Kristiansand’s unique Punkt Festival kicks off this week. In an interview done exclusively for Listen to Norway, Fiona Talkington talks to Punkt directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré
They are deeply respected by everyone who works with them, as artists, performers, creators, organisers and as friends. The festival they began in their home town has attracted international praise. They’ve known each other for many years and in some ways seem so different to each other, yet it’s a relationship that clearly works. During the Punkt festival Jan can be seen riding his bicycle, Erik outside grabbing a quick cigarette, but, as members of the audience have been known to ask, what do they actually do? Almost anything could be going on behind those laptops on stage! So it’s time to ‘Meet the Directors’. I put them each under the spotlight for 5 minutes.
FT: Please describe what Punkt is.
JB: It’s a Festival with the inclusion of live remix, giving musicians the opportunity to improvise with electronics alongside other more acoustic/electric based musicians on an equal level.
EH: Punkt is a music festival in Kristiansand centred around the live remix concept, and focussed on creating new music and new collaborations.
FT: And what is live remix?
JB: It uses the material from another concert as prime material for new work and presents it to a live audience immediately after the original performance has finished.
EH: All main stage concerts are immediately remixed by other musicians on a second stage where the audience can go to listen to an interpretation of the concert they just heard.
FT: Why did you start Punkt?
JB: We wanted to create an event where we could use live sampling – our musical instrument – to create something that was larger in scale than what we’d had before. Until that point we’d used live sampling on stage and would throw treated samples back into the mix.
EH: We wanted to use two main factors, our organically grown network of musicians and the concept of live remix/live sampling and see if it worked as the core of a music festival.
FT: After the first festival in 2005 what did you think would happen to Punkt? What did you hope for?
JB:I guess both of us immediately knew that this was a new way of music making for not only the two of us , but also we could follow that path together with the people we had been working with for the last decade or so: Sidsel Endresen, Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Audun Kleive and Eivind Aarset come to mind being the core musicians.
EH: We thought it could be an interesting artistic experiment, and hoped to bring together musicians we already loved, and younger musicians that we saw emerging.
FT: Were you surprised by the response, particularly internationally?
JB: Oh yes! Especially the international media who seemed to take it under its wing and help us spread the word out there, for example when you invited us to the opening of Kings Place as part of Scene Norway in the London Jazz Festival.
EH: Yes. But it kind of made sense. As well as being a concept, Punkt was also a showcase for the most interesting Norwegian music making.
FT: How did you two meet, and where?
JB: About 25 years ago I met this guy who had a home studio with a four-track recorder.. It turned out to be a long time collaboration and exchange of ideas which never seem to stop.
EH: We were 18 or 19 when we started working together as a duo in Kristiansand.
FT: What would you say are the things you share musically, and what are the differences?
JB: The most striking thing was that we were both interested in texture and melody. To a certain extent we share the same influences, except my record collection contained a vast amount of black music which, to my knowledge, still isn’t dominant in Erik’s collection.
EH: Jan is the one who was first to use electronics/live sampling as a true improvisational instrument in a live setting. I preferred the studio. But I’m slowly catching up!
FT: Your work together as performers and producers and festival directors. Is this easy or do you have to work hard to define your roles?
JB: Running a festival is challenging as it involves many people both on the volunteer side with the board as its centre, and my brother Arne is Chairman of the Board. One of the most important things for me is to learn how to experience working in a community like Punkt and see how much joy it gives, not only to myself but to all the volunteers who do this for free , and the love they all share.
Other roles like producing and composing are much more defined with clear roles divided between the two of us.
EH: Our different personalities worked very well from the beginning, dividing roles between us, then we worked separately for some years, developing our own methods. Now we’ve found a balance again it seems.
FT: Why Kristiansand?
JB: We called the festival Punkt for different reasons. One being a coincidental point in the world which happened to be in Kristiansand mainly because we both grew up here. Also the opportunity presented itself to celebrate Norway’s 100 years of independence from Sweden which was marked all over the country including Kristiansand. It was also just at the start of Cultiva, the culture funding that Erling Valvik, a brilliant mind and former adviser of the City Council initiated at the beginning of the millennium. Though the initial idea for a festival came in 2002 it wasn’t until 2005 it first saw the light of day.
EH: That’s where the idea emerged, and that’s where the funding for such an ambitious project was available when we got the idea.
FT: And what has Punkt done for the city?
JB: It’s a source for other types of music without boundaries and an alternative to the mainstream or the usual rock festivals which existed throughout the 90s.
EH: It put the city on the map for quite a few music afficianados I guess, and it challenged the concept of Kristiansand as a conservative city, musically and culturally.
FT: Punkt began with a ‘core’family of musicians. Are they still an important part of Punkt?
