Ever since Punkt was held at King’s Place, London, 2008, I have been, I don’t even know the word for it – intrigued, bemused, amused, perplexed, disturbed, calmed? Yes, all of these things by the work of Sidsel Endresen and Jan Bang. During this first experience of watching Sidsel live, I found myself immersed in something I had never experienced before.
Watching and listening to Sidsel can be angst, calming and confusing, bewildering and, through immediate naivety, even funny. At least, a couple of lads sitting a few seats away from us thought so. What had been so amusing was this. The two had burst into the type of naughty school-boy laughter that comes from the belly and cannot be stopped. They had not known what to make of Sidsel. How I wanted to join them! What could I do? I could not look at Kevin sitting beside me – for fear of joining them! Could I join these two naughty boys and laugh? I thought not – although I wanted to!
Having thought about the whole experience as a "newbie”, I later learned that this laughter came of not knowing what I should make of this performance, rather than a natural instinct of how I wanted to naturally react. Having said that, I participated in applause – still rather perplexed. During the break, I was able to express the nervous energy that had been building in my stomach. Kev and I agreed that we both thought that it had been very good – but what to make of it – how to categorise it, how to put it into a box. What we didn’t know at that time is that Sidsel’s work does not need to be categorised – it does not have to have "meaning” – and yet, at the same time, it is full of meaning – it is what you want it to be.
Sidsel had quite rightly been communicating with her audience – and very successfully, I may add. To watch and to hear Sidsel is a unique experience – quite unlike anything I – or you – are ever likely to experience.
Upon immediate listening, we are greeted with the presence of a strong woman who is, in essence, communicating with us. But at what level? Sidsel uses a unique combination of well-considered and timely "sounds” that she produces with her own voice. These sounds transport us through a unique landscape – a combination of the reproduction of the sound of the wind, vocal utterances – sounds that are not words, but sound like words – these words are what you want them to be, or not. Further, Sidsel lapses into ... what could be Norwegian .... but we cannot translate for certain. Alternatively, Sidsel has covered popular songs in English, including such classics as "Shadows in the Rain” (Sting) and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (a show tune from 1937 – here’s to the jazz ladies!).
To have experienced Sidsel and Jan recently was quite unique. She greeted her audience quietly with international Namaste. She communicated with her audience uniquely. I tried as best I could to "tune in” to what was going on. I found myself engaging deeper with her performance. The more I immersed myself and opened up to the work, the more I considered that Sidsel was channelling energy back and forth between herself and the audience. This was expressed by the concentration on her face, strongly inter-acting with Jan’s work. Jan also appeared to be fiercely concentrating – interacting with the audience, pleased as we were experiencing pleasure via the power of music.
What was apparent at King’s Place was Sidsel’s sense of urgency to communicate with us. At times, I really wanted to extract and understand what she was trying to "tell” me. It was like being faced with a non-native speaker who really wanted to communicate – where words are not enough. At once alien, then a utilisation of a unique language following the crumble of the fabled Tower of Babel, a performance of communicating (and, at times, a unique performance of non-communication!), or speaking in tongues? However you consider Sidsel’s performance, it is not to be pushed to one side or ignored. She genuinely wants to communicate with us – and does this intelligently, well, and successfully. This is not to exclude Jan, who was doing a fine job in creating different vibes and ambiences.
I particularly enjoyed one piece that began with the sound of deep, slow booming bells – all electronically reproduced by Jan. He later took a bottle of water and made it into a shaker musical instrument. Being the electronics wizard that he is, he built the sounds he had created into a short rhythmic sequence, which he fed through his electronic gadgetry, sampling and looping what he had created. Despite considering that I may soon be in desperate need of the ladies’ room, I thought how simple it is to creating music, but one quite poignant where in many places, a simple bottle of water is impossible to come by. Jan’s facial expressions showed he was very happy with what he was doing, getting into the groove, and building a whole performance around what was, in essence, modified sound. I know Jan is a fast worker, but had not realised, until this time, just how instant his work can be – instantaneous with no room for error – and there wasn’t.
I consider that everyone should experience – even if just once in their lives – the unique experience of Sidsel and Jan. They obviously work well together – immediate and in a "jazz” environment. It is a pleasure to experience and participate in their communication.