Getting into the form
Every quest bears meaning. As is often the case, the importance of a search is less in the finding, but lies in the process of searching. In our quest for beauty, our search for ‘good music’, we hope to find a glimpse of perfection. This is where we meet Supersilent. They’ve walked a long road, and now have the feeling to have reached their form. An intruiging talk with four clearheaded musicians.
How does a Supersilent songs comes about?
Jarle Vespestad: It’s the same now as it has always been: we never rehearse, we improvise. We started out as a trio, without Helge. Then we rehearsed a lot, checking out different ways of communication. When Helge came in, the band stabilised, Supersilent became clearer in a way. We used to practise a lot, but we stopped doing that ten years ago.
How do you communicate when playing together? Listening?
Arve Henriksen: Listening is the most important part. When we started, we wanted to play all kinds of music, we didn’t put into the jazz-label. We just played improvised music, in a freer sense than what free jazz musicians play. They play more a type of jazz that sounds the same. If you listen to free jazz from Norway or from Germany, they play the same style. We wanted to play improvised music, not jazz music.
So improvisation is the key word in Supersilent?
Helge Sten: Improvisation is a tool we use to make music we make. It’s a tool to compose music. It’s the best language for us to use to make music in.
AH: In the beginning, we played as a trio and we played our own compositions. We tried to play contemporary music and listened to different kinds of music. With Supersilent, we’re clearer. It’s more defined what we are supposed to do. We have our own tone language, our sound language. It’s improvised, but it’s not completly different every time. In the early days, we were more agressive.
How free are you when you bear in the idea in mind that every experience in your life has influenced you?
HS: I don’t think that’s an issue. I think we just want to play music which sounds good to us. It’s very easy, a kind of stone age approach.
JV: Our goal is definitely not to sound different every time. I know a lot of jazz musicians who work with improvisation, who have that as their leading star. That’s not the case for us. We have our style and we have it for so many years, and we like it there. It’s slowly evolving though, over the years. But it’s nothing that we feel we have to force.
You’ve all had musical training. Is this a burden to what you can do or is it a possibility to explore music?
AH: You need some skills to play music, that’s for sure. It’s important to be able to be more free later. You have to learn as much skills as possible. Then, you can do what you like to do later.
Is it not shaping your mind in a way that’s not necessarily your way?
AH: It could be, if you go to the wrong place. I know people who go to Berkeley, where you have to do training. The training there is fantastic, but you need some input from the esthetic side as well and maybe that’s a problem in Berkeley. It depends on the teachers as well, of course.
JV: But art school in Trondheim is not that strict, rather open.
JV: Of course, you’re never free and you have what you have and you don’t have anything else, unless you learn something else. I still feel we learn as a group. We take things we know, and try to put them in a slightly different context. So, it’s slightly new, from time to time. We don’t make big jumps.
AH: I think one of the important things about the improvisation subject, is that, in this band, we know each other very well, we play together for a long time. There’s also a kind of band intuition. We know that, if I do that, that and that can happen. So we have the chance to transform and to point out the direction you want to go and then someone can cut it off, but that’s ok. We have some sort of unspoken agreement on what is it like to play.
Soundmaking is also very important in this band. We come to a gig and sitting there and suddenly one of us has a new sound. Ståle had a new organ sound, or Helge a percussion sound that’s new. That sound can just trigger a new direction and can bring on some kind of new energy.
Is this also why you bring your own sound engineer with you?
AH: No, that’s because there’s so many bad sound engineers around. Of course, you have to create a good sound.
JV: Every Norwegian band does that, and trust me, nothing else works. It’s very strange that people don’t do it.
Music is enough
What are you trying to do with Supersilent? Art often wants to influence the world. Is there any of this in Supersilent?
AH: Sometimes I have this ‘Bush is an asshole’ message, but we’re not trying to save the world. We don’t have that power.
HS: It’s just about music. As a listener, you can get more out of it and take it into whatever direction you like. As a listener, you can make it political. But for us it’s important to concentrate on making music.
That’s the final stage for you? No message? Every non-musical aspect of Supersilent is very minimalistic. You give the listener every possibility?
