top of page

Punkt Festival 2023: Remixes by the Sea

On the second floor of Theatret, a venue in the seaside city of Kristiansand, Norway, an audience listens to a folk melody on Hardanger fiddle over splashes of jazz piano. In the basement, just afterward, the same audience stands bobbing their heads in a haze of smoke and purple light along with noisy drum-and-bass and saxophone fragments over samples of the fiddle and piano.

 

Upstairs, later that evening, a jazz collective improvises for long stretches, slipping in and out of composed melodies in democratic interplay. Downstairs, Norwegian and Polish students sing over clipped J-Dilla-style beats made up of individual sounds from the saxophonist and drummer from the collective.

 

Upstairs again, a string quartet plays waves of microtonal harmonics, which two electronic musicians put through a kaleidoscope of reverb. A piccolo trumpet soars over the shimmering texture like a flicker of light on glass. Downstairs, live drums, elephantine electronic roars, and distorted samples bounce off each other in a rave-like environment.

Arve Henricksen, Jan Bang, and Hamid Drake

To close out the night, a free jazz quintet blasts full tilt, spilling out of a small club in the trees up above the harbor. The group is mostly young women, students that improvise just as intensely as the free jazz titans of 1960s New York. Honking saxophone and trombone bounce off the bright red buildings and calm waters of the fishing pier—a natural, reverberant “remix” of the music.

 

Every year since 2005, experimental musicians and multimedia artists from around the world gather in Kristiansand for the Punkt Festival. The festival looks and sounds nothing like an American traditional jazz festival. Its model, instead, is remixing. Musicians perform eclectic, genre-defying sets, then electronic artists “live remix” those sets immediately after for the same audience.

 

The process behind the live remixing is what makes Punkt stand out amongst other music festivals of its ilk. According to Punkt’s website, the following takes place during a live remix:

  1. Source Material: The remixer has access to separate instrument signals from the source concert.

  2. Preparation:

  3. Sampling: During the source concert's first half, the remixer samples key moments.

  4. Organizing: In the source concert's second half, they arrange and modify these samples using electronic tools (Ableton, Logic, hardware samplers, hand sensors, MaxMSP, etc.)

  5. Live Remix performance: The palette of treated and organized samples are used as a starting point for an improvised performance of around 20-25 minutes.

  6. Collaboration: Musicians working with acoustic or amplified instruments, also inspired by the source concert, often join electronic remixers for the live remix performance.

  7. Aesthetic: Open-ended. In addition to the samples from the source concert, the remixer may use additional material like field recordings, synthesizers, spoken word (live or pre-recorded) and collaborate with a large ensemble of electronic and acoustic performers. A live remix may be done by a singer or instrumentalist using no samples at all, just mental inspiration from the source concert.  

 

Over the course of remixing, the source material may be highlighted or totally obscured by the remixer. In the 2023 edition, Sophye Soliveau’s soulful harp and voice was accentuated and gently

manipulated by composer and electroacoustic musician Øyvind Brandtsegg, so you could always tell what the source was. Brandstegg simply stretched and chopped up the samples, respecting the tone quality and phrasing of Soliveau’s vocals and harp playing. Kristian Isachsen and his Polish remixing students distorted Erlend Apneseth’s vast fiddle playing and Joanna Duda’s epic piano playing beyond recognition, adding blast beats and roaring saxophones and creating something wholly new and compelling. Arve Henriksen’s mournful piccolo trumpet against shimmering string harmonics from the Lutosławski String Quartet was transformed into a pleasing sonic whirlpool by Jan Bang. Regardless of the remixer’s approach, it is an inherently collaborative and supportive process, and it is interesting to see the musicians’ positive reactions to each other’s work.

 

Founded by electro-jazz gurus Jan Bang and Eric Honoré, the name of the game with this festival is no boundaries. Artists come from all around the world, in every imaginable genre from electronic music to free jazz to contemporary classical to soul-pop. There is no distinction between high and low art, no silos between popular music and the avant-garde, and no preciousness or restrictive ideologies about style or form. Artistic media overlap: the lighting and scenography of the concerts is theatrical and cinematic, and the seminar portion hosted by musical wizard David Toop welcomes visual and multimedia artists as well as musicians.

 

Composition and improvisation lose their traditional meanings as commissioned composers, DJs, and jazz musicians create art together in real time. Meticulous lighting and sound engineering set the stage for spontaneous, uninhibited creative fusions. Budding artists unknown to the audience open for established veterans with equal applause and support. In this circle of artists, these distinctions seem artificial and unnecessary. These crossovers are a given in the cultural milieu of European jazz. 


Benedict Maurseth

The three-day festival is host to a number of established and up-and-coming figures on the Norwegian jazz scene, including Hardanger fiddlers Erlend Apneseth, Benedict Maurseth, and Nils Økland, electronic musicians John Derek Bishop and DJ Strangefruit, jazz veterans Arve Henriksen, Ole Morten Vågan, Hamid Drake, Nils Petter Molvær, and Eivind Aarset, classical ensemble Lutoslawski Quartet and composer Maja Ratkje, and a host of young musicians traveling from Iceland, Germany, France, and Poland, among other countries. The festival is funded in part by the University of Adger, the Ministry of Culture and Equality, and cross-cultural grants from the European Economic Area (EEA) program. Punkt also extensively funds overseas tours and recording projects of the musicians associated with it, receiving important grants to fund their musicians.

 

I traveled to experience Punkt in September 2023, a full two years after I initially planned to travel there for my doctoral dissertation research on the influence of folk music on Norwegian jazz, inspired by my time living in Norway from 2017-2018. I am planning a book project about Norwegian jazz, and I had heard about Punkt many times from fellow researchers on this subject, most notably Tor Dybo, with whom I worked in 2022 at the University of Agder in Kristiansand. Dr. Dybo’s main research area is on Jan Garbarek, the luminary figure in Norwegian jazz, but he also studies genre blending in Norwegian music.


I am eager to return to the Punkt festival in future years to see what is in store for this forward-looking and innovative festival.


Comments


bottom of page