Album: SUPERSILENT – 8 (Rune Grammofon RCD2067 2007)

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It’s taken a while for me to get around to reviewing this – it’s been out since September. Mind you, Supersilent themselves are never in a particular hurry to get things out. Their modus operandi seems to be to record quickly, but mix and release at leisure. All the music on 8 was recorded over a five day period in August 2005, but it took nearly two years before they got around to mixing it – a process that took seven times as long. Even the mastering took longer than the recording. It sums up the quartet’s philosophy – record without rehearsal or any prepared material, and then sift through the resultant tapes and build from there. The end results are nearly always inspired – music that is unconventional but never unlistenable; constantly surprising but often surprisingly accessible.

Supersilent is not so much an improv supergroup as an occasional sideline for four Norwegian musicians who all have parallel careers making music quite far removed from each other. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen makes solo electronic jazz albums, and plays with Christian Wallumrød’s Trio. Helge Sten aka Deathprod is one of Scandinavia’s foremost experimental electronica producers. Drummer Jarle Vespestad is a member of the Tord Gustavsen trio and experimental jazz quintet Farmer’s Market and Ståle Storløkken is one half of the electronic duo Humcrush. All four bring different inspirations to Supersilent which is one reason that the group’s music remains so fresh after five albums (one a triple) and a live DVD.

As ever the tracks are entitled simply “8.1”, “8.2” etc. “8.1” is a hard rocking introduction that threatens, but never quite indulges in metalisms like bass-heavy riffing. The drums on “8.3” pound away arhythmically, giving an unsettling percussive backdrop to some guitar and organ screeching that recalls some of Pink Floyd’s freeform late sixties work. The space rock theme is continued with the beautiful “8.4” which begins with a quiet, cosmic calm before the sad tones of Henriksen’s muted trumpet come in.

There is a tendency these days for CDs to be mastered so that the quiet bits are loud, and the loud bits are just a bit louder. This gives a skewed version of the music, and suppresses a lot of its power. Supersilent take the approach that the music should be heard how it was played, and are not afraid to have passages which are very quiet indeed. But then this is music that is designed to be listened to properly, and not just played to accompany the ironing. “8.5” is an epic piece that has some long periods of low volume music where a distorted voice is accompanied by what sounds like the distant rattling of a freight car. This builds into a melancholy flute and fuzztone guitar jam before the track ends with the return of the rattling drums over the sweep of almost ambient synth washes. It’s a great track that manages to be both cerebral and emotional at the same time.

“8.6” is a duet for muted, Autechre-like beats and damaged soprano – an unsettling, but beautiful combination. “8.7” rocks out with clattering drums, wailing guitars etc. It’s OK, but not especially remarkable – more akin to the third rate improv acts, usually involving David Keenan, that are always the most dreary and uninspired aspects of the annual Instal festival. It’s the only track on 8 that seems short of ideas, and appears to be on the record simply to provide a noisy counterbalance to the quieter moments. The rest of the album is never less than engrossing, and very often exceptional. Supersilent fatigue shows no sign of setting in even after this many records.

Tracks
1 8.1 (11:12)
2 8.2 (7:40)
3 8.3 (7:54)
4 8.4 (7:16)
5 8.5 (12:12)
6 8.6 (8:43)
7 8.7 (9:17)
8 8.8 (4:03)

Website
The group has no official web presence, but www.supersilence.net, an unofficial site, is a good source of news and views.

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