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Punkt in Mannheim: Enjoy Jazz Festival: Days 11-12, October 30-31, 2009

John Kelman By

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Days 1-2 | Day 3-6 | Days 7-10 | Days 11-12

Since its inception in 2005, the Norwegian Punkt festival has been gaining an international reputation for innovation and creativity. With a founding premise of Live Remix—where individual concerts, crossing the breadth of jazz but also beyond, are remixed immediately following the performance with other musicians interacting with the remixers- -Punkt is more than a music festival, it's a movable feast. All that's required is a venue that has the capability to link up two rooms: one for the live performances, the other, the Alpha Room, for the remixes.

When Enjoy Jazz Festival Director Rainer Kern decided to bring Punkt to the festival for a single day run, the obvious choice for location was Mannheim's Alte Feuerwache (The Old Firehall), one of the festival's regular venues, managed by Egbert Ruehl. The Firehall—originally, indeed, a fire station but, threatened with extinction nearly 30 years ago when the city wanted to build a campus of four high rise towers, but ultimately saved as a Heritage site—is more than just a performance venue.

Inside the large building is a radio station that reaches the entire Mannheim/Heidelberg/Ludwigshafen region and can be used by aspiring radio journalists to broadcast their own shows; rooms used by local artists, including a remarkable old stone printing press, rehearsal rooms for musicians, a café and more. The main performance venue has flexibility to allow seated or standing concerts, and the Alpha Room for Punkt was upstairs in a smaller studio where, for this event, a stage was added and a backdrop to allow Punkt's regular lighting wizard, Tord Knudsen, to create some terrific visual projections.

With a capacity, in the main hall, of approximately 500 people, Kern wasn't expecting anything near a sellout—with Live Remix, it's perhaps difficult to promote as it really only makes sense after experiencing it—and so, it was a very pleasant surprise to see the hall almost packed, so much so that it was sometimes difficult to make it into the Alpha Room for the remixes. The concept of Punkt is, in many ways, antithetical to the premise of Enjoy Jazz, with three shows and three remixes, all back-to-back, from 8 p.m. in the evening until 1:30 a.m. the following morning, and before the day, there were those who felt that it was too much music to absorb in too short a timeframe. All was forgotten however, once the attendees began to experience Punkt, and the evening was a resounding success—so much so, in fact, that Kern is already planning to bring the festival back in 2010, also intending to expand it to a two-day event.

Chapter Index
  1. Setting Up Punkt
  2. Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street
  3. Live Remix: Erik Honoré and Kammerflimmer Kollektief
  4. Ensemble Modern
  5. Sweet Billy Pilgrim
  6. Live Remix: J. Peter Schwalm and Eivind Aarset
  7. Caravan Palace
  8. Festival Wrap-Up



Setting Up Punkt

The logistics of setting up a Punkt festival are challenging enough when festival co-artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré are on home turf in Kristiansand, Norway. Doing it in an unfamiliar venue could only work with the cooperation of local Mannheim technical folks, and it's a certainty that Punkt in Mannheim couldn't have succeeded as it did without the efforts of Egbert Ruehl and the venue's technical manager, Michael Ohnmacht. The solution to connecting the main hall and the Alpha Room was, as it turned out, a straightforward one, as it was easy enough to run a 16-channel snake between the rooms, allowimg the remixers access to the live performances.

Still, with three performances and three remixes, it was a grueling but very well-organized schedule to get the two rooms prepared and all the artists sound checked in the seven-hour period beginning at noon on October 30. In the main hall, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Ensemble Modern and Jon Hassell set up, one after the other, dealing with minor technical issues and ensuring that, on stage, everyone could hear one another. Still, minor issues arose. During the Hassell sound check, when it was discovered that the room's subwoofers were not in front of the stage as usual, but beneath it, there was some difficulty in getting the levels right so that Hassell's group, Maarifa Street, could play comfortably.

With Sweet Billy Pilgrim, there was the matter of four vocalists, and the technology being used to play programmed tracks behind the band's live performances. For Ensemble Modern the challenges were different, with five horns and two percussionists, getting a proper monitor balance onstage took time.

And yet, the sound checks in the main hall went off with precision and few delays. One difference between Punkt in Kristiansand and Punkt in Mannheim was that, in Norway, there are also complicated set designs, lighting changes and multi-media presentations that make each performance not just sound different, but look different as well. In Mannheim, other than stage lighting, there was nothing in the way of set design; instead, it was a simpler matter, with the only changes between performances the actual musicians themselves.

The Alpha Room was also different. In Kristiansand, the laboratory nature of the Live Remixes means that there's little lighting and no stage; just a couple of lights and bleacher seating. In Mannheim, with visual artist Tord Knudsen and Kristiansand Alpha Room sound engineer Johnny Skalleberg in tow, Mannheim's Alpha Room had a more extensive setup, with projectors, cameras and lighting to turn the Live Remixes into multimedia affairs. And, as is often the case, things did not go completely without a hitch as, when one of the technicians was on a ladder to mount one of the projectors, the handle literally snapped off, the projector falling to the ground and breaking irreparably.

But in relative terms, such difficulties were minor, and by 7 p.m., when the doors opened, Punkt was ready for business.

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