a blessing of His will, to continue its devotional path. The same applied to Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland Records, founded and unceasingly run by him. For this occasion, Wesseltoft, who also had a key role in instigating Punkt Festival, put together a line-up of the label's young generation musicians adding reedist/vocalist Hakon Kornstad and bassist Audun Erlien from the middle generation. They played the opening concert with Harpreet Bansal (vln), Sanskriti Shrestha (tablas), Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir aka Lilja (el-g), Veslemøy Narvesen (dr). Electronic musician John Derek Bishop aka Tortusa, from Stavanger, also a Jazzland musician, did the live remix.

The group played a beautiful concert, albeit one that may have been stuck in echoing their own themes and less moving forward. All musicians had a lot in their treasure chest and all made ample use of it in this concert: a great invitation to dive in their music (see discography below).

Live remix

Live remix is a key element and trademark of Punkt Festival. It is an obvious concept to immediately react/respond to a just given musical performance as a totality by improvising on its characteristics with recorded and remembered elements of it to be put in a new context in the here and now. The process and its outcome depend on the perceptual capacities of the live remixing musicians, their listening, their state of mind and mood as well as their creative skills. The long-term process of the reception, remembrance, handing down and adoption of music and musical traditions is radically projected on to a concentrated point in time then, exteriorized and manifested in live remixes on stage. It shows how musicians listen to other musicians' music making (and respond to it). Punkthead and Punkt-MC Dave Mullan compared this in a conversation with the game of "Chinese Whispers": "how something as simple as a small melody can travel, grow, reduce, modify, gain new rhythms or meters or inflections, change modes and scales, and become the basis for a hundred tunes found across the globe."

Live remix has been made possible by electronic devices to record music—helping short term memory a bit -and to manipulate recorded music (extracting, distorting, assembling/recombining, blowing up,  condensing, intensifying etc.). It opens a wide field of transformational possibilities of existing music. 

It doesn't mean however that live remixing is solely dependent upon electronic devices and means. At Punkt acoustic instruments also were involved through the years. In the 2021 edition, for example, the voice of Norwegian folk singer Kirsten Bråten Berg joined in the remix of the concert of Nils Økland Band.

Strikingly, the concept of responding to a whole concert (large scale Improvisation) instead of responding to other musicians in a group (small-scale improvisation) has not yet found many emulators and independent practitioners elsewhere (for exceptions see footnote below). A lot of musicians from different countries had been involved in live-remixes but mostly in a Punkt-defined frame and context. Obviously, Punkt still holds an exclusivity in the field of live remix after all these years. Punkt 2021 presented the following pairings for live remixes:

  • Jazzland 25 Years Ensemble (6tet)—Tortusa (Derek Bishop) (electr)
  • Nils Økland Band (5tet)— Kirsten Bråten Berg (voc)/Jan Bang/Erik Honore(electr)
  • Harpreet Bansal Band feat. Svante Henryson (5tet +1)—Lars Kristian Lia (electr)
  • Eivind Aarset 4tet— Helge Sten (electr)
  • Punkt Ensemble (8tet)—Ståle Storløkken/Helge Sten (keyb, electr)
  • Benedikte Kløw Askedalen (4tet)— Maja S.K. Ratkje (voice, electr)
  • SKRIM (4tet)— Kristian Isachsen/Alessandra Bossa (electr., electr.)

Nils Økland Band -Bråten Berg/Bang/Honoré (voice, electr)

The music of the Nils Økland Band, strongly based on a folk music footing, sparked the idea to bring in a traditional folk singer that would render the folk sources in traditional form, electronically contextualized by Bang and Honoré, which is, in a way, a reversal of the usual order of remix elaborations. Their choice fell on Kirsten Bråten Berg, one of Norway's most eminent folk singers. While Nils Økland handled old Norwegian folk instruments such as the resonant Hardanger fiddle or the 17th century Italian viola d'amore, Bråten Berg was accompanied by electronics at times sounding like a church organ. Økland's playing in turn was 'amplified' by Håkon Stene's vibraphone, underpinned and highlighted by Rolf-Erik Nystrøm's brilliant saxophone sounds and driven by Sigbjorn Apeland's harmonium magic.

Harpreet Bansal Band feat. Svante Henryson—Lars Kristian Lia (electr)

Santur (Javid Afsari Rad), harmonium Vojtech Prochazka), double bass (Adrian Fiskum Myhr), tablas (Andreas Bratlie).

