Supersilent formed seventeen years ago, when the established Norwegian jazz trio Veslefrekk (Ståle Storløkken, Arve Henriksen, and Jarle Vespestad) joined forces with producer/electronica artist Helge Sten, aka Deathprod. Over the course of six recordings, from the jerkily abrasive electro-acoustic improv of their triple CD debut, 1-3 (1997), through the increasingly refined volumes 4, 5 and 6 and the febrile intensity of in-concert DVD 7, to a return of sorts to their edgily exploratory roots on 8 (recorded in 2005), the group, while never predictable, nevertheless progressed via a pretty clear developmental arc.
When drummer and Veslefrekk founder member Jarle Vespestad left in 2008, reconfiguration seemed to put the remaining trio on the back foot. Their subsequent albums, though never less than intriguing, seem more like introspective dissections—explorations of the functions and relationships of the group’s components—than expressions of urgent inspiration.
Supersilent’s trio incarnation debuted on record with 9, on which all three play Hammond organ exclusively, all muting the instrument’s distinctively expansive whorl to produce uncentered music of ethereal subtlety. Their next offering, 10 was also a stripped-back affair, only this time focused on acoustic textures, notably Henriksen’s plaintive trumpet and Ståle Storløkken’s uncharacteristically acoustic piano. 10 stands as one of the group’s most beguiling and accessible offerings to date.
Next up, Supersilent 11 was a retrospective selection of cuts from the sessions that yielded 8, and now 12 maintains the group’s frustratingly anachronistic release schedule. It was recorded in 2011, only to be left in the can for the past three years while the group has moved on.
In 2012, Supersilent toured in a new quartet configuration with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones as guest bassist (he first played with Supersilent at the 2010 Punkt festival, and also has an ongoing collaboration with Sten under the name Minibus Pimps). These concerts saw Supersilent re-energised, playing with an intensity comparable to that of their best work with Vespestad. Since it conveys nothing of this renewed vigour 12 is, regardless of merit, disappointing by default. It documents the trio formation once again playing from a restricted palette, this time with all group members focusing on electronics. Henriksen neither vocalises (except possibly via processing) nor plays percussion, as he does live, but his plaintive trumpet adds a welcome human warmth to a few of these otherwise coldly atmospheric tracks.
The album’s thirteen pieces are all brief (only the last runs one minute over five), all complete in themselves but collectively nebulous. The album plays as a sampler, an index of possibilities rather than a fully realised work of art. If Henriksen hadn’t already applied the title Cosmic Creation to one of his solo albums it would fit this protean, unsettled and unsettling music nicely.
“12.1” develops quickly from drone into a cavernous sonic rumble illuminated by probing beams of synthesizer: shades here of both Sunn O))) and Vangelis. It’s over in well under three minutes, as are six of the other twelve pieces. “12.2” is one of the longest, a cocooning concoction of weightless, analogue electronics, bleeps and whorls in a frigid vacuum.
On “12.3” Storløkken sparks synth-glints off a machine drone that’s evocative of smoothly harnessed power, and “12.4” continues the vibe then trips into Lonely Planet sci-fi atmospherics. Processed cymbal scrapes and shimmers produce an agitated surface, from which “12.5” sounds a withdrawal: Arve Henriksen plays his first melodic trumpet phrases on here, against only the subtlest daubs of electronica.
Each piece has its own feel. Contrast “12.6”, a nightmarish fairground fantasia foregrounding Storløkken’s synth, with the more elemental electronics on 12.7. On the latter, another lovely, muted trumpet solo is gradually suffused by a nebulous haze, and then, after a moment’s silence, gets picked up by a fibrillar synth-worm. A brief coda makes this one of the album’s most rounded, stand-alone pieces.
The brief, radiant 12.8, on which Henriksen’s crepuscular trumpet attracts minimal embellishment, likewise contrasts the cold void of 12.9, where the trumpet sounds alien, a distant emanation from weightless ambience.
Echoes of harpsichord and chiming electric guitar in the tentative synth stippling of 12.10 seem merely notional, and the piece, deliberately no doubt, doesn’t cohere. 12.11 is more unstable yet, equally diffuse, until coherence comes with a climax of sorts around a thread of eerily high-pitched piping.
Electronics on 12.12 sound imitative cetacean sonar, violins twined in a threnody, and ultimately chant-like. This brief piece is like a reveal before the brooding, concluding 12.13, where electronics instantly gather mass, swathing Henriksen’s high pitch vocalising before clearing to expose soft trumpet phrases, then gradually dissipating until only silence remains.
If a suspicion remains that Supersilent’s momentum has stalled, that their creative spark has burned low and the group are now only sifting the embers of former immolations, perhaps that’s just down to my expectations. If they’ve stopped moving forward they’re at least taking stock, sifting possibilities. There may be (there are) other artists out there cutting ambient electro-acoustic music by the yard, but Supersilent’s alchemy is instantly, welcomely identifiable. Judged purely on its own merits, 12 is a fine collection of dark ambient miniatures.
Arve Henriksen trumpet, electronics; Helge Sten audio virus, electronics; Ståle Storløkken – synthesizer, piano.
Supersilent with John Paul Jones at London Jazz Festival 2012.
Minibus Pimps (John Paul Jones and Helge ‘Deathprod’ Sten) at Cafe Oto, July 2012.
Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken – The Death Defying Unicorn.
elephant9 with Reine Fiske – Atlantis.
Buy 12 direct from Rune Grammofon.