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Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day One, August 24, 2006

John Kelman By

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It's a long trip from Ottawa, Canada to Kristiansand, Norway, the home of Punktfest 06—over fifteen hours, including stopovers. But the trip is worth taking, even before getting into the unique flavor of Punktfest, now in its second year. Situated on the southernmost tip of Norway, Kristiansand is home to approximately 75,000 people—a small place by North American standards. The city, which is scenically breathtaking as it winds its way around the coast, is an intriguing combination of old and new.

But what's immediately clear when driving from its small airport to the Clarion Hotel Ernst (which acts as "festival central" for the days leading up to and including Punkt's three-day run) is how culturally rich it is. And that is by no means an accident.

Chapter Index
  1. Cultiva
  2. Punkt and Beyond
  3. Fiona Talkington
  4. Lars Danielsson
  5. Anne Marie Almedal
  6. Bugge Wesseltoft
  7. Eivind Aarset's Electronique Noire
  8. Hakon Kornstad
  9. Sidsel Endresen
  10. Anja Garbarek
  11. Food
  12. Wibutee


Cultiva

"There is a very special thing in my hometown called Cultiva," explains Jan Bang, who, along with Erik Honoré, came up with the idea of Punktfest. "There was a very smart guy who worked as advisor to the region, next to the mayor. He thought, 'What if we sell half of the electricity work, invest the money and take all the interest to support culture within the community?' So that's what they did. They sold it for billions of kroners—a lot of money—and the interest goes into an fund, for working with culture in the region. The relationship between Cultiva and Punkt is very close."

Kristiansand, Norway

Bang and Honoré are well-known as producers, samplers and remixers—not just on the Norwegian scene, but increasingly on the world stage. Bang has been strongly associated with the improvising scene for some time, while Honoré—a friend since both were in their teens—has worked more in the pop/rock scene and with singer/songwriters. Bang is a key member of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's group—part of the Norwegian nu jazz scene that blends intrepid improvisation with ideas more commonly found in ambient music and electronica.

But both Bang and Honoré have worked with Molvaer in the studio, as well as artists abroad, like British singer/songwriter David Sylvian. Regardless of the musical context, Bang and Honoré have been not only instrumental in expanding the sonic palette of the artists with whom they've worked, but they have helped to redefine the very definition of a remix. And Punktfest is a very special festival, because it places their sonic innovations front and center.

This year the Punktfest lineup included notable Norwegians like Molvaer, guitarist Eivind Aarset, drummer Audun Kleive, turntablist DJ Strangefruit and his Mungolian Jetset project, singers Sidsel Endersen and Anja Garbarek. But it also brought in international artists like British drummer Bill Bruford, Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap and Austrian guitarist Fennez.

The Norwegian artists are obviously essential, but they're only a part of what makes Punktfest unique. "It's based on how I've been working the last ten years in a live situation," explains Bang, "with sampling of musicians, cutting things up and sending it back; using whatever instrument gets into my sampler. Sampling each instrument in a live situation with other musicians, it's sort of a system. Erik and I thought, 'Why not make a festival where we could sample concerts?'"

Punkt and BeyondJan BangPunktfest takes place in two rooms at Kristiansand's Agder Teater. From 5 pm until midnight during the festival's three-day run (August 24-26), live performances lasting approximately fifty minutes apiece take place on alternating hours in the main theater, which seats around five hundred people. While these shows are going on, they are being recorded. After each show, live remixes and/or additional performances take place in an adjoining area called the Alfaroom—where live performers are also involved, interacting and improvising with the remixes shaped by Bang, Honoré and others.

"The Alfaroom accommodates approximately two hundred people," Bang says. "Very intimate. Last year it really worked because it created this intimate relationship between the audience and the performer." Most of what happens in the Alfaroom takes the form of remixes, but there will also be performances by the Ang/Norwegian collaboration Food, singer Anne Marie Almedal (from the 1990s group Velvet Belly), and a collaboration between Bang and free jazz saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. The live remixes last about twenty minutes, and concerts in the Alfaroom go about 45 minutes.

Agder Teater, Kristiansand, Norway

And so—and with very specific intent—it's possible to see everything at Punktfest, moving between the main theater and the Alfaroom. "We thought that it would be very important not to disturb the concerts with people leaving," Bang says. Equally, while improvisation is a significant element of the festival, it's very intentionally notcalled a jazz festival, because as broad-scoped as jazz is today, Punktfest's reach is even broader. This year's event includes the premiere of WARP (Wagner Reloaded Project), where a large group of artists remix, reinvent and reinterpret music by Wagner.

If the concept of a festival that revolves around the immediate interaction between live performance and remix is innovative, so too is the idea that Punktfest can be portable. The more conceptual nature of this interaction that means Punktfest could become a brand which could be taken on the road. Plans exist already, in fact, to do just that. "In 2011 there is a new concert house being built in Kristiansand," explains Bang, "and we'll move in and make Punktfest bigger. But Punkt could happen anywhere."