The music of violinist Harpreet Bansal's six-piece ensemble was strongly rooted in Indian raga, fiercely unfolding its own radical versions in full blast and rich rhythmic movability. It was built around, into, and out of the interaction between Bansal and guesting Swedish cellist Svante Henryson. Henryson is a strong and brilliant musician, who provided a fascinating combination of rough, dynamically whirling and confluent sounds. Bansal and Henryson kept on vividly balancing their ongoing interplay by standing out of the flow and then immersing into it. With the ensemble's rich instrumentation Bansal generated a circling tension-and-release experience that expanded beautifully on the temperaments and temperatures of preceding pairing of Økland and Bråten Berg.

The solo live remix by Lars Kristian Lia provided an extraordinary and, for me, highly captivating and astounding musical experience. He turned down his richly layered electronic assemblage to the edge of the audible: a dark haze of sound ('dunkler Dunst'), flickering in and out of its dark inner vibrations just above the audial horizon. VJ Tord Knudsen visualized that in a congenial minimalistic way, deep, fitting, distinct, memorable. This live remix emerged as a forceful counterpoint opening a different perspective and perception of the music of Bansal's ensemble.

Aarset 4tet—Helge Sten (electr)

The closing part of the second evening was allocated to guitarist Eivind Aarset and bass guitarist Audun Erlien with the two drummer giants Wetle Holte and Erland Dahlen, completed by a live remix from the hands of Helge Sten.

They accomplished an apotheosis of rare quality that will reverberate for a long time to come. It became an outstanding example of gradually expanding guitar turbulences, guitar violence, soaring guitar flags, captivating time signatures and deep grooves. All that heart and mind, body and soul desires appeared greatly timed in gripping shapes, accumulated engrossingly, leading to higher heights and widening sights. Experiencing Aarset with this rhythm unit was nothing less than a bold dream. Aarset's wild calmness integrated his many sonic sides here in full grandeur. Strumming his guitar, letting it wildly howl and screech heavily or regulate sonic spheres alternated in sophisticated way and powerful way. We could also see him playing a good amount of 'straight' electric guitar. By focusing on the music's strong inner forces and shimmering colors, by allowing them to emerge and be released in spiraling, undulating movements swaying back and forth, the four musicians as a deeply united single musical body accomplished a lifting of the roof and let the building hover towards the nearby sea of the Skagerrak.

It was however no triumphant ascension. The music was heavily drenched in phantasmagorical oddities, estranging distortions and steps out of ordinary time, which fits into the Electronique Noire approach Aarset developed in the late 90s. His latest album Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey (Jazzland) is a great leap from that point of departure. However, the power of this Punkt live performance by far exceeded that of the recorded version.

Considering the confrontation of our assumed everyday reality with its shifting suspension during the lasting pandemic and climate crisis, inflections of it might have found their way into the creation and performance of Aarset's music. It busted out powerful forces from those discrepancies, remained in motion, didn't run dead and didn't take recourse to clichéd gestures. It was then Helge Sten's task to create a fitting finish to the ascending line and apotheosis of the night. Sten sat crouching behind his little machine box with plugs and knobs, almost in complete darkness, fine-tuning an electronically condensed stream of the just having faded away and foregone music of Aarset, Erlien, Holtle and Dahlen. By meticulous precision work, he concentrated and patiently shaped this elegantly curving and varying stream full of beauty and continuing tension, until it disappeared in the dark slate ground of that typical sound of Helge Sten. It was again a counterpoint of its very own type, both auditory and visually, and a masterful live remix. A great evening from the same strong mold, and all through excellent sound steered and engineered by the great Sven Persson.

Punkt Ensemble (8tet)—Ståle Storløkken/Helge Sten (keyb, electr)

The third evening started with Eivind Aarset (g), Jan Bang, Erik Honoré (electr), Audun Erlien (bg), DJ Strangefruit, Jonas Verlo (dr) plus guests André Kassen (sax) and Canberk Ulas (duduk)

This octet line-up, called Punkt Ensemble, was a last-minute ad hoc substitution for the much-anticipated concert of Dark Star Safari on the occasion of the release of its new album Walk Through Lightly. Punkt Ensemble started promisingly with an extended solo passage on duduk by Canberk Ulas, a skillful young musician from Istanbul that had started his study at Agder University. After his extended introduction, the sequel felt mainly additive, and pushed by DJ Strangefruit's often too heavy beats. The ensemble generated a pulsating sound carpet laced with instrumental exaltation and elevation. It could have resulted in a mosaic or a puzzle of miniatures, but didn't. It lacked a consistent elaboration leading into more layers behind and in prospect. It also didn't lead into a deeper descending totality but remained a playground of whisking voices. The power-duo of Ståle Storløkken and Helge Sten chased their recorded samples of the ensemble through the grinder and extracted some perturbed echoes.

