Imaginary Journeys
DEATHPROD : 4 CD bBoxed Set (Rune Grammofon RCD2036)
Just what Helge Sten does musically has been a source of mystery to me since I first heard Supersilent. I mean what exactly is an ‘audio virus’ and what does it do ? When I saw him with the band on the Midnight Sun tour he was poised behind his keyboards but in the welter of sound generated I couldn’t tell which noises were coming from him and which were made by fellow keyboard man Stale Storlokken . It doesn’t matter I suppose but I was intrigued by this 4 cd box which brings together work from 1991 to 2000. Black is clearly Kim Hiorthoy’s chosen shade this season as the box, cds and digipacks are all suitably sombre with minimal graphic embellishment. Only the name ‘Deathprod’ appears on the side of the box though there is a 32 page booklet squeezed in with the cds that contains much more information than is usual on Rune Grammofon releases.

There are no Supersilent recordings or personnel here but these tracks showcase Sten, or Deathprod, with a range of different companions utilising a variety of sonic transformations. The first cd finds him alone however on several tracks, all part of the titular sequence ‘Reference Frequencies’, in this case # 3, 7, 8 and 5. In each instance a minimal sound is ‘invaded’ by the audio virus. In other words he takes that sample and manipulates it, creating, for example, on #7 a harsh and coruscating metal howl.

This art of making a little go a long way is also demonstrated on the second cd ‘Treetop Drive’. For instance, a gloomy orchestral chord opens and is repeated throughout the first track, to which Sten adds Hans Magnus Ryan’s violin which sounds disturbed and otherworldly, its voice both shredded and plaintive. To this he brings another wash of sounds, breaking quite literally like waves then receding. It’s a stark, compulsive soundscape that stretches over 14 minutes but still manages to exhibit a timeless quality.

‘Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha’ are probably even more timeless, as Sten has given them a deliberately worn and aged quality, like old field recordings from an impossibly remote terrain, which of course is what the island is. The violin, this time wielded by Ole Henrik Moe, was recorded in Norwegian woodland but sounds as though it was discovered somewhere less thoroughly mapped. Needless to say it hardly sounds much like a violin, having been given the audio virus treatment. In fact it barely resembles any known instrument as it rises and falls through layers of viral noise. On ‘Hotentott Gulch’ Moe strums it creating a strangely metallic effect and on ‘Boatharbour Bay’ it suggests, not surprisingly, a foggy coastline through which foghorns wail and lament.

The actual ‘songs’ only cover a small portion of the cd, the rest being given over to ‘The Contraceptive Briefcase II’. This is around 30 minutes of ‘live’ recording that features more of the violinist with Sten contributing theremin. Wafting in and out of part of the piece is a haunted chorale of female singers who are also credited with playing ‘glass’, as in running their fingers around the rim, I guess. Again the music is suggestive of an unfamiliar terrain towards which these sirens draw the unwary through spectral waves. The violin and theremin ebb and flow against a backdrop of drones and other unidentifiable sounds to create an eerie but fascinating soundscape.

The final cd ‘ Morals and Dogma’ is one that Sten envisaged as ‘music for the ceremonies of an imaginary secret society’ which leaves plenty to the listeners’ imagination. These tracks also show some continuity with the second and third cds, especially ‘Dead People’s Things’ where Ryan’s ululating violin is cast against Sten’s test oscillator, sounding a little like the theremin again. As on some of the previous pieces the prevalent atmosphere is that of being on a journey through territories that are, by turns, familiar and strange. And you begin to lose all sense of time as the music envelopes and engulfs you.

If, at times, I’m still not sure what Sten is doing I’m happy to leave those details to people who want to know the technical aspects of a recording. I’ve simply enjoyed 4 cds full of mysterious, imaginatively realised landscapes that open and allow the listener to discover their distinctive features time and again.

© 2004Paul Donnelly