Somnambule - Writing About Music


Helge Sten’s chosen moniker doesn’t promise uplifting listening. Such suspicions are underlined by the packaging of this anthology of mostly rare and long deleted releases: four black cds housed in four black digipaks squeezed into a black case with a black booklet, the darkness of the whole emphasised further by the white of Rune Grammofon’s trademark sans serif typeface. Here are the collected works of Deathprod, one quarter of Norwegian power-improv group Supersilent, as well as phantom presence on a number of his compatriot’s releases including Arne Nordheim Transformed, Motorpsycho and Food’s Veggie.

The oldest work here, dating from 1991, appears on Reference Frequencies, a compilation of pieces that comes across as sonic assemblage worthy of Robert Rauschenberg. Track two is a cut-up, surreal and almost affectless monologue which functions as an intriguing objet-trouve. Tracks three and four are relatively conventional pieces that sound like outtakes from an early Jim Jarmusch film. These would be effectively unremarkable were it not for the four sonic sculptures which rise up around them like sentinels. Reference Frequencies numbers 3, 7, 8 and 5 cathartically straddle the gap between music and sound. For example, #7 is anchored by a two note pulse like a warning siren against which shoals of white noise wash as if borne on cosmic tides. The lo-fi rendering of these tracks may be compared to viewing sculptures in an artist’s studio surrounded by the detritus of their production.

The first half of 1994’s Treetop Drive discards anything superfluous and mercilessly carves out monumental sounds which might have put big grins on the faces of Luigi Russolo and his Futurist friends. The final two tracks explore ominous ambiences: heavy fogs wracked with distant roars and muffled screeches. The first four, brief pieces on Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha (1996) comprise febrile, attenuated sounds which appear to have starved half to death on their voyage from the most remote island on earth. Closing track ‘The Contraceptive Briefcase II’ is another lengthy, brooding journey accompanied by mourning harpies, ouija board spirits and the pulsing of distant foghorns. Morals and Dogma collects work from between 1994 and 2000 and features two members of Motorpsycho on violins, saw and harmonium. It continues in the grieving spirit of its predecessor but with an increased tangibility comparable to slow motion takes on antipodeans The Dirty Three and Nick Cave.

Deathprod’s music also resonates with the work of early Faust, the gestural paintings of Franz Kline, the outsider music of Nurse With Wound and the isolationist ambience of Thomas Koner. Pieces generally alternate between stark solidity and the darkly ethereal. With the former Deathprod successfully resists the impulse to embellish, with the latter he gradually applies and dissolves dark clouds of sound, like some sort of vaporous alchemist. The most active pieces are also the least easily defined, they’re the ones characterised by cloudform, event edges blurred by the sonic equivalent of sea mists or dense aquatint. This music is saturnine without falling into misanthropy; look elsewhere for dissimulation, Deathprod’s music is a rare, alternately invigorating and haunting experience.
Colin Buttimer
October 2004
Published by Signal To Noise Magazine