HS: Music is enough. That’s a lot, just music. If we should make titles, we would have to sit down aftwards and make something up, which is very stupid. I think it’s the best way to look at Supersilent, the music, the visuals, everything. Think very, very simple. The easy way out. We just want to play music we really enjoy, music that gives us something on stage or in the studio. And that can be really complex, or it can be plain, beautiful.
This complexity and beauty is a recurrent duality in Supersilent. A deliberate way of working?
JV: Both ways of making music are ways we have rehearsed years ago. There are other ways, other keys to get into the mood for us. But we have been doing it for so many years, so it’s blurry, it’s just there in a way. We relax much more now, we don’t try as hard as we used to do, and I think that’s natural. When you’re young, you have so much more to prove, and the information is newer to yourself so you focus more. Now, we have a very relaxed atmosphere in the band. We just mix things. We’re getting better and better to make it even clearer all the time, our different ways of communication.
You return to this notion of clarity. Can you explain this?
JV: I think we have found out as a band and as individual, what is important and what not. What draws the attention away from the main focus, where the real energy is. I think we have become better in leaving out noises that don’t give that much energy.
AH: Less is more, sometimes. We have this specific way of composing. Composers sit down, writing. They take things out and get a more precise picture. That’s also what we try to do, but live. We perform ‘instant composing’ and take away the things we don’t need, to make it clearer.
This ‘energy’ also seems important? How must we see this?
HS: It’s hard to define that kind of energy. It can be so many things. Music has to have energy. That doesn’t mean it has to be loud or fast, it just has to contain energy. But that’s really abstract.
Does this mean it has to bring about something in someone else?
HS: It’s a gift if someone else takes the time to listen to it and enjoy it. You have chosen to release music and to play concerts, and then it’s important that we welcome the listener. And that doesn’t mean we compromise in any musical way. But I think, people are paying money and taking time to come and see this, so you have to be focused and give the best you can.
Trust the silence
You all play some different instruments, which constitute the band. Is this choice arbitrary?
HS: It’s healthy to demolish all boundaries. If you start working with a new instrument, and use the mentality we have in Supersilent, it can make for a really nice new direction. Arve is now playing drums all the time. People are always interested in bringing new elements.
AH: And you’re using guitar. There’s a climate in this band, where we just think about the music, what can help music? I can’t play the drums, but I use it as a soundbank. It’s great that I can do that. I think maybe we would like to do something else in a couple of years. We’re into this and it goes on and on. We now play for ten years in this constellation and there’s still a lot that can come out of it.
Are you looking for new instruments?
JV: I brought the double bass drum in.
AH: The double bass drum is actually very important. It was the first thing that came along. Then Helge brought in the guitar.
Guitar, double base… Slowly moving to a Black Metal band?
JV: It’s actually about having a more supportive bass frequency. We were lighter 7 years ago. Now, we’re getting darker and deeper, so it’s nice to have some big drums. It’s no matter of playing metal, it’s just sound, more deep sounds.
AH: For Stale, me and Helge, we’re playing themes. I try to be more precise, when I play a theme. It’s all about being clear. Take away some notes, there and there. You can just play, instead of doing (sings saxophone solo), just take away 200,000 tones and you’re back with 15 notes and a clear melody. So, you can be more precise in that, and that goes for all of us. Then, the focus can shift from playing a lot of notes, to just small rooms. That’s a sort of storytelling.
Stale Storlokken: And we also try to experiment with tonal language. Different methods of playing.
Is that something you do together?
AH: It’s research. For me, the last five years I have been interested in contemporary tonetheory. Not just playing diatonic scale melodies, more kind of bigger intervals and more odd melodies. And at the same time, trying to keep some emotions, trying to be naive. Taking nice melodies, but twist them a little bit. Stale is fantastic in doing that.
