The Viking invasion, part II

Deathprod, DJ Strangefruit, Supersilent... Contemporary Norwegian music is not only full of cool names, says Louise Gray, it has the sophisticated sounds and intelligent ideas to match

Tall, biblically bearded, and generous with the mineral water, Deathprod is trying to explain what he brings to Supersilent, a defiantly different Norwegian quartet which this week begins its British tour under the banner Midnight Sun. Deathprod used to call himself an audio virus, but he's not keen on that now. "Oh, that's just a thing that's been clinging to me for years," he shrugs. "Maybe it's because I've never really played an instrument in a conventional way. I just make my own electronic things and infiltrate other people's records."

But Deathprod – not the latest manifestation in Norwegian black metal satanism, but a mild Viking called Helge Sten – is a secret weapon at the heart of Supersilent, a band that its virtuoso trumpeter, Arve Henriksen, says "doesn't spend time talking about what music it plays".

It's a comment designed to evade; critics usually contextualise new bands by referring to what's come before. In the case of Supersilent, as with singer Sidsel Endresen or DJ Strangefruit – the other musicians that make up the rewardingly eclectic Midnight Sun tour – the names thrown around include Stockhausen, Jan Gabarek and, in Endresen's case, Björk.

Yet, whatever the dubious merits of descriptive comparison, it is clear that the Midnight Sun members, collectively and individually, represent something of the excitement that's grown up around the Norwegian scene in the last few years. Alongside electronic musicians Bugge Wesseltoft and Kim Hiorthoy, alongside the growth of local record labels dedicated to new music, it's very much a complete culture. Also a well-known graphic designer, Hiorthoy's presence is apparent on the cool covers he makes for labels such as Jazzland, Rune Grammofon and Smalltown Supersound. The influence of ECM, the influential Munich-based post-jazz and modern classical label, is also crucial. (ECM's Officium, a massive hit that paired Oslo saxophonist Jan Gabarek with early music specialists the Hilliard Ensemble provided much encouragement to the fledgling Norwegian scene.)

All of which begs the question: is there such a thing as a Norwegian music? If there is, Midnight Sun show how startlingly diverse it is, even at its experimental end. Strangefruit, a DJ with a talent for insinuating his own meanings into other people's recordings, exists on a cusp between several areas of music. Endresen uses her voice to make patterns, textures and finally, songs, of a poised elegance. Henriksen, who'll contribute a solo trumpet set, in addition to one with Supersilent, makes music where its very means of production – the breath – is even pulled into the mix.

"I don't know if there is such a thing as one Norwegian music," Sidsel Endresen says, down the phone from Oslo, where she teaches vocal techniques at the Norwegian State Academy of Music. "But you have epochs when the musical scenario is strong, and in Norway, it's been like that for a good ten years."

She specifically mentions how ECM's affinity for new music "opened up a door to Europe" for the Norwegians. Endresen, who grew up in London (she had to relearn Norwegian as a teenager), makes albums which are rich in economy and allusion. Out Here, In There, her 2002 album made with Wesseltoft, is a sly masterpiece of understatement. Words (in English) are at a premium: the emotion is intense and directed and the overall effect, one of deep contemplation. And as for Björk? "I've been called many things," laughs Endresen, "and Björk's a fine reference point, so I don't mind it. It's just that it's not so true."

Supersilent's drummer, Jarle Vespestad has a theory. "Norway has a tradition of not playing bebop," he says. If there is such as thing as a Norwegian sound, it is partly because it bypasses the 1940s jazz popularised by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. "Norwegian jazz is not so strongly linked to the US as its counterparts in Sweden or Denmark. You might say that we had one less thing to break away from."

Supersilent, who can be unnervingly quiet about their own music, do accede one thing: that their approach is strictly improvisational. "When we go on stage, we never agree beforehand where we're going to start or what will happen," says keyboardist Stale Storlokken. Vespestad concurs. "This way, we really listen to each other. It's good to have the ability to react instantly to what someone is doing with the music."

If any of this sounds a bit too conceptual, it's not. Supersilent, have honed their finely tuned responses to one another over time. They began playing together in 1987, when they were students; Sten, the maverick outsider amongst his three traditionally trained colleagues, joined more recently. On stage, Supersilent make few concessions to their audience – "We seldom go into something that's very snappy, because we never encourage extrovert stuff," says Vespestad. "You know – handclapping ..." But it's clear that the listeners' participation is far from passive.

Playing in Dresden, as part of a short pre-Midnight Sun programme, Supersilent's members have an extraordinary capacity to anticipate each other. Each change in the music – jazzy, ambient and sometimes, a pulverising rush of sound – is greeted with a rapt, astonished attention. Henriksen often speaks of his wish to make music that "creates abstract images", and it's possible that each person there has been presented with their own set of pictures. No handclapping, though. Or not until the end, and then it never stops.

Midnight Sun: Phoenix, Exeter (01392 667080), Thurs; Pavilion, Bath (01225 463362) Fri; Crescent, Belfast (028 9026 7879) Sat; Salisbury Festival (01722 320333) 25 May; Medicine Bar, Birmingham (0121 236 5622) 26 May; Unity, Liverpool (0151 709 4988) 27 May; 93 Feet East, London E1 (08700 600100) 28 May

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