Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Three, August 26, 2006

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

The final day of Punktfest got off to a somewhat subdued start, but that doesn't mean the performances weren't at the same high level as the previous two days. Day three also had two of the festival's most memorable performances—and considering how memorable the entire festival has been, that's a definite achievement.

Chapter Index
  1. Phonophani & Marius Watz
  2. Erik Honoré & Elsewhere
  3. Bernhard Gunter
  4. Nils Petter Molvaer & Helge Sten
  5. Sidsel Endresen & Jan Bang
  6. Pal "DJ Strangefruit" Nyhus, Knut Saevik & Peter Barden
  7. Arve Henriksen
  8. Honoré/Baden/Aarset/Molvaer/Boine/Augland

Phonophani & Marius Watz

Phonophani's performance, the first in the main theater, was a curious combination of ambient textures, minimalism and understated noise improv. For this special performance Espen Sommer Eide (who is Phonophani) collaborated with visual artist Marius Watz, bringing yet another innovative collaborative concept to a festival that seems to define new ones at almost every show. More than simply a visual presentation, Watz was an active participant, couched in darkness on stage along with Eide. Like all good improv, there were times where Watz's evolving images drove the music, other times where the music drove the images, and many others where the two worked in perfect synchronicity.

Both artists had the requisite laptops that have appeared at almost every Punkt performance, but Eide also utilized a wind-driven synthesizer to create melodic snippets that sometimes formed a minimal rhythmic pulse over which many textures were layered. Phoniphani's music could be quite dense at times, yet as cacophonic as it sometimes became, it could possess a strangely beautiful and hypnotic quality. There were assorted electronic squawks and burbles, but there were also rich washes of sound which ranged from eminently appealing to jaggedly sharp-edged.

Watching the images respond to the music, often slowing down or picking up right along the soundscapes, was a unique experience—as was watching the Eide do the same in reverse. And while the set ebbed and flowed in a continuous fashion, it had specific and logical breakpoints, most often revolving around Watz's shifts from three-dimensional cubes which looked like something out of an Escher painting to long stems with colorful discs at the top that seemed to shrink and grow with the music and large, somewhat amorphous shapes in vivid greens.

With the artists on stage in near-darkness, the clear goal was to have the audience pay attention to the visuals and integrate them with what they were hearing. Rarely ever applying anything like conventional harmony, melody or rhythms, but bearing occasional earmarks of all three, the performance was yet another example of how technology can be used to create something new that demands its audience to dispense with preconceptions of what music should be.

Erik Honoré & Elsewhere

While Jan Bang has cropped up as a participant at more shows than one can count, his Punktfest partner, Erik Honoré, seems to work a little more behind the scenes, only on stage for some of the live remixes. But for the Alpha Room's first show of the day, he was featured with his group Elsewhere in an odd combination of folk tradition, technology and its own pop sensibility.

Along with Honoré, Elsewhere features singer Greta Aagre, whose voice at times recalled Maire Brennan from the Irish group Clannad. But Aagre also proved a flexible singer with a rich tone in her lower range, which worked well with music that required her to be delicate at times, powerful at others. Acoustic guitarist Jorgen Rief was a strong accompanist, fingerpicking intentionally during the more song-based sections, but equally capable of scratching strings, tapping the body and creating other unusual sounds that Honoré could sample and feed back to the trio.

If there's an underlying theme at Punktfest, it's that rules are made to be broken and musical styles are wide open to the application of contemporary sonic approaches. The trio's brief set began with Rief extracting all manner of odd sounds from his guitar, while Honoré sampled them, built loops and added his own washes of sound into something that was closer to free improv than song. Even when Aagre entered and things became more tuneful, there were still moments where the melodism would break down into freedom, only to return once more in a concerted way to the group's lyrical side.

Elsewhere's second tune had a more distinct pop vibe, but Honoré's deep bass sample, drum programming and live sampling of Aagre's voice made it pop music with its own flavor. And while some of Elsewhere's material more or less followed conventional pop/folk song form, there were times where the musicians dispensed with such conventions altogether and moved into the area of atmospherics. Perhaps best described as ambient folk, Elsewhere's performance demonstrated yet again that samplers and sound processors can be either cold technology, or—as has been the case time and again over the past three days— powerful tools to realize unequivocally new musical ends.

Bernhard Gunter

That fact is not lost on Bernhard Gunter. The earlier part of his career was focused on composition in the realms of Morton Feldman, Luigi Nono and Iannis Xenakis. But he's been focusing more on improvisation recently, and his performance in the main theater bore the sonic trademarks of some of his earlier works, but with a completely spontaneous aura.

Bernhard Gunter Seated on a cushion on the floor of the stage facing his rack of gear, Gunter made it clear that, like Phonophani, his intention was not to be a visual focus. With long silences sometimes separating a series of ticking pulses and subtle white noise, there was virtually no reference to melody in his meditative, almost spiritual music. Dark and deep tones sometimes emerged as his single improvised piece evolved, and one segment sounded like an altered acoustic guitar sample, but Gunter's music cannot and should not be over-analyzed. It demands, instead, to simply be experienced without necessarily searching for reference points—in other words, felt rather than heard. It's clear that this approach to sound and space resonates deeply with Gunter—and based on the action at the CD kiosk in the foyer after the show, his audience as well.

