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Swallows & Samplers

Jan Bang, co-director of Norway’s Punkt Festival
speaks with Fiona Talkington

Jan Bang’s pioneering work as Director, with Erik Honoré, of the internationally acclaimed Punkt Festival, and his creative drive over more than 20 years have made a big impact on musicians and the Norwegian music scene.

FT: Jan let’s begin with Punkt and its “live remix” concept. How did this begin for you?

JB: Well I guess you could put a date on it for me as 1994. I’d done a lot of production work which led to me working with a range of musicians including Bugge Wesseltoft. He’d just released his first “new conception of jazz” which then led to me working with him for a few years and pioneering what would become my permanent instrument – live sampling.

FT: So can you explain a bit more about your instrument?

JB: When Bugge asked me what my role would be in a live situation I thought well I’ve got this new Akai sampler, what if, instead of sampling records, I could sample your musicians on stage then use those sounds as my instrument and send it back into the mix? This created a new form of musicianship where I could improvise with electronics, work fast and also be able to work in parallel time – present, past and future!

FT: So Punkt was the next step?

JB: I found I was being drawn towards more and more intensity of emotion in (my) music and I returned to my old friend Erik Honoré. We invited Arve Henriksen and Christian Wallumrød, whom I’d got to know when working with drummer Audun Kleive and we made a beautiful recording Birth Wish released on our small imprint Pan M /Panavizion series produced by Erik and myself, and we worked with the solo voice of Anne Marie Almedal. With this series Erik and myself invited improvisers to perform in front of an audience, so these were group improvisations where my role was live sampler and Erik was doing treatments. So, yes, eventually we got this idea of let’s make it bigger and (better) and make a festival based on live sampling of entire concerts. We found a suitable venue where we could have overlapping concerts, one being the original and the other being the live remix of the concert. By continuing what we originally started during the Panavizion series we could improvise with electronics together with more conventional performers. This seems to have created a new way of making music that seems relevant today.

FT: You mentioned Erik of course, Erik Honoré, you’re fellow Directors of Punkt, how long have you known him?

JB: I was 17 in the mid-eighties when I first met Erik who happened to have a home studio with a basic four-track recorder, a synthesizer and a drum machine. I’d just got hold of a Korg Polysix which were brilliant in creating atmospheres that suited our tastes and matched the sound of our idols (who at the time were David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Jon Hassell...(Funny that, at a much later point in life to find oneself working with these wonderful artists.))

FT: That sounds a bit like teenage boys and their toys?

JB: It did lead somewhere though! We recorded two albums Woodlands (1987 T23)and Room (1992 dbut) with me singing and both of us on keyboards while Erik wrote the lyrics and did all the programming.

FT: So a career in music was born?

JB: I moved into a production collective in Oslo and connected with the Tromsø electronic scene, Hans Olav Grottheim (YBU), Per Martinsen, Bel Canto, Bjørn Torske and others. Production duties followed and in ’94 I did my first attempt at remixing which led me to working with a range of Norwegian artists, among them Nils Petter Molvaer (Khmer remixes, ECM) and Bugge Wesseltoft, Sidsel Endresen..

FT: Your work has involved you in many different musical areas, pop to classical, with all the various challenges. What do you enjoy about these challenges?

JB: By not playing a conventional instrument I often get invited to participate in different projects. The discipline of live sampling is by nature open to any instrumental input combined with a basic interest in searching for new ways of creating music. I sometimes get involved in projects that have led me on to explore new ideas and to perform with astonishing talented musicians such as Jon Hassell, Arve Henriksen, Sidsel Endresen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Wesseltoft to orchestral works by Lutoslawski, Wagner or Schumann.

FT: What was your musical upbringing, your early musical influences?

JB: Growing up I listened to my late father’s record collection [which included everything from Ravel, Debussy, Massenet, Schubert, Brahms to Cowell, Nørgaard, Copeland and others. My late father were, amongst other things host at a local radio show in Chicago - introducing Scandinavian music to an American audience and having a mother who was a trained pianist playing drawing room favourites

(Brahms´[Intermezzi, or rehearsing Chopin´s Impromptu or late at nights - the sound of Debussy´s "la plus que lente"] mixed with the sounds of swallows nesting under the rooftops in the garden which my window faced onto. Then later as a teenager listening to AM radio made a great sonic impact on me.

FT: What inspires you in your music-making today?

JB: I’ve built a rather huge record collection over the years and using that as part of my material in music-making has become quite useful but I get a lot of ideas by just discussing with other musicians or with my students at the local university. Still I enjoy spending time in my studio during wintertime located in beautiful surroundings at Odderøya in Kristiansand. In my opinion the best way of getting inspired is by starting working.

FT: Is it important to you that Punkt’s “hub” if you like is in Kristiansand? Why? What sort of impact has it made on the community?

JB: There seems to be a growing numbers of local musicians working in more open fields of music that might be influenced by what Punkt represents. We try to introduce local artists and musicians to an international audience. The local community has been very supportive and the audience seems to be very open minded towards new experiences.

FT: You mentioned your huge record collection. If I took away all but 5 albums from you which ones would you keep and why? [You can make that 10 if you like ;-)]

JB: (I have become attached to a lot of music over the years that has been highly influential in my own music making. Some of my most treasurable records aren´t necessarily what i listen to today, but I still like to listen to Milton Nascimento Clube da Esquina (EMI) or the Jon Hassell track Ba Benzele from the Hassell/Eno album "Possible Music" (EG) with its shimmering clouds by Eno and the funky bass/perc loops. When sitting in London at breakfast with Jon Hassell and Brian Eno i asked them both "How on earth did you put that track together" - they looked at each other and said "I have no idea". They used to have tape loops going around the studio - wrapped around knifes, forks, pencils or microphone stands.

Arthur Russell´s cello/voice version of Let´s go Swimming from World of Echo (Rough Trade) is to me a true classic, not to forget David Sylvian - Brilliant Trees, from 1984 (Virgin) that truly changed the way i listened to music. Also, Scott Walker - "Sleepwalkers Woman"from Climate of the Hunter) (Virgin) and Virginia Astley ´s perfect soundtrack to an english garden were all instrumental in creating images in my mind during my teenage years. Later i got into dance music which i could relate to as we used to listen to a lot of funk/disco/postpunk at home. The whole Detroit techno applied to me a great deal because of the swingtime in the programming - the hi-hat programming of derrick may - the drum programming of Carl Craig - especially his remix of UFO which still sounds relevant - would all put a big smile on my face.)

FT: And where does Punkt go from here?

JB: Well we’ve already taken Punkt abroad to Kings Place in London in November 2008 for a 3 day festival; we did Punkt as part of "Enjoy Jazz" in Mannheim, and sometime next year we might bring Punkt to a US audience as part of the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. (We have also been invited to GAS in Gothenburg and Montreal has also shown interest in what we´re doing. I remember playing in Montreal several years ago with Sidsel Endresen thinking "here is where we should do Punkt". Let´s see what happens..)