Punkt Festival 2008, Kristiansand, Day 3

by guest contributor The Jazzlander
September 2008

I am turning over day 3 to "The Jazzlander" aka Sir Dhahi because I was basically with him from breakfast through Jon Hassell's set and he is better writer than me anyway- Nitya

Punkt Festival 2008, Kristiansand, Day 3

The beautiful Øyonn Groven Myhren started the day with a wonderful Alfa Room performance (as opposed to remix - and another Árrin co-production) filled with wit and charm and songs that spanned the ethereally haunting to the whimsically ribald: she is indeed the perfect deliverer of Norwegian folk and medieval culture, and while her spoken introductions were entirely in Norwegian, even those who could not understand her words could not help but be enchanted by her. Her performances in which she accompanied herself on the medieval harp - which she did with consumate ease and indisputable skill - were a revelation. However, when she sang into a microphone (that's right - she sang unamplified and acappella for the majority of her performance) that had a touch of reverb, and then accompanied herself by tapping her foot in that strange rhythm that has more to do with a beating heart or a breathing pattern, that something truly magical that transcended the language of words occurred. A festival high point.

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by C. Stolzenbach
(photo by Carsten Stolzenbach)

Splashgirl were another act that proudly waved a mongrel flag, effortlessly splicing the DNA of ambient music with a kind of minimalism that owes more to John Adams than Steve Reich. The group comprises Andreas Stensland Løwe on piano, drummer Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød, and bassist Jo Berger Myhre, each contributing tonality from a place not clearly defined on musical maps. While many felt they heard Steve Reich in Løwe's piano, I think that his playing had more in common with the solo piano pieces of John Adams, Phrygian Gates and China Gates, than Reich. Simultaneously demanding and appealing, Splashgirl are a group that are truly an emerging force, and will undoubtedly be making their way towards a larger listenership very soon - and rightly so.

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by C. Stolzenbach
(photo by Carsten Stolzenbach)

Arve Henriksen / Rafael Toral / Erik Honoré: this felt like being served a beautifully prepared meal with a live goose on the plate trampling the truffles. While undoubtedly talented and innovative, Toral seemed to be out of his depth, his contributions sitting awkwardly on top of the mix, untreated and giving the impression of technical problems with the equipment rather than considered sonic performance.

The performance also provided one of the lighter musical moments of the festival with Arve Henriksen in prankster mode, aping Toral's flourishing movements. However, with the removal of tension, Henriksen kicked-in with some playing that acted as a mirror to Toral's sound generation, engaging in direct call and response and sympathetic accompaniment, rescuing what could have been a lost performance.

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by C. Stolzenbach
(photo by Carsten Stolzenbach)

Håkon Kornstad / Nils Økland: Håkon Kornstad - a reeding, writhing rhythmatic, looping and lilting through darksome shadows and infrared projections. An unbelievable performance, full of musicality, spontaneity and clearly loaded with pleasure for both Håkon and everyone there to hear. The music covered ground between the liltingly soft to strident multilayered sonorities that live on the outskirts of rock music.

Indeed, his skill with the saxophone is now almost matched by his skill with the sampler/looper. In stark contrast, Nils Økland arrived to give the festival's fourth and final Árrin  co-production with three fiddles: Handanger fiddle, classical violin and the Viola D'Amore. Økland's playing gave a whole new meaning to the term "Chill-out Music", again employing a heartbeat approach to keeping time with his feet while moving between melodies built on sustained notes that set the sympathetic strings of the Hardanger fiddle and the Viola D'Amore resonating and intricate little runs that cut through like a sudden thought of "but what if ..?" in the midst of the certainty of those sustained notes. Coming when it did in the program, Økland's performance was a much-needed space for rest and contemplation.

A beautiful and extraordinary performance.

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by Weisi
(photo by Weisi)

Erik Honoré and Nitya Håkon Kornstad / Eivind Buene / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré: once more into the warm depths of the Alfa Room, and there we meet with Håkon Kornstad participating in a remix of his own performance, surrounded by a chamber ensemble. Once again, the value of the seminars was felt: the remix and accompaniment by the Punkt production duo of Honoré / Bang was exemplary, rediscovering and reinterpreting Kornstad's sonic textures; but the addition of a clearly pre-composed piece performed by a Chamber ensemble would have been inexplicable to those who had not attended Eivind Buene's talk about the piece - the piece was composed in a Kornstad language - elements of Håkon's playing were the basis for the exploration the composition engaged in.

While those that had not attended the talk were confused by Buene's piece and even the reason for its inclusion, they felt that it somehow did fit the remix, yet were unsure why. Those forearmed with the knowledge were able to appreciate the piece on both the instinctive level and the intellectual level: a typical Punktism.