Benedikte Kløw Askedalen (4tet)—Maja S.K. Ratkje (voice, electr)

Vocalist Benedikte Kløw Askedalen was the youngest participant of this year's Punkt line-up. An offspring of the Music Department of Kristiansand's University of Agder where she studied under the tutelage of Jan Bang, Punkt commissioned work from her to present at this year's festival. Askedalen came up with "Looking Forward to My Afternoon Retreat" that she performed with her fellow musicians Eirik Lindtner (g), Ole Petter Ålgård (keys) and Bárdur Reinert Poulsen (b).

As a student she engaged in folk/country, electronic pop music and free improvisation and thereby developed abilities to move in between different genre frames in her voice as well as in her writing. Her loose wanderings around those areas of her favorite creational setting were indicated and enacted (visually) in the stage scenery by her dungarees outfit and the intimate positioning of her fellow musicians in a close circle. It reminded me a bit of the living-room set-up of earlier shows of Esperanza Spalding. It gave the music-making a certain informality, casual and loose, a friendly character embedded in a wider view, and freed her to cross and jump-cut fluidly. With her friendly charisma she won her audience.

Drawing listeners deeper into her sonic phantasies was a more demanding step she at moments reached and could be strengthened in the future. As a truly scorching counterpoint, Maja Ratkje ferociously vamped up the wandering afternoon retreat world with her panther energy, haunting voice and edgy electronics in her live remix.

SKRIM (4tet)—Kristian Isachsen/Alessandra Bossa (electr., electr.)

Morten Qvenild (keys, electr), Gard Nilssen (dr) + Stian Westerhus (el-g, voc), Ståle Storløkken (keys, electr)

SKRIM is an extension of sPacemonKey-duo of Qvenild and Nilssen that performed at Punkt in 2014. SKRIM came into being during Nilssen's artist-in-residency stay at Molde Festival 2019. The description of SKRIM sounded promising, raising high expectations.

Its music was revealed as brutal 'Ursuppen' cookery from a dystopian sound kitchen, with unrelenting crackling short-circuits, shrill oversteered siren noises and glistening electric guitar howls, and derailing 'Kopfschmertsch' keyboard sounds. Stian Westerhus' vocal had its Scott Walker moments, but the music became more and more stranded in its own roaring imbroglio on the edge of a tormenting black hole amorphism. The musicians drove out the devil with Beelzebub and landed offside—despite taking countermeasures. Kristian Isachsen and Alessandra Bossa as remixers had to jump on it in rodeo mode in order to bring their own cooking into the overheated kitchen. They maneuvered their samples through the torments of the crooked path to find their own high jive to ride out into the night.

Conclusion

Punkt 2021 was an interim, smaller sized edition based on its strong survival kit and had Eivind Aarset's "Phantasmagoria" excursions as a magic lighthouse in the oceans of sound. Aarset set a brightly shining mark in reshuffling, redefining pasts strongly towards the future in the present. Punkt 2021 also set a mark by coming up with new generations' creative musical ramifications and storytelling as manifested by Benedikte Kløw Askedalen, Harpreet Bansal, Lars Kristian Lia and the Jazzland troupe. After two mostly domestic editions Punkt aficionados are looking out to new daring genre-crossing and—challenging musicians from home and abroad to deepen inspiring interdisciplinary junctions and new views on old cues and shoes.

Note

According to Punkthead and Punkt-MC Dave Mullan there were two attempts to emulate live remix: "The LilleNorge Festival in Germany is one, although it has only had two editions over the past 5/6 years. It applies the Punkt Remix concept to classical performances. In Oslo, Tape2Zero was an emulator of Punkt, if not always in format, certainly in spirit. Tape2Zero did use the remix format to a large extent, but never exactly in the way Punkt did. However, it did so enough for a number of folks to refer to it as "Punkt Oslo" or "Punkt 2" or "Little Punkt." Terje Evensen and Kjetil Husebø were behind this little festival, and it had both the encouragement and participation of Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and others."

Discography

Eivind Aarset 4—Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey. Jazzland Recordings
Haarpret Bansal— Movements— Jazzland Recordings
Dark Star Safari—Walk Through Lightly. Arjunamusic
Håkon Kornstad Trio—For You Alone. Jazzland Recordings
Lilja—Marble. Jazzland Recordings
SKRIM—The Crooked Path. Hubro
Tortusa (John Derek Bishop)— Bre. Jazzland Recordings

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