"Punkt means point in English. It's a point in the world, and it could happen anywhere, but it's happened here. But with the essence of the festival being about live remixes, it could happen anywhere. Punkt has been invited to participate in the opening of a new cultural center in London, on the site where King's Cross burned down a few years ago. We'll have Punktfest in Kristiansand in August, 2008 and then again in November in London—but, being a joint venture, with a different lineup.

"We've also been approached by people in Germany. My goal is to work in Europe and do collaborations with different festivals, but ultimately also in the US and Canada. It's very open structurally, because based on live remixes whatever you put in you get out; so it's very transparent."

Fiona TalkingtonFiona TalkingtonThe opening day at Punktfest 06 featured seven separate performances, one live remix and a late-night club date with Pal "DJ Strangefruit" Nyhus; it's easy to see why this festival defies categorization. It kicked off, as it did last year, with a brief combination of improvised music and spoken word. Last year it was Norwegian poetry; this year, Fiona Talkington from the BBC was asked to open the festival, and she brought together Molvaer and an imaginative grouping of four percussionists—Thomas Strønen, Audun Kleive, Jon Christensen and Bill Bruford.

Bruford and Christensen played on more or less traditional kits, but Strønen and Kleive combined acoustic percussion with electronics, and Molvaer realized his remarkable ability to stretch the definition of what a trumpet can sound like. This brief but inspired performance also demonstrated Punktfest's attention to presentation, providing the first inkling of the outstanding lighting used throughout the evening in the main theater. More than simply casting illumination on the stage, the lighting flowed with the music, creating patterns on three white backdrops that divided the rear of the stage.

Talkington selected Shakespeare for her performance, bringing the concept of nature and its strength and beauty to life. The four percussionists worked more within texture than discrete rhythm; Molvaer was out front building layers of sound that were at times soft and appealing, other times jagged.

Lars Danielsson

After a short pause to reset the stage, Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson came out with a quartet that included Jan Bang, Jon Christensen and, on piano and accordion, Bugge Wesseltoft. Those familiar with Wesseltoft's groove-centric "New Conception of Jazz" series on his own Jazzland label would be surprised at how easily he can adapt to a situation like this, which emphasized free improv. While pulses would emerge periodically, there were just as many periods of rhythmic stasis, where the group sound was more about texture and the evolution of melody within an elastic time sense.

Lars DanielssonOpening with solo bass, Danielsson's lyrical lines were almost immediately transformed by Bang's real-time sampling into more ambient territory. The idea of live sampling is to feed the signal back to the original performer(s) in order to provoke a new kind of interaction. It requires imagination and a completely open mind, where the samples are treated as equal instrumental partners, and it was clear that Danielsson's ears were wide open to Bang's choices.

Wesseltoft entered, playing sparsely at first, but gradually building towards a more defined, albeit spontaneously conceived series of gentle chord changes, again sampled and fed back to the overall audioscape by Bang. Over the years Christensen has moved farther away from overt time, and his performance here was no exception, with an emphasis on texture and punctuation. But when Bang put forward a deep, defined heartbeat-like pulse, Christensen's reaction, rather than moving clearly with it, was to fill in the cracks as the piece morphed from spacious ambience to a more solid groove.

While each member of Danielsson's quartet emerged into the spotlight at times, this performance was not about individual soloing. Instead, it was a truly collaborative effort where egos were kept in check; the entire performance became something akin to a conversation, albeit an often strange but beautiful one. However, as the piece built from peaceful tranquility to greater turbulence, it became clear that Christensen and Wesseltoft were the two players who provided the greatest sense of drama. Danielsson alternated from an anchoring role to a more thematic one, while Bang continued to feed assorted snippets, often processed, to the rest of the group. At the same time, he contributed new sonic ideas from his large base of source material.

The second piece began again with Danielsson solo, but this time he created his own loops, which formed a basic pulse over which he layered a warm arco theme. Bang fed back samples that sounded as if they came from the first piece. Some critics attack the use of samplers and other technology as too mechanistic, but one need only see Bang in performance to realize that these tools can be completely organic, comprising an instrument in its own right. Even using prerecorded samples, but the imagination required to know the technology so intimately that it becomes second nature—just like any instrument—is what separates those who merely dabble from those who use the technology to take the music in a new direction.

But Bang wasn't the only one who was stretching the limits. At one point, Danielsson alternated between playing a strong melody and tapping the bridge of his bass, and here a clearer form began to evolve. Some players in more conventional jazz settings prefer the term spontaneous composition to free improvisation. What made Danielsson's set so remarkable was that, as open-ended as it was, there was always a sense of purpose, a palpable feeling of four focused musicians who were trying to take the music to a place that, while not clearly defined at the outset, gradually became so.

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