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by Weisi
(photo by Weisi)

While controversy was not a major part of the festival, Leafcutter John and Seb Rochford were the great dividers of opinion this year. Their full-on sonic assault had more in common with rock performances in many ways, reminiscent of the Live at Pompeii version of Saucerful of Secrets by Pink Floyd one moment, then moving into a folk troubadour mode similar to a more vernacular and less bombastic Jim Moray. Many people left the hall wondering if Leafcutter John could play the guitar at all, and many others dismissed the performance without a second thought: this was not Rune Grammofon or Jazzland or ECM sonic exploration, and tacitly, many have come to associate Punkt with these kind of idioms. Leafcutter John and Seb Rochford, were every bit the sonic explorers, and as such were just as "right for Punkt" as any other artist there.

Future festivals would do well to have more of this kind of diversity or face being colonized by instigators of Shibboleths and thus be de-energized as an innovative force. Additionally, this performance contained the only overtly political material, as in their final performance they included a slowly typing text of Barack Obama's Presidential Candidacy Acceptance speech whilst moving musically through different sound textures. This actually felt like an intrusion into an escapist world and was perhaps an indication that the festival might also have to be cautious about the possibility of retreating into some kind of disconnected complacency. While, aesthetically speaking, Leafcutter John and Seb Rochford's set might not have been the most obvious choice for Punkt, it was possibly the most important one this year.

When Leafcutter John and Seb Rochford were finished, there was the fastest exit from the main theatre to the Alfa Room of the whole festival. Why? Because the remix of this uncompromising performance was to be performed by Unni Løvlid, a folk singer with experimental tendencies as exemplified by her 2008 album RITE. The question was "What the hell is she going to make of that?" The results were both satisfying and disappointing. Satisfying, because she basically did a full performance, and a damn fine one, that incorporated some snatches of voice and effects from the Leafcutter John & Seb Rochford performance; disappointing, because it was not strictly a remix. However, Unni gave a captivating performance and as such the negative cannot be emphasised and should in fact be ignored (and would be without a second thought in any other context).

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by C. Stolzenbach
(photo by Carsten Stolzenbach)

Jon and Nitya The closing performance on the main stage was by festival headliner Jon Hassell and his group Maarifa Street. Unsurprisingly, expectations were high for this performance, and there was no disappointment. The music of Maarifa Street was a beautiful joining of high and low, primitive and hypermodern, intellectual and sensual. With the Conversational Remix With Brian Eno Hassell had made clear, this was very deliberately the case from the beginning, and the title "Fourth World Music" is a perfect capsule for this when applied to music.

The North and South is as important as the East and West that critics seem besotted with when describing Hassell's music. Hassell himself gives plenty of space to the music, allowing it to unfold, instead opting to have Peter Freeman as the rock on which Maarifa Street is built. Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche was allowed extensive soloing space on his upright fiddle, and this was certainly a great thing as he had a tonal quality unlike any of the three Norwegian fiddle-players that had already played, and also added his own electronic processing of his sound, creating further colouring. Master drummer Pedram Khavarzamini displayed why is he is a master. His playing of the tombak was a revelation, and considering this was his first appearance with the Maarifa Street line-up, the revelation was doubled.

Jan Bang was in full dub mode, creating spacey FX, and signing the perfromance with his unique dancing. But Hassell was master of all: he was the alpha male of the group, without question, and while not wielding control with an iron fist, was calling many of the shots while Peter Freeman kept pieces anchored within the framework necessary to identify each track as an individual piece, to stop the whole thing spiralling off into some aether from which there could be no return to the theme.

Nils and NityaHassell's playing again demonstrated how and why he is the great innovator of his instrument. It seems appropriate that Kristiansand, Norway, is the place where Hassell is playing at that moment in time, as he gives a context to two of his greatest "disciples", Nils Petter Molvær and Arve Henriksen. But these days there is a gradual shift towards a recognition of Hassell's contribution to modern music, a contribution recognised by contemporaries such as Brian Eno who has written of the debt he owes Jon Hassell. There is a saying: "Credit where credit's due". In Jon Hassell's case, it's long overdue: long may the repayment continue!

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM. Photo by C. Stolzenbach
(photo by Carsten Stolzenbach)

The Future Jazz Crew at Punkt

Punkt 2008 on SomaFM: Alex Gunia, Nitya, Jon Trygve, Sir Dhahii, Kjetil Husbo, Weisi
L to R: Alex Gunia, Nitya, Jon Trygve, Sir Dhahii, Kjetil Husbo, Weisi

Music from Seb Rochford

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