Thirteen years and eleven albums later, Supersilent’s motivating principles are the same as in their inception: an improvising collective that doesn’t rehearse and whose members don’t discuss the material to be presented prior to the moment they walk on stage or into the studio to create it. Despite what founding member Helge Sten (a.k.a. Deathprod) claimed in a 2001 interview with Maelstrom — that a personnel shift would necessitate the abandonment of their chosen moniker — when percussionist Jarle Vespestad jumped ship eight years later, Supersilent charged forward.
The group’s first release after Vespestad’s departure, 2009’s 9, found the trio restricting their instrumentation to three Hammond B3 electric organs. Through this self-imposed minimalism, it was as if they were embarking on a palette-cleansing passage. By exploring the possibilities of a single and, perhaps with the exception of keyboardist Storløkken, unfamiliar instrument, they situated themselves in a strange new sonic environment that replicated the group spirit’s loss of an integral piece.
Although returning to familiar instrumentation with 10, Supersilent have once again made a significant aesthetic departure. With Sten on guitar and electronics, Ståle Storløkken on piano and keyboards, and Arve Henriksen on trumpet and electronics, 10 is the second recorded document since the quartet became a trio. Minimal and arctic yet vibrant and embracing, these 12 pieces are the group’s most engaging and mesmeric. Each member’s distinct contribution steps forth from the shadows at the first ember of the dialogue and remains eloquent throughout: Henriksen’s smooth, sustained trumpet expressions, Storløkken’s delicate, sporadic Steinway phrases, Sten’s textural string flurries. Unlike 9, where the consequence of instrumental uniformity was the absorption of individual identity into the collective swirl, as well as the overloaded frenzy that characterizes many of their previous encounters, here there is remarkable clarity.
This lucidity is unquestionably due in large part to their choice of studio and engineer: the bulk of the tracks were recorded at Rainbow Studios with Jon Erik Kongshaug. It’s the studio of choice for Germany’s legendary jazz label ECM Records, and Kongshaug has been working the knobs for ECM since 1970. For those unfamiliar with the label’s signature sound, Mike Zwerin aptly (and playfully) captured it in a 2006 article for the New York Times when he wrote, “The ECM Sound tends to hover like a Scandinavian winter night, motionless as a Zen master meditating.” Kongshaug’s and Rainbow’s emphasis on spellbinding, cavernous reverb aligns perfectly with the menacing, lingering sounds produced by the trio.
While a theme persists across the movements (despite occasional interruptions from deep electronic rumbles and abrasions — my assumption is that these electronic-centric pieces were those leftover from 2005’s 8 sessions), “10.6” and “10.8” exemplify 10’s splendor. On “10.6,” a keyboard and electronic section slowly build, calmly adding notes until accompanied by the Steinway, then eventually welcomed by a tender, breezy trumpet and delayed, disappearing guitar traces. For “10.8” the theme returns, but here Henriksen steals the show: his cool, echoed pattern reproduces itself while advancing an octave, representing a brooding, solitudinous line that stretches out to infinity. This is the sound of Supersilent triumphantly reaching for great heights that far surpass the unknown spaces they’ve previously traversed.