A Review of the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand Norway

This was the 15th edition of the Punkt Festival, but my first experience of this unique festival.  The invitation to attend came as part of an expansion of the festival, both in the range of music presented and the number of venues, and as part of its international focus and presentation of partner Punkt festivals in different cities round the world.  This year the music took in a range of genres, including what we might call ‘chamber improv’, ambient music, experimental rock and a concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument and full orchestra, and however we define the music of the Swedish piano trio Rymden (Scandinavian jazz?).  But, as is probably well known, the core of the festival is the Live Remix, the immediate follow up of a particular concert with the use of samples of that concert to create a new piece of music.

This year the festival used a number of different venues.  The festival clearly has as a defining feature a willingness to present a wide range of music and a lack of interest in genre labels.  However, the programme with its range of available venues had this year a policy of putting particular types of music into the venue most suited to it.  Thus what I have called ‘chamber improv’ was presented in a black box venue in SØlander Art Museum, the ‘ambient music’ sets were in the Domkirken, the Cathedral, the ‘experimental rock’ was in the Kick Scene club and the final evening with the orchestral piece, Rymden and Kim Myhr’s guitar and percussion based piece took place in Kilden, the relatively new concert hall.

The festival thus seems to have an openness to different genres and an acceptance of their differences rather than a rejection of genre labels.   It brings these genres together and shows how they overlap through the use of the Live Remix.

There were many highlights in the concert programme; on the first evening vocalist Sidsel Endresen interacted with the violin and double bass duo Vilde and Inga, five members of the Ensemble Modern interacted with festival co-director Jan Bang on laptop.  The highlight of the evening, however, was the set with Samuel Rohrer’s Dark Star Safari that featured Jan Bang’s vocals with their attractive, rather melancholy feel.    On Day 2 in the Cathedral we had a stunning solo set from Ståle Storløkken on the cathedral organ and a beautiful, if slightly overlong, vocal composition performed by the Trondheim Voices.

stale Solokken
Ståle Storløkken photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kick Scene club we had two powerful and loud sets of experimental rock, the first from the young Drongo group from Kristiansand, a band with three keyboards, two guitars, electric bass and drums, and the second from the Thurston Moore Group.   The latter set was very structured with a series of transitions from one passage to another signalled by Moore with the other members of the group poised waiting for the cue.

Thurston Moore Group
Thurston Moore Group photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kilden concert hall the concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument composed by Dai Fujikura and performed by Hidejiro Honjoh and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra was a little underwhelming with the shamisen, a three stringed guitar/banjo type instrument, perhaps lacking the breadth of sound needed to match the orchestral writing.  Kim Myhr’s You | Me group with four guitars, all doubling acoustic and electric guitars, and three percussionists created wonderful layers of music, repetitive but powerful enough to resist the ‘minimalist’ label.  Finally, the set by Rymden, the Swedish trio with Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund and Magnus ÖstrÖm was the one that came closest to a jazz approach based on tunes, all announced, and all featuring solos from the members of the group.

The Live Remixes took place immediately after the main concert and on the same stage.  The festival directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, led three of the six remixes, either individually or working with other musicians, and the other three involved invited individuals or groups.  I enjoyed all the Live Remix sets, but was unsure about the focus of these sets.  Some built an intriguing set of music that referred to aspects of the concert sampled to create a fascinatingly coherent version of that concert.  The Remix by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré with Arve Henriksen and Eivind Aarset that drew both on the organ set by Ståle SorlØkken and that of the Trondheim Voices is a case in point, producing what was for me some of the most beautiful music heard during the festival.  The Remix of the shamisen concerto by Jan Bang and featuring Sidsel Endresen was less obviously linked to the concert, but nonetheless created a set of music that reflected the original.  Also less obviously linked, at least in my ears, were the remixes of the Drongo set by Simen Løvgren, that of the Thurston Moore set by the Supersilent trio, and that of the Kim Myhr set by Pål- Kåres Elektroshop.  Each of these remixes presented interesting electronic music that was successful in its own right and certainly captured the spirit of the original.  But I was left wondering what the parameters of the Live Remix are.  How far should they draw on the original?  Is it sufficient to create something original that does no more than reflect the vibe of the original?

A couple of observations: I found Fiona Talkington’s introductions very informative, especially those on the first day when she conducted a brief Q&A with the musicians.  Secondly, the festival was dominated by guitars, keyboard and drums.  Not one group had a saxophone!

The Birmingham Punkt Festival with the two co-directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and a mix of British and Norwegian musicians will take place at Birmingham City University from 18th to 20th March.

The photographs above were taken by Petter Sandell

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