An Interview with Helge Sten of Supersilent

Group Photograph of Supersilent

Norwegian avant improvisational troupe, Supersilent, are a multi-stranded proposition – teaming electronic and acoustic instruments with high energy arrangements and moments of hushed calm all with no rehearsal. They’ve been at it for over a decade now and have recently teamed up with former Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist and rock aristo – John Paul Jones – for a number of shows including five in the UK later this month. To get the lowdown on this line-up, their future plans and their unique playing I spoke with Helge Sten on the phone from his native Norway.

Hello Helge! Supersilent have been together for a long time with the same line-up. How did this particular project with John Paul Jones start?
Helge: We played at the same electronic festival in Norway and he was due to perform right before us so just sort of met up with him and asked him if he would like to join us for our show. It just happened.

What does Jones’ playing bring to Supersilent?
H: He’s so diverse and really really good at listening and going into improvised situations.

Has the dynamic in the group changed as a result?
H: It’s different when you have four people in the band but in a good way. We’ve also played a lot with another guitarist in Europe and it’s the same – another member it’s different dynamics but in a good way.

With Jones in the group have you noticed a difference in the audience you’re playing to?
H: We have done mainly festivals and I think if you know Supersilent you know what you’re coming to see. People who are interested in John’s past have the knowledge that he might do stuff that’s different from the old days. There’s not a lot of people wanting to hear stuff from that different group [Led Zeppelin], it’s working out really nice.

You’ve mentioned in the past Norway’s tradition of improv-jazz. Most people when they think of Norwegian music, they’ll automatically conjure up notions of black metal or Eurovision – does Supersilent have a big audience at home?
H: It’s not fair to say we have a big audience in Norway. We do most of our concerts in Europe, it’s actually hard for us to play in Norway due to the infrastructure and length of the whole country.

How’s your experience been of England?
H: We played a tour there in, maybe 2000 – can’t actually remember and a few gigs in London. We found it a very open audience; interested in going to listening to music in an open way

Given your rules about rehearsing I was wondering if you ever listen back to recordings of gigs or past records for reference points or pieces you’d like to expand on? Or are those moments snapshots in time never to be repeated?
H: The thing is that for us improvisation is a tool to compose music – that’s the idea. We want to compose music and for us improvisation is a tool to do that in real time. We’re not into it for philosophical reasons it’s just a way for us to compose and play music in a way we enjoy. I mean we could rehearse but then we’d just have a tape recorder going all the time then we would get a bunch of recording to sort out so actually not recording is good for us to focus immediately in the studio or in shows.

To play this music must take a lot of concentration, are you still able to have fun?
H: Yes! I would say every time.

You don’t feel the need for a three minute pop song?
H: Well I mean there’s so much weird stuff coming in which sometimes is really beautiful kind of short piece then it can be really noisy and dynamic. It’s so many things – it’s all allowed there’s no censorship – if you add that into the mix it’s ok.

Are there any plans to record with this line-up or keep it on the road?
H: We’ve recorded a few of the concerts and we might do some recording but we’ve not really talked about it but it might happen. We haven’t discussed it in detail.

Finally, what can people expect from a Supersilent gig?
H: Woah, I don’t know… It’s supersonic music with a lot of great musicians in the Supersilent universe but it’s hard to tell what to expect because often the venue is colouring how we make choices in the music. Like if we’re in a big concert hall with lots of reverb we would play different music than if we were in a small club. It’s very organic, really hard to tell [someone] but it’s electronic music, improvised. It can be really dynamic and noisy and loud or super-quiet.
First published on RoomThirteen

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