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Compositions Jon Buckland , January 25th, 2023 09:34

The latest from Oslo's Helge Sten adds a distinctly personal touch to his great surges of sound, finds Jon Buckland

Following in the still reverberating footsteps of last year’s world-clobbering opus Sow Your Gold In The White Foliated Earth, Compositions might initially feel a little flat. Backwards looking, even. And, in certain respects, that case might be made. The attacked strings and explorative scales that propelled 2022’s ode to Harry Partch out of Deathprod’s usual sonic cul-de-sac, for example, have been set aside as swiftly as they appeared to arrive (although long term followers of the Norwegian’s work may know that the seeds of interest in Partch have been gestating for some thirty years).

Instead, Helge Sten (Deathprod) has leaned into the minimal, atonal drone manoeuvres typically associated with the project. Where it differs, however, is that we find him resisting the long-form lure of earlier releases such as Treetop Drive and Morals & Dogma. Here, Sten has opted for short sharp sub blasts, with the languid, lolling sounds unravelling at the rate of inflation. He shifts from one pulsing mass to another as delayed echoes bounce across seemingly distant canyon walls. The roll of a volume pot draws a roar back into life. It sounds huge and foreboding, as if alien signals are being sent and received through the vast, cold void of space. Travelling silently until they collide with willing ears.

In a way, that best defines Sten’s approach. These very personal surges of sound swell in the ether, seeking out like-minded listeners. His “Audio Virus” – a collection of electronic hardware items that range from the esoteric to the obsolete – purrs like a living being. The hums and crackles it emits, a constant feature as one track slides into the next.

Whilst that sounds cold and machine-like, the lunges of notes often reach heart-wrenching heights. ‘Composition 9’, in particular, imbues the tonal tête-à-tête with a very human longing. It’s forlorn. Sombre. Melancholic. ‘Composition 16’ leaks a faint hint of starlight into our eardrums. It’s a deviation from an otherwise steady palette of sounds, ending the record with a hopeful gleam rather than the dank bog-diving of earlier tracks.

And that bog helps to map the parabolic curve of the record as it takes us from softly coaxed cave notes, through a coursing river of sound that cuts back and forth, each jinked direction eroding, curving, shaping the environment, before finally depositing us in the engulfing primordial ooze, sinking down yet gazing up at the stars. With each contraction of pulses the ground feels like it’s opening up, like we’re being dragged into a subterranean realm by four-legged, horned beasts. But, with Sten at the helm, it’s going to take more than a prod death-wards to take us fully into that underworld.