JV: And at the same time, it’s important to be able to present them to the rest of the band, in a way that we are able to react on it, which I think we also have become better at doing. Before, we were more searching individualy. So it sounded more chaotic and agressive, everything was coming at the same time. Now, it’s more like, even if you want to go somewhere and you don’t know where it will end, you’ll still try to present it in a way it’s possible to react to. You have to play together all the time and we also learned to recognize when we don’t, and stop it. Before, when we lost it, it was out there for half an hour, maybe the rest of the concert. But now, as we’re getting older, we can stress down and rebuild it.
So the evolution of the band would be: you started listening more to each other and by that, the band become calmer?
AH: Not calmer, clearer. The music still can be loud and messy, but then, we want to make it messy, or we just use that to find a new direction.
HS: There’s more confidence.
SS: Now, we’re also more confident that we don’t have to play all the time.
Silence has gained power in Supersilent?
JV: It has taken us a long time to be able to trust silence. Even in a situation where everything is stressed – you know, the sound is not good, things are not 100 percent – we still have to be able to stress down and play little.
HS: There’s a lot of learning and listening. That’s the key.
AH: We’ve been playing together for 18 and a half years. There’s not many bands in Norway that have been together that long, actually. Working on the same type of music making.
AH: And about this getting more precise and clear, to compose and make things clear: many conventional composers in contemporary music, say to us “I would like to compose that kind of music”. A lot of things concerning form, a lot of different aspects of our composing, is ours. There’s people like Peter Törnqvist or Rolf Wallin, who are actually going into our music. The latter one is doing a PhD on improvisation music and conventional composing. So, he has been analysing our music. It’s full of structures and it’s interesting for different kinds of analytic persons to look at.
Can you understand why some people don’t get your music?
JV: Yes, we have been working for so long on this. For us, it’s natural to listen while playing this complex soundscapes. But you can not stop listening, even if you bang the drums for half an hour, you have to have the ears open and there has to be a direction in it. I guess it’s more logic to us, than to people who have never heard music like that.
But it’s something you can learn?
How is the relation with RG?
JV: He’s a visionary. He started purely because of the love for the music. Lot of people send in demos.
HS: We can do whatever we want. Our first 3-cd release was kind of a financial disaster to start a label. But it payed off in the long run, because he has proven that he has integrity, by continuing to release high-quality music.
What musical evolution in music’s history has been the most important for Supersilent?
JV: It has a lot to do with synthesizers and the development of that instrument, and also the music that can be heard on that instrument. So that’s for sure a major influence. Progrock from the seventies has probably been the most important source. Also, early fusion music, before it got too streamlined, when it still was chaotic.
SS: I was most influenced by the early contemporary classical composers. I’m a real fan of Messian. We think you should try to listen to as much music as possible, from different genres.
JV: Also meditative music was very important for us at one time. Early nineties, Brian Eno etc.
Where would you place Supersilent in the line of this history?
HS: That’s for someone else to tell. We’re here now. That’s the only way we can see this. It’s so complex. We’re influenced by so many different things. Not just music, it could be movies. Everything that has happened to you.
AH: One of the most important things in Supersilent, is Jarle’s drumming, playing odd measures and rythms. In 9 or 11 or 17 or whatever he plays. In free jazz, very often it’s in 4 or 1, but Jarle uses measures from his band Farmer’s Market, inspired by Bulgarian music. Then he imported it in this kind of free, improvised music which was something completely new. There’s no other band that can sound like us, because of this engine from this Rumanian, Bulgarian rythm inspiration. That is completely different from all the other bands I know. If you listen to other bands, like Bugge Wesseltoft, they just play four. No ¾, just 4/4 and that’s it.
Any non-musical influences?
HS: For me, I’m fond of Herzog Werner‘s movies. He’s very good at picking out scores. There’s a lot of movies that have a similar abstract quality, like also some David Lynch stuff.
Could you ever imagine doing a soundtrack with Supersilent?
JV: We did that for Dr. Caligari‘s Cabinet, a German film from the 20’s, black and white without light. Two nights improvising, but it’s kind of limiting. Because for us, it’s all about music. Many people think it’s interesting and you’re free when improvising on a painting. But that’s not the way for us. The music is enough.
Article by Maarten, March 2007
Supersilent was interviewed in December 2006, in Brussels, Belgium.