Boomkat Product Review:
Helge Sten has been pioneering the darkest strains of electronic music since the early 90s. The Deathprod concept arose in 1991, when Helge realised his complex array of homemade electronics, samplers, sound processing and analogue effects – cumulatively known as the ‘Audio Virus’ – could add a musical dimension above and beyond the merely technical. Now the core trilogy of Deathprod albums will be released for the first time on vinyl and download – cut to vinyl by Rashad Becker at Dubplates and Mastering in Berlin. Together they form Deathprod’s complete official canon. If you don’t know Deathprod, we implore you to spend some time with these records and touch the void for some of the most life-affirming, querying music that you’ll ever hear.
Treetop Drive  was Helge Sten aka Deathprod’s debut solo album, and it’s nothing less than one of the most astonishing ambient/drone anomalies of its era, and pretty much of all time where our ears are concerned. Initially issued on a tape containing all three parts of Treetop Drive, and subsequently completed with addition of the immense Towboat on a later CD edition (also found in the Deathprod box), this first ever vinyl edition brings a longtime dream for many of his followers to fruition.
Treetop Drive was the first release fully realised by the Audio Virus, incorporating the ‘esoteric tape-echo’ sound of Hans Magnus Ryan’s violin in a suite of glacial movements that call to mind the minimalism of Thomas Köner or Mika Vainio, but with the flickering neon mystery of the finest Lynch/Badalamenti collabs - a combination quite unlike anything else of the modern age, or as the label put it, “existing in a void between the arts, contemporary music and alternative culture.”
We’ve spent many, many nights listening to the death throes of Ryan’s violin screeching from Treetop Drive 1’s ungodly echo chamber, and likewise flinching at the plangent, coruscating peal of Treetop Drive 2’s mountaintop clarion, to then go into freefall with the jaw-dropping Treetop Drive 3, embedded with its deeply uncanny and (still) unidentified vocal sample. The 18 minute final track, Towboat, is, quite frankly, one of our favourite dark ambient pieces of all time, and pretty much sounds like a template for any of the genre’s highlights ever since.
Morals And Dogma  was originally issued in 2004, but makes use of four recordings realised between 1994 and 1997, perhaps the purest example of Deathprod’s texturally diffused minimalism. The recordings convey a sense of total tonal detachment and disembodied feelings as ancient as they are infinite, and as evocative of the atmosphere to grainy black and white films as memories of grand, rain-soaked landscapes and the loneliest bedsit mindsets.
However, within this bleak sepia murk it’s possible to detect a human spirit riddling its mazy corridors and vast inky blacknuss, occasionally in the form of occasional collaborators, such as Henrik Magnus Ryan and Ole Henrik Moe’s barely-there violin and harmonium in the quietly funereal case of Dead People’s Things on Morals And Dogma, and with an arcane ecclesiastic air in the faint light of Organ Donor, which appears like a sort of sublime purgatorial state for the spine freezing final reckoning of Cloudchamber - which takes its title from one of Harry Partch’s self-built instruments and pursues that composer’s exploratory impetus deep into echoplex’s unknown dimensions.
Imaginary Songs From Tristan De Cunha  takes the world’s most remote inhabited island as his far flung muse for a vast yet claustrophobia-inducing masterwork of dark ambient music Visited by a ship carrying mail and supplies only once a year, Tristan De Cunha in the South Atlantic offers a none-more-evocative place from which to meditate on the themes of loneliness and detachment integral to Helge Sten’s music. Dispatching from this noumenal blind-spot in the consciousness of pop and literary culture, Sten emulates a sort of SOS call from he island that never reaches its intended destination and is instead left to roam the airwaves for eternity (or until a helpful alien with a great music collection passes overhead).
The album was first inspired by Ole Henrik Moe, who introduced Sten to the writings of a Norwegian expedition to Tristan De Cunha made in the 1930s, and whose violin appears as a crucial element across the recordings, most specifically the first section of four parts; each recorded in the forest outside Oslo, then manipulated and transferred to phonographic wax cylinders to lend an added, suspenseful layer of decay.
That first section can possibly be heard as diary entries on arrival to the island; short and wistfully descriptive notes lilting with dissonant folk melody and spare percussive cadence until the 4th part, Boatharbour Bay, which makes use of the new vinyl cut to insert a locked groove at the end of the track that perhaps cannily emulates the sinking feeling of watching the yearly supplies boat drifting back to Cape Town from Tristan’s shore, and slowly realising that you’re stuck with the same 300 people and livestock for at least the next annum.
The two parts of The Contraceptive Breifcase II follow, adding five vocalists playing musical glasses recorded live by NRK at Rockefeller Oslo, plus a saw, theremin and electronics from the Audio Virus to sound something like an ensemble of Aeolian harps or primitive fog horns calling to Cthulhu. This 30 minutes, cleft in two for optimal sound quality on the vinyl, is where Sten’s time-dilating magick really comes into play, incurring an hallucinatory phantasmagoria of sound-images which, once heard or unboxed, can’t be forgotten easily. It’s perhaps a noumenal sail for the islanders to take them away, or likewise to take us there, and with a particularly ambiguous fanfare finale upon your ultimate arrival.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of these recordings in light of modern electronic music, but in case you forgot (or lent out the boxset’s CDs to pals years ago, like us), you couldn’t hope for a firmer reminder than these vinyl pressings, as remastered to the exacting specifications of Helge Sten - the producer, engineer, mastering genius behind this, and records by Susanna, Motorpsycho, Jenny Hval, Arve Henriksen and Supersilent, himself.