Uneasy Listening
SUPERSILENT 1 - 3 (Rune Grammofon RCD2001)

Any band that unleashes a triple album on the listening public, as its debut, has got to be full of courageous self-conviction, arrogance, madness or indifference to that public's response. To release it again 5 years later is something else, but this is what the Norwegian improvising quartet have done. (O.K. so it's the first time its been distributed in the U.K. and coincides with their Contemporary Music Network tour.) You have to hand it to Rune Grammofon too. This was their first release, remember ! A gesture of faith few new companies would be prepared to make these days, I think.

What also makes this re-release unusual is that it is over 3 hours of mainly hardcore electronic improvisation with very little respite. Uncompromising ? Well, spokesman and ďaudio virus', Helge Sten says : 'We are very interested in communicating with people'. A very laudable aim but I'm not sure every listener would agree, even those hardened to the extremes of free improvisation and noise.

Bear Sten's words in mind too when they say they never discuss the music and don't rehearse. They just get together and play. This has to be somewhat problematic for a first release like this. Even though 3 of the players had been working together for some years there isn't always evidence of the rapport and intuitive links that hold together subsequent albums. In places this is obvious, it just sounds as though everyone was working at high levels of personal creative energy but not paying close attention to what each member was doing. Hence the welter of bruising electronic storms that characterise much of these recordings.

Ten hours playing were distilled then edited it down further. Despite this some tracks are still sprawling, shapeless entities that only end when the tape runs out, which makes me wonder about the process of editing. In places, I feel they needed further judicious trimming to avoid what sounds like that old monster, self-indulgence. Sten, aka Deathprod, whose input is somewhat hard to define, has also stated : 'We didn't really have any control over what the output was; it was just happening'. Again, at times this is all too evident. You have to wonder if it's a good policy.

But it isn't all a titanic metal barrage. Several tracks offer a slightly more spacious dynamic, like 1.4 (remember - no titles) which has a strong percussive undertow but also allows the players to stop competing and crowding each other. It's still busy but there is contrast between the gruff keyboard, which sounds like a mutant bass saxophone, and a little of Arve Henriksen's breathy trumpet. Similarly, 2.4 has a muted opening of softly struck gong sounds, low-key percussion and keyboard noise. The trumpet coils in and around again but soon becomes less clear in the general maelstrom.

I suppose 3.4 is the track that I've gone back to most. It reminded me of a soundtrack set in terrain akin to one of the Alien movies. It is creepy, dark and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. There is feeling that all members were together on this one and did not feel the desire to go at full tilt, obliterating all before them. As it progresses the trumpet returns to the fore contributing a human voice amid the machinery.

There is a great deal that is attractive and fascinating about the sound of Supersilent and I've enjoyed much of their work but it is the later albums, especially the most recent, that seem to successfully blend and balance their diverse elements. I think 1-3 will appeal mostly to collectors and completists or anyone willing to fillet out those tracks which evidence the best features of the band during 1997.

© 2003 Paul Donnelly