Thursday, November 01, 2007

Creeping Menace

Supersilent - 8

Norwegian improv group Supersilent allegedly only meet in order to make music. Their albums are the result of spontaneous sessions, sometimes left intact, sometimes spliced and edited by their inventive producer Deathprod, who has also worked with a number of other Rune Grammofon artists including the intoxicating Susanna. With trumpeter Arve Henriksen also releasing some beguiling material in his own right, this is fast becoming one of the most furtive and inspired collectives in contemporary music and '8' is a satisfying and worthy addition to the Supersilent canon.

Commentators have accurately observed that, whilst speaking of career progression in terms of this band is no doubt missing the point, their music has gradually shifted away from the provocative, abrasive assault of their triple CD debut towards something more melancholy and cinematic. Whilst much of '8' is similarly contemplative, it also hits something of a midpoint between these approaches, restoring a sense of impending doom and sinister malice to their experiments in sound.

Supersilent are, above all, a group of musicians keen to find new ways of creating and manipulating sound. Henriksen's trumpet is often processed in such a way as to make it sound like a radically different instrument, and the synthesisers are rarely used to provide conventional harmony, but rather offer fragmented and mood-altering interjections. Most interesting of all on '8' is the increased dependence on percussion, which is often asymmetrical and provocative.

There is a consistent approach that gives shape and coherence to these unplanned group performances. All seem to be very intelligent and dynamic extrapolations of a key idea or texture. For example, 8.1 and 8.5, the longest of the pieces, focus heavily on bristling production and distorted textures, whilst 8.4 is more reductionist - stapled down by a consistent heartbeat pulse and making much more liberal use of Henriksen's long, mournful trumpet melodies.

8.2 and 8.3 are the most synth-heavy of the pieces, and are a long way from anything that might be described as conventional. The synth phrases are desultory, occasionally even aggressive, and don't sound particularly crisp or technical. Yet they help form peculiar and hypnotic soundscapes that, whilst minimal, are also deeply compelling. The use of sweeping, rustling cymbals instead of more attacking drum sounds on '8.2' is particularly effective.

'8.5' may be among the strongest tracks in Supersilent's catalogue so far, veering as it does across a wide range of moods, themes and ideas. It begins with a manipulated voice, which increasingly (and peturbingly) sounds like an attack of the Daleks from an episode of Dr. Who. By the track's vivid conclusion, it has metamorphosed into a liberated, angular, polyrhythmic assault on the senses that is both fascinating and visceral. It provides a superb summary of this outstanding group's very raison d'etre.


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