Punkt Festival 2009: Day 1, Kristiansand, Norway, September 2, 2009
Every festival has its raison d'être, but the Kristiansand festival, in Norway, has many. It's primary definer is its "Live Remix" conceptwhere performances in Agder Theatre's main hall are immediately followed by live remixes of the performance just passed, with additional musicians interacting, in real-time, with the remixer's vision.
But there's more to Punkt than its moveable feastone that's already been brought to London, England in the fall of 2008 and will be taken to Germany's Enjoy Jazz festival in the fall of 2009. Punkt has also been about transparency; despite its often high profile artists, there are no barriers between them, the media and the fans. It's a culture which, over the course of years, turns into something even more: a true sense of family for those returning, sometimes from great distances.
Despite an increasingly international focus, Punkt has always been about creating a place where Norwegian artists like Nils Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen and Arve Henriksen interact with musicians from farther afield like, in past years, Jon Hassell, Gavin Bryars and Iain Ballamy. For its fifth anniversary, however, Punkt returns largely to its roots in Norwegian music, with a program that, along with Aarset, Endresen and Henriksen, includes festival newcomers like Albatrosha duo of young artists with an impressive debut, Seagull Island (Inner Ear, 2009); Helge Lien Trio, whose Hello Troll (Ozella, 2008) was one of 2008's best piano trio albums; Susanna and The Magical Orchestra, whose just released 3 (Rune Grammofon, 2009) continues a winning streak of intimate, electronica-centric singer/songwriting; and vocalist Maja Ratkje, whose work with the free improvising Spunk quartet continues to evolve with Kantarell (Rune Grammofon, 2009).
While the emphasis is on Norwegian musicians, the festival is recruiting some talent from abroad. American percussionist Adam Rudolph brings his Go: Organic Orchestra concept to Punkt, but with a group of young Kristiansand musicians; UK producer Guy Sigsworth comes to the festival for a seminar and remix; Swedish bassist Anders Jormin makes his first festival appearance in a remix with Henriksen and festival co-artistic director/live sampler Jan Bang; and, perhaps most excitingly, England's Sweet Billy Pilgrim makes a return appearance following its outstanding 2007 performance and hot on the heels of its Mercury Prize-nominated sophomore release, Twice Born Men (Samadhi Sound, 2009).
Shrinking, perhaps, in its greater attention to Norwegian artists and reduction in international focus, the festival is still expanding its offerings elsewhere, including a series of seminars by Endresen, Sigsworth, Jormin and others. A coup for the festival is certainly the appearance of director Phil Hopkins, who will first discuss and then screen Amplified Gesture, his film about the recording of David Sylvian's groundbreaking disc, Manafon (Samadhi Sound, 2009). And always looking to bring new talent to light, Punkt once again opens its festival with Punkt Elope, where four up-and-coming Norwegian groupsall but evening closer Navyelectre still unrecordedget some well-deserved exposure.
And while there were only two days of full programming at Agder Theatre in 2008, Punkt 2009 features a full three daystwelve performances and ten live remixes, culminating in the closing performance "Exits," a multimedia event with new music by Bang and co-artistic director Erik Honoré, and featuring a large group of musicians from throughout the festival, commissioned video by Russell Mills, and set designs by longtime Punkt collaborator, Tord Knudsen.
As ever, Punkt remains unique amongst music festivals in its combination of no-borders programming and without-a-safety-net experimentation. It's not a jazz festival, though that's certainly part of the picture; it's not a pop or rock festival either, though there are unmistakable elements of both; and it's by no means a classical festival despite the appearance of members of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. No, the only way to describe this festival is one word: Punkt. And that's a moniker that's become increasingly recognized, despite its relatively diminutive size (the theatre only holds 550 people), on an international scale. Punkt has always been a small festival that thinks big, and with the 2009 edition it may be returning to its largely Norwegian roots, but its presentation remains beyond world-class; there is, simply, no other festival in the world like it.