JB: This year sees only Arve and Eivind returning to Punkt in Kristiansand, but we do travel with the core Punkt family to other places like Paris where we presented Punkt this year and to Germany and Tallinn. Both Sidsel and Nils Petter will be missed this time as Sidsel’s in New York and Nils Petter in Canada.
EH: Definitely. Everything started with Molvaer, Endresen, Henriksen, Aarset and Kleive and from there the web evolved drawing in Hassell, Eno and Sylvian etc. We’ll really miss Sidsel and Nils Petter, they’re part of the family, but they’ll be back!
FT: What have been the highlights of the last 7 years?
JB: On a personal level it has been to develop things further in the Alfa Room with the live remixes. Some great performances have been made there and luckily they are all on tape in our archives.
EH: Personally the whole Sylvian project (concerts, installation, the resulting Uncommon Deities album). Not for nostalgic reasons although I’ve been a fan since Jan and I met, but because it resulted in the most interesting experiences and “Punkt offspring” so far.
FT: Punkt has travelled abroad. Why is this important for you?
JB: We feel the need to bring the Punkt spirit out of Kristiansand and to meet other musicians and present this to other audiences around Europe. This is how we can continue to broaden our organic network of musicians, press and followers. We still have our base in Kristiansand and will continue here as long as we can.
EH: It’s important to expand the network of musicians. For example we met John Paul Jones when we came to London and several musicians have been added to the network elsewhere. And to have some paid work to be honest since Punkt in Kristiansand is mostly volunteer based.
FT: 2012 is a landmark year for Punkt, leaving its first home. What are the challenges of moving to Kilden?
JB: First it’s larger with everything that that implies. Secondly it will be interesting to hear the sound of the main hall which is designed for acoustic music.
EH: A new building, that’s all. I’m not too worried about that aspect. Punkt is about musicians, programme, concept, audience. It can work anywhere if those things work. So that’s where my concern lies, not in the venue.
FT: You’ve handed over curating to Brian Eno. Why did you decide to do this? And what do you hope Brian will bring to the Punkt concept?
JB: When the idea first started back in 2002 we had one specific person in mind for being the spider in the middle of the lab who had access to all concerts and who could live remix this in front of any audience. 10 years later it’s become reality and one we’re proud of. The most important thing for us is for the project to continue developing itself. Brian has, by not inviting old friends but, rather, new, exciting, promising and gifted young musicians, made this year what may become a most exciting and forward thinking set of concerts and remixes that hopefully will be remembered in years to come.
EH: He is the one curator (besides Sylvian) that we’d be willing to hand it all over to, for musical reasons. And it’s probably healthy after 7 years to let some fresh air in.
FT: Punkt is more than a music festival, you have strong links with literature and art and seminars too. Is it important to connect artistic ideas like this?
JB: We base all our bookings on where our current interests are. On a personal level I thought it was really exciting to hear Sylvia Ingemarsdotter, the film editor of Ingmar Bergman, talking about rhythm in films and how she experienced working closely with Bergman for the last 15 years. Other projects have been to invite other composers to write music for the art collection at the Sorlandet Art Museum. Or it could be to ask classical composers to “compose” remixes for an orchestra based on music by, for example, Håkon Kornstad.
EH: Yes. The best example right now is the Uncommon Deities album project, combining some of the best Norwegian writers and musicians with international luminaries. And this all emerged from an audiovisual installation at the Art Museum combined with music and literature.
FT: There are some amazing people who work at Punkt apart from the musicians, fantastic sound, lighting design, volunteers. What do all these people mean to you?
JB: When we started Punkt I spoke with my good friend and sound engineer Sven Persson who said one thing: “Work with the best people around”, and we did, including Tord Knudsen the infamous lighting designer and his long time collaborator Jan Martin Vågen who does the video. Geir Østensjø and the whole avab crew and Kjell Sorgård with the backline. Not to mention David Torvik and his enormous network of volunteers and their ongoing commitment to Punkt. This is the most important thing for me, to do something of value together with other human beings that is shared by a vast number of people on both a local and international level.
EH: We couldn’t have done this without the volunteers, and that’s no cliché.. Because of our investments compared to the size of the city and the audience we are totally dependent on volunteer efforts. Also the voluntary nature of the whole project keeps us (and visiting artists) grounded. The barriers are much lower and the atmosphere better when everyone is working towards a common goal and there is no archaic hierarchy with artists on top, then festival chiefs, then journalists, then technicians, then volunteers. I also think that this is also the reason why Norwegian sound/light technicians are so good. They are respected on the same level of artists. From the start we decided to employ the best sound/visual teams available. This was a big investment financially compare to the size of the festival but we knew that we wanted to create a total experience for the audience and that this would be essential in communicating music that (for some, from time to time) is challenging. But mainly for artistic reasons. We present total live experiences, not merely music. In 2012 this should be a natural way for all festivals, but it isn’t.