Nils Petter Molvaer & Helge Sten

The next main theater show was an intriguing double bill with totally unpredictable end results. Trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer teamed up with Helge Sten, one quarter of the free jazz/electronica/noise band Supersilent. But Sten—also known as Deathprod on his own projects—played guitar, rather than adopting his usual role as sonic manipulator/producer. As a result, this was a surprisingly lyrical set—albeit one that leaned toward melancholy and, perhaps, a certain desolation at times.

Listeners who know Molvaer for his more groove-laden solo efforts, like last year's er (Sula, 2005), also know that beneath the danceable rhythms he can be a richly thematic player. Here, with Sten creating a blend of textural soundscapes and some strong melodies of his own, Molvaer has never sounded more exposed or vulnerable. Beginning on his own, Molvaer breathed air into his horn, adding the occasional percussive punctuation—a motif he would return to numerous times during the first part of the performance. With the addition of Sten's atmospherics, the collective sound evoked images of open spaces in the wilderness where there is tranquility, but also the potential for unexpected turbulence.

What was most surprising about their set was just how gentle Sten could be. Whether creating a low drone, over which he layered a spare melody by bowing his guitar, or building gentle chord changes, Sten proved himself even broader than those familiar with Supersilent might expect. Equally surprising was how, while Sten and Molvaer built a considerable number of ideas together, they would sometimes alternate solo voices. Molvaer would play a brief passage alone and then stop, then Sten picked up where the idea left off, developing it and passing it back again.

Space and attention to the decay of every note are things with which Molvaer's fans are familiar. Still, this seemingly unlikely teaming was ultimately a great success: Sten's gentility and Molvaer's unadulterated tone combined to create an improvisation that was revealing about both artists.

Sidsel Endresen & Jan Bang

When singer Sidsel Endresen performed a brief solo set on Punktfest's first evening, her atypical creation of sounds no voice was meant to make signaled a new development, allowing her to fit in with the experimental leanings of many of the festival's other artists. Her use of the voice as a true instrument has always been a given, but she's taking it to a new level.

In her improvised set with Jan Bang on day three, her odd percussive articulations and seemingly reverse-sounding utterances comprised the perfect source material for Bang to sample and manipulate. One of the defining characteristics of almost every artist at Punktfest has been a willingness to go beyond commonly held expectations of how instruments should sound, and over the years Endresen has evolved into a singer like no other.

Sidsel Endresen Remarkably, the set shifted from more outré passages—where Bang took samples of Endresen and created rhythmic patterns, over which he layered his own soundscapes and other rhythmically staggered samples of Endresen—to darkly lyrical ones. Bang's ability to walk into any musical situation cold and adapt his own increasingly personal approach to technology continues to show how samplers have evolved into legitimate musical instruments. And, as always, his complete commitment elevates every context in which he places himself.

The four-part set alternated between Endresen's unconventional vocal approach and more melodic passages featuring her equally uncommon poetry. The duo finished, as her set did on the first night, with a song from Undertow (Jazzland, 2001). There have been many fine singers at Punktfest, but Endresen really stands alone in her intrepid desire to constantly reinvent herself—still remaining inexorably linked to her past work.

Pal "DJ Strangefruit" Nyhus, Knut Saevik & Peter Barden

Throughout the festival, turntablist Pal "DJ Strangefruit" Nyhus has been closing out the nights at a club around the corner from the Agder Teater. His work in Nils Petter Molvaer's group has helped redefine what a turntablist can do. So it was fitting that he bring his Mungolian Jetset duo with Knut Saevik to the Alpha Room, along with drummer Peter Barden (from Hanne Hukkelberg and Mari Boine's groups of the previous night, but in a more purely electronic capacity), to do the live remix of the double bill that had just finished.

It was one of the festival's best remixes, and evidence that while studio remixes are often considered relatively safe affairs, live remixes can be as risky and interactive as any other form of improvisation, requiring the same amount of intuition and trust. Live remixes demand that everyone involved on stage listen—not just to the material that's been sampled, but to each other as well, so they can respond as a unit and create something different but respectful of its source.

The trio of Nyhus, Saevik and Barden began relatively literally with Endresen's voice, but as the twenty-minute segment wore on, they began to introduce aspects of the Molvaer/Sten duo, applying more defined beats and ambient washes. Creating his own vocal samples to stagger with Endresen and simultaneously managing to introduce additional textures from his turntables, Nyhus's efforts helped gradually transform the end result into something nearly unrecognizable from its early beginnings. If improvisation is defined as in-the-moment spontaneous creation, then there's no question that the live remixes at Punktfest fit that definition, and one can only imagine how the concept will evolve in future years.


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