As always, Supersilent's latest release, the prosaically titled 12, is the product of group improvisations, in this case hours of recordings culled from three 2011 sessions at Athletic Sound in Halden, the Emanuel Vigeland museum (renowned for its twenty-second reverb), and the Audio Virus LAB belonging to Helge Sten (aka Deathprod). Currently a trio featuring Sten, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, the group's sound has undergone a dramatic change since the departure of drummer Jarle Vespestad in 2009, a change clearly evident on the new album's thirteen pieces. No longer tethered to a percussive foundation, Supersilent now operates freely within a spacier zone rich in cosmic synth textures and extraterrestrial atmosphere. Yet while Supersilent recorded 12's material sans rehearsals (as per usual), the members have played together for so many years that a natural degree of telepathy has entered into their interactions.
Eschewing descriptive track titles for “12.1,” “12.2,” and so on, the trio plunges into alien territory from the first moment, with the ominous opener's cavernous rumble evoking the chilly timbres of a prototypical Thomas Köner soundscape. Many of the kosmische-styled pieces locate themselves within remote, ice-cold realms where abandoned machines plaintively howl, their expressions strangely suggestive of longing. Adding to the chill, synthesizers and keyboards dominate, and when Henriksen's horn does appear it's often as alien in its comportment as any synthetic instrument. Admittedly there are moments when he does manage to humanize the material with his delicately rendered playing (“12.5,” “12.7,” “12.8”), but such instances are outnumbered by the disturbing dissonances heard elsewhere (“12.6”). And even in those settings where the trumpet's warm sound does appear, it's often heard against an icy synthetic backdrop.
Not that Supersilent could ever have been called jazz in the conventional sense, but 12 sees the group distancing itself completely from any such association and instead presenting itself as an avant-garde project that has more in common with someone like Stockhausen than Ellington. The relatively gentle closer notwithstanding, the new release is obviously not easy listening, but it's at the same time gratifying to hear the group fearlessly push on into unsettling territory rather than play it safe (it'll be interesting to see whether the trio's next release travels farther out or pulls back). And while it's not the most important detail, the recording's forty-four-minute total is well-considered, too.