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Helge Sten, who officiates under the Deathprod, is by far one of the most important musicians of his generation, yet his solo albums have remained largely in the shadow of his work as sound engineer and record producer, and, mostly, his work with avant-garde jazz pioneers Supersilent. To celebrate the release of his new album, Morals & Dogma, his first in eight years, Rune Grammofon have compiled his first two albums, Treetop Drive and Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha, plus a handful of rare and previously unreleased tracks into a sumptuous four CD boxset, also containing Morals & Dogma. Perhaps one of the most important releases of the last ten years, this boxset gives some perspective on Sten’s solo work, his input into his various other projects and the impact of his approach to sound on the Scandinavian electronic scene. We caught the opportunity to talk to the man about his career, his solo albums, Supersilent and the future of Deathprod.

How did you come to music? Were you influenced by anyone in particular when you were growing that led you to what you do now?
I started out as a sound-engineer and found that I could use the studio as a musical instrument. Complex sounds used as an instrument appealed more to me than conventional musical instruments. Growing up, I listened to a lot of different music, however Led Zeppelin and The Residents have probably been the most important early influences.

Norway seemed to be neglected for years musically. Was it hard to make a name for yourself, or did that give you an element of freedom, allowing you to explore your creativity?
When I started making music I did not have a specific plan to become a recording-artist, so that just happened gradually. Even though Norwegian music was not very well know outside of Norway at the time, there has always been a strong underground scene, which have been important for what is happening now.

You have been involved in an impressive amount of various projects in the last few years, including recording and touring with Supersilent and producing records for quite a few artists. How do you find the time to do everything and still keep some focus on your solo career?
I think all my collaborations have contributed to my solo work in a positive way. Obviously there have been periods of work overload, but all this work has been important to bring different elements to all these projects. My solo work has never really been dependent on release schedules or touring so it has been produced over a very natural timeline.

It’s been a while since your last album. Do you miss working on your solo stuff at times?
These days my main focus is on Supersilent. The completion of Morals & Dogma has taken a long time but that is a result of how I wanted the music to function. The track Dead People’s Things was recorded after the release of the Treetop Drive album (1994) and that track was the key to how Morals & Dogma would turn out. Eventually it took a really long time to complete all the tracks.

How did you get involved with Supersilent, and did you expect the band would gain so much respect in just a few years?
I was living in Trondheim in the early nineties and the three other members of Supersilent had a trio called Veslefrekk, and they were also situated in Trondheim at the time. I think we were aware of each others work but it took some years to finally start the collaboration. We did a concert in Bergen in 1997 and we all enjoyed it so much that we recorded our first album shortly after. We didn’t really consider at the time where it would lead, but we are grateful for what has happened to us.

You have produced quite a few records over the last few years. What makes you decide to work with a particular artist?
There can be a number reasons but obviously the music is the key. There has to be some elements in the music that appeal to me and reflect something that can make my work an integral part of the music. Sometimes I also work with people because they are very nice people.

You recently produced the first album by Susanna & The Magical Orchestra that we recently featured on the site. How did you come to work with Susanna and Morten on this project?
They sent me a demo of some of their work and I instantly knew that I would very much like to work with them. Their version of Jolene really blew me away! I found it to be very honest music and that is important to me.

I would imagine that producing a record is a completely different process to working on a solo record, or to work with Supersilent. Which part do you prefer, and why?
There is nothing I would cut out because each projects adds a flavour to the others. However the work with Supersilent is the most important. I cannot think of a better band to be a part of. It is a privilege to play in that band.

How does working with Supersilent compare to working on your own?
It is a different process. My solo work is very composed even though there are elements of improvisation. In Supersilent we use improvisation as a tool to compose music and the live interaction is very important. My solo work is often based on very few sounds, while Supersilent often is more complex in sounds and patterns and the layering of these.

You are also a member of Motorpsycho, a Norwegian metal band, and have been for a few years. This seems very far from your solo work. How did you get involved with the band?
I was a member of the band between 1992 and 1994 and have worked with them as a producer since. During that time, we did a lot of freeform noise improvisations blended in with a more common rock sound and I think it has been important for what I have done since with Supersilent. They actually heard my solo material and wanted to incorporate those elements in their music, which was unusual at the time here in Norway. I think the energy of good rock music is very interesting.

You seem to be involved in a lot of the Rune Grammofon projects, often producing. Have you found your spiritual home there?
I enjoy working with Rune Kristoffersen and really respect his dedication to music. His label is very rare and it is great to be involved in so many of his projects. Supersilent and the label started out at the same time and we have worked together with different projects since.

