Monday, December 19, 2011

Supersilent - 1

Though I've written a fair bit about free improvisation, I've only written about a couple of groups (mostly AMM and related artists).  Here's something different from a more recent group from Norway called Supersilent.  1 is the first disc of their 1997 debut 1-3, which I've decided (after no small deliberation) to break up into three parts to review despite the fact that the albums are all grouped (like each of Supersilent's numbered releases) in one single-colored package and since each disc is over an hour long.  While it took my ears a while to grow accustomed to the synth-heavy sounds on these albums (I'm used to the comparatively organic sounds of groups like AMM), the music here has eventually become the kind of paradoxically noisy brain relaxant that I've come to look for in the best free improv.

The fact that Supersilent's music is related to free jazz is immediately apparent here--"1.1" opens with 2:30 of drums before the first synth statement.  The drummer's jazz chops is probably one of my favorite aspects about the group's sound--often the longer tracks come down to layering extended synth tones over the top of the kit sounds, which keep things interesting and remind us that there are indeed humans making this music.  The first track also demonstrates the group's interest in both sampling wordless vocals and throwing a little bit of trumpet into the mix, which deepens the connection to free jazz (though the trumpeter's chops aren't especially jazzy).  Things also get satisfyingly twitchy in the first track's second half and in "1.2" when repeating bass synth tones start to contrast the drum beats. 

"1.3" shows the group's interest in both treated sounds (with synths that undergo brilliant changes in timbre and texture) and the power of volume, with densely layered soundscapes made of shrieking synths and pounding drums.  I like how the group manages to keep things kinetic in these places--it's the judgment to ensure an energetic beat (no matter how fractured or buried by abrasive sounds) that (for me) separates this noise from just anybody out there with a keyboard and a big amp.  The final track, "1.4" finds the group toying much more with dynamics, using a repeating minor trumpet melodic motif as a backbone and running past it with a series of percussion and comparatively gentle synth improvisations.  Though the band rarely manages to use silence as an effective tool on this disc, the shift in volume dynamics is a welcome and arguably necessary one (if you're going to try and make it through all three discs at once!).  The melodic fragment is effective but repetitive and predicts the group's later, much tamer forays into more melodic, tonally-anchored improvisations.  While it's definitely a more accessible sound, I prefer the group's more distinctive and energetic early work, but I understand that it sure must be tough to try and achieve success playing such harsh-sounding music.  6 seems to be the group's most popular release, but I appreciate the edge that's present here on their earlier material, which inhabits a niche in the free improv realm that I haven't heard anyone else quite fill.

Get it here.

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