The news that this week’s Punkt festival in Birmingham has been postponed is no surprise. Live music of any sort in a public setting is going to be unavailable to most people for some time to come, but the loss of this two-day event will be keenly felt. As I discovered at its Norwegian home in Kristiansand last year, Punkt is a very special event, conceived by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré as a vehicle for the exploration of the possibilities of live remixing.
Among those due to perform in Birmingham were the trumpeter/singer Arve Henriksen, the guitarist Eivind Aarset, the singer Maja S. K. Ratkje, the saxophonist Trish Clowes and the drummer Mark Sanders. Also on the schedule was a live remix of The Height of the Reeds, the piece specially commissioned to accompany walks across the Humber Bridge during Hull’s year as Europe’s city of culture in 2017.
I can think of only one direct way of making up for the loss of the festival, and that’s by listening to new albums by some of the Punkt’s principal figures. Snow Catches on Her Eyelashes finds Aarset and Bang creating a series of beguiling soundscapes that feature contributions from the singer Sidsel Endresen, the trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, the pianist Hilde Norbakken, the percussionist Anders Engen and the bassist Audun Erlien, with Honoré making an appearance on synthesiser. Bang and Aarset specialise in making electronic music that never forfeits its humanity to science. “Before the Wedding”, featuring Norbakken, has a lyrical simplicity that is as lovely as anything you’ll hear this year.
Arve Henriksen’s The Timeless Nowhere is a box containing four vinyl LPs, each in its own sleeve, each recorded under different circumstances. Towards Language was recorded live at Kick Scene in Kristiansand during Punkt in 2017 with the basic quartet complete by Bang, Aarset and Honoré. Acousmograph is a series of overdubbed solo explorations for trumpet, vocal, keyboards and field recordings. The rapt tone poems of Captured Under Mountainsides make it a close cousin to Henriksen’s classic Places of Worship. And Cryosphere involves Bang in exquisite remixes of pieces from earlier projects.
There are many different strategies here. Henriksen’s music can morph from stateliness to pathos, from reflection to disquiet, sometimes layering contradictory states. But it feels all of a piece: a tapestry of beautiful moments woven together by a unique controlling sensibility of superlative aesthetic instincts.
Meanwhile, the chaos around us at the moment prompts all sorts of thoughts. One is that musicians are going to suffer badly from this enforced hiatus, and a way of continuing to support them is to buy their physical records. Another is this: what happens to music that was never played?
* Snow Catches on Her Eyelashes is on Jazzland Records. The Timeless Nowhere is on Rune Grammofon. The photograph — taken in Kristiansand’s cathedral, the Domkirken, last year — shows (from left) Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Erik Honoré.