Whose idea was it to release the boxset with your first three solo albums, and what was the reason for it?
I had wanted to do that for quite some time because so much of my music has been out of print for years. I wanted to collect all the old material in a box together with the new album, since Morals & Dogma might be the last Deathprod album. Rune was also very interested in this. I have no plans to release any more Deathprod material so I thought it would be good to collect everything and make it available.

Reference Frequencies spans about ten years of your work. How do you analyse what you recorded at the beginning of the nineties compared to your more recent work? What was it like to revisit your work?
There is a definite link between the oldest and the more recent music, though it obviously sounds different. The early work was usually live improvisations with no other musicians while later on it became more planned and composed. I also started working with other musicians. However the use of very few sound and the organic repetitions have always been a basis for my music.

The second track on Reference Frequencies, 6.15, is a collaboration with American poet Matt Burt. How did you get to work together, and was the syncopated way he recited his verse something you asked him to do or was it his choice?
I got to know him in the late eighties and he used to send microcassettes he recorded with poems and strange radio cut-ups. I started using these in my music as I found it to have a similar texture as some of my own work. The specific track you mention was made out of a spoken word tape he sent me, and his voice is only edited by himself as he reads it in to the microcasette-recorder.

You've also collaborated quite a lot with Norwegian violinist Ole Henrik Moe (Dora on Reference Frequencies, The Contraceptive Briefcase II on Songs From Tristan Da Cunha, as well as a couple of tracks on Morals & Dogma). Do you find a particular affinity with the violin in general, and with Moe¹s in particular?
I also worked a lot with Hans Magnus Ryan (guitarist in Motorpsycho) who also plays the violin. Both he and Ole Henrik Moe have a totally unique style and really understand how to blend in with the electronic sounds. It has been important for me to make electronic sounds be very organic, and the layering they have done on different tracks have been essential to the end result. It is not really that important that it is a violin, it is more their approach to the music which I find interesting.

How do you decide to collaborate with someone on one of your project? It is always a musical decision? How they can relate to the specific music? Is there someone you haven¹t worked with and would like to?
No, but then again you never really know what will come up. I do however really admire the American band Lightning Bolt, which is probably the best live band I have ever seen.

Songs From Tristan Da Cunha is a homage to the island of the same name, which is situated in the South Atlantic, and which is said to be the most remote island in the world. How did the idea of the project come up, and why choose this particular island?
I read a book about a Norwegian scientific expedition who went there around 1930. The history of this island and the people who live there is very interesting.

Morals & Dogma is your first album in eight years, and features some tracks recorded nearly ten years ago. Did you actually spend that long working on this album?
Yes I did, but I did obviously not spend eight years in the studio. It just took a long time to get it complete in terms of the total feel of the album. I had a very specific idea about how it should sound and that made it more difficult than I anticipated to complete. As the Deathprod project has never been dependent on touring or specific release schedules I did allow myself to use the time that it took.

Although the mood is generally quite introvert, your albums are all quite different. Does the creative process change with each album?
I don’t know. It has never been a philosophy to do so, but since I often use some time to make the albums I guess it comes quite naturally.

How did you get involved in the Nordheim Transformed project, and did you know Arne Nordheim¹s work before?
I suggested that it could be a nice thing to do and Rune Grammofon got everything organized. I knew of his music before, especially the electronic music. I think it interested me quite early on just from a technical point of view; how these sounds were made. However it took some time to realise the originality of his compositions. I guess he is an early influence; it just took some time to actually understand it.

How did you split the work with Geir Jenssen? Did you know him before working on the project?
We just choose which tracks we preferred to work with. We did not collaborate with the actually tracks that we made, it was a completely separate process. I think however that we had a sense that this material would work great together after completion and I think it did. I had met Geir before but never worked with him.

You both work with ambient soundscapes. Would you ever consider working on a purely original collaborative project with him?
I do not know, it could happen but no such plans have been made.

What inspires you to write music? Do you need to be in a particular frame of mind to work on your solo material?
I can’t really say. I find it difficult to tell what happens in such a process.

What are your next projects?
The Deathprod box and Morals & Dogma is probably the last I will release as Deathprod. Supersilent is currently working on a DVD (16mm black and white footage directed by Kim Hiorthøy).

Email interview September 2004
Thank you to Helge and Jim

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