If your mind was on something other than the Norwegian dark ambient scene in the mid-1990s, you likely missed the work of an innovative minimalist composer out of Oslo. Deathprod, a solo project from composer Helge Sten, recorded three albums that have been lovingly pressed onto 180-gram vinyl for the first time by Smalltown Supersound.
The work was remarkably advanced. Sten wasn't alone in making gritty, dark ambient music at the time, but he was well outside of electronic music's mainstream. More than that, he helped lay a foundation for some of today's most exciting ambient compositions.
Yet, the Deathprod oeuvre is a bit uneven, especially when absorbed in a single sitting. His first album, Treetop Drive, featured three pieces, imaginatively titled "Treetop Drive 1," "Treetop Drive 2" and "Treetop Drive 3." It premiered as a cassette-only release. ("Towboat," recorded in 1994, has been added to this vinyl release.)
The first two pieces are almost painfully repetitive. There are a couple of interesting ideas here, but certainly not enough to fill the 24-plus minutes of collective airtime they're given. The third piece is less grating, and features a fascinating spoken word recording about desensitizing children to death, but it goes nowhere. You're unlikely to make a return trip.
What came later, though, is quite remarkable. Sten recorded Morals and Dogma between 1994 and 1997. During that period, he also released Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha (pictured above) in 1996.
Had they been released now, both of these albums would be held up as five-star examples of modern-day electronic composition. Morals and Dogma's "Orgone Donor" features a beautiful harmonium performance by Hans Magnus Ryan, which was then multi-tracked with dual violins. "Cloudchamber" showcases Sten's abuse of a Maestro Echoplex tape-echo machine that he's treated electronically.
The major work on Imaginary Songs is "The Contraceptive Briefcase II." Layered electronics, a theremin, glassware, a saw and five otherworldly vocalists — all recorded live by the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation. — make it gorgeous and haunting, all at once.
Albums two and three are great additions to any collection. Deathprod's debut is only for the completists. (Smalltown Supersound)