The Punkt festival in Norway (August 30 - September 1, 2018) revolves around a unique concept. Artists will perform, operating in zones that range through rock, electronics, jazz, and improvisation, and then, following almost immediately, they’ll be subjected to an ‘instant’ live remix by one or more sampling maestros. Often, the laptop-wielding sonic capturer will be joined by one, or even several, instrumentalists, taking the art of spontaneous cannibalization even further. There is surely no other festival worldwide that is devoted to such specialized tactics. (Punkt has been happening in the small south coast city of Kristiansand since 2005, founded and still guided by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, longtime collaborators and masters of live sampling. In recent years, key festival guests have included Brian Eno, David Sylvian and Laurie Anderson.)
The main sets and attendant remixes are housed in the darkly glimmering Kick Scene club, but Punkt’s opening night featured a run of un-remixed performances at the white-walled Kunsthall gallery. The duo of Anja Lauvdal (keyboards) and Heida Mobeck (tuba) improvised dynamically, both of them employing tightrope live electronics, filtering, and fibrillating with a manic resourcefulness. Their sonic output soon commingled, becoming difficult to disentangle source elements, but Mobeck’s altered tuba was fodder for finger-pad scratching, whilst Lauvdal made her own percussive progress, switching multiple-layer beats by hyperactive whim. Strangely, the duo fell upon a joint seafaring shanty-sway, bass gobbets spluttering amidst stutters of hard noise. Voice-through-tuba made rhythms, and metallic industrial automatons lurched, with a circus siren sympathy between instruments.
The following night, these two also remixed the set by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, who had concentrated on cymbals initially, soon getting into full kit attack mode. Then he returned to spaciousness, making vicious isolated strikes on his small gongs, a gamelan cowbell coming into play, finishing with a double snare racket. Lauvdal and Mobeck found the sound of grinding glass in their chosen samples, symphonized tuba introducing tom rolls, Lauvdal performing a hopping dance at the keys. At one stage, PN-L’s makings were reduced to a toy drum kit sound, shorn of all reverb, spurts of speed-cowbell entering the howling chaos.
Another aspect of Punkt is its seminar content, with a series of talks and panels during the morning and early afternoon. The shakuhachi specialist Clive Bell has a long playing history on the British improvising scene, and his delivery of The Fate Of The Musician-Instrument Relationship In The Age Of The Laptop was drenched in irony, seeping with whimsy and producing multiple smiles amongst the gathered. Bell also used his diverse visual and anecdotal examples (Art Of Noise, Tim Hecker) to make some pertinent, serious observations, at once mocking the knob-twiddlers, but secretly admiring this comparatively recent interface. One of the first audience questions came from guitar manipulator Matthew Collings (from Edinburgh), as Bell had observed his tendency to almost close his laptop at several points in the previous evening’s Kunsthall performance. This tendency was, indeed, a way of allowing Collings to fully immerse in his own sounds, as he stroked out disembodied chords, ripe for transformation, fingers inserted into his small amplifier, which was laid flat on a table. His guitar was often lain beside it too, along with a tiny Moog, Collings positioned with audience members encircling him, the resultant orchestral wash not really sounding much like an electric axe. Branca and Fripp sprang to mind, then a Stephen O’Malley throb led into a Reichian bass shimmer, akin to Electric Counterpoint. An oppressive hum made its sludge oscillation.
NYC keyboardist Jason Lindner’s Now vs Now trio played around midnight, but being accustomed to longer sets and a greater build-up, there wasn’t much time to enliven a crowd that had begun to disperse. In a trio setting, Lindner has more responsibility to govern the palette, so there was less of the uncaged effects manipulation that he revels in when playing with saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s band. His seminar the next noon could easily have doubled into two hours, as Lindner revealed deep roots in ragtime, stride, and boogie-woogie, feeling pressured on the NYC bebop scene, which was a spur for getting into extreme synth technology, eventually specializing in the stacked keyboard array. By the end, there wasn’t much time to chat about Lindner’s more recent Bowie stint, but he topped a fine talk off by spontaneously layering an improvisation, on several synths, with inter-tangled, spangled textures.
On Friday evening, there was a combination of two groupings that featured string players. Drummer Thomas Strønen’s Time Is A Blind Guide included violin, cello, and bass, with piano, melding jazz and moderne classical languages. Borders between composition and improvisation were smeared, with no scores on display, the music sombre with periodic roughness. Near the end, there was a heightened tension as isolated strafing was delivered with precision, pauses between outbreaks of violent action. The remix by Tortusa/Breistein paired electronics with tenor saxophone, snatching piano, cymbals, continuing and expanding the palette in recognizable fashion, magnifying stick-rim clacks and speedy bongo rattles. A loping, hard minimalism held a stern, spare stare, reverb set at oil tanker levels.
Trio iXi (two violins and a cello) joined with Bang (electronics), Eivind Aarset (guitar) and Michele Rabbia (drums), opening with agitated acoustic strings a-quiver. Electronic bass forms were introduced, as the trio paused, Bang boldly tinkering with their matter. Soon, activity levels hiked, and a beautiful co-existence of delicate strings and brutal sample detonations was made possible via some expert sonic balancing. Rabbia used palm and mallet on snare to concoct an unusual pattern, cloth draped over skins, then strings swirled, amassing drone scurf, before slashing in the Bernard Herrmann manner. Honoré and Bell remixed, with few discernible traces, making more of a re-mood, subtle in the extreme. They held back on the string content until the very end, topped off finally with some mallet rhythm re-visits, Bell levitating calmly across Laos and Thailand.
Every festival needs an explosive finale, and the Elephant9 threesome didn’t relent throughout their Saturday night set, with Hammond organist Ståle Storløkken ripping out perpetual ribbons of gore, electric bass and drums adopting a Hendrix-Experience abstraction as the trio worked towards a combined gut-ascension. The Doglover95 remix was creepily atmospheric, with live Hassell-ed trumpet, but actually failed to include anything that sounded remotely like a Hammond, thereby revealing the Elephant in the room.
In a complementary spirit, their younger brethren continued this excess, across at the late night Vaktbua club. Coming down from far Trondheim, the I Like To Sleep trio successfully balanced sensitive vibraphone with extreme baritone guitar distortion, in another example of high volume assault co-existing in harmony with translucent wandering. Drums in the center, this vibes-fuzz relationship has not hitherto been experienced, and it involves a compelling confrontation-and-unity smash-up. There was no remix waiting after this last live set, just an angular, careening release, as Lionel Hampton met Neil Young, on the surprisingly warm shores of the North Sea.