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When a song is more than just a song

Nice Nice
Plates of Hydra
Friday, July 5
9 p.m.
The Blackbird
3725 N.E. Sandy
21+ w/ID

The title of the first track on Supersprite’s debut release reads like a disclaimer. “I Don’t Spend Time Reflecting on Pins Dropping,” is a long title for a thirty-second song, but it is befitting of the soft-spoken man who is Supersprite – Howard Gillam, who celebrates the release of Color Mixing Friday night at the Blackbird.

Gillam’s on-stage persona is marked by a constantly burning cigarette and a shock of dark hair hung over his eyes as he presses keys, turns knobs and otherwise manipulates his keyboard. These manipulations render Supersprite’s music at times serious, at others playful, yet it is always textured and often evocative of some sort of cinemascape.

What sort of cinemascape? Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Supersprite’s music set to footage of pins dropping in slow motion. In this sense, the disclaimer fits, but Gillam doesn’t consider it a disclaimer. “It’s an inside joke,” he says.

Inside jokes run part and parcel with Supersprite. For example, the title of another track on Color Mixing: “Stop Celebrating.” The song is marked by an underlying darkness: minor chords turn what is actually a celebratory, almost march-like tune into something definitely darker. Not brooding – ominous.

Gillam, however, has no such pretensions. “I came up with a chord progression,” he says simply. “The title is an inside joke with a friend, but I don’t want to say what the joke is.”

This is not an uncommon remark from the 25-year-old Perrrydale, Ore. native. His presence, in person and over the phone, is marked by a reticence one might expect from someone who grew up ten miles west of Salem in unincorporated Polk County.

Playing as Supersprite for the last five years (four of them as a Portland resident), Gillam sees his music as ever-evolving. Even as Color Mixing makes its way to record store shelves, he creates new music on a daily basis. Carrying a microphone and a mini-disc recorder wherever he goes, Gillam is in the habit of incorporating background sounds into his work.

As for Friday’s show at the Blackbird, don’t expect to hear the new record played start-to-finish. “I’m just getting [the show] together,” he says. “I’ve been working on new songs for another record, but incorporating themes from Color Mixing into the set.”

The methodology is telling: Gillam isn’t out to “sell” his new release. He’s more about immersing the audience in the soundscape that is Supersprite. It’s not songs Gillam works on – it’s themes. Themes like “Farewell Cosmo,” track four on the disc.

Upon first listen, this writer imagined the silhouette of someone named Cosmo walking off into the sunset. “Um, Cosmo was a cat,” Gillam corrects. “He got sick and died – I was supposed to work on music with Evan [Evan “E*Vast” Mast, who plays on the track] that day. I didn’t want to, but did anyway.

“I’m not sure what he died of.”

Aside from the ghost of Cosmo and the presence of E*Vax, there are other characters who contribute to Color Mixing. The track “Pleasure Model” is a collaboration between Supersprite and Nudge’s Honey Owens and Bryan Foote, who add a dub-ish glitch texture to the Supersprite sound. “Sparkling Dynamo” sees an appearance by Josh Blanchard, of Point Line Plane and The Sensualists, on bass guitar and Moog. And while Supersprite is essentially Gillam’s brainchild, he’s been known to include a rotating cast of supporting players, utilizing a live drummer and various effects personnel on stage.

On Friday though, he goes it alone. The consummate artist – “If I didn’t play music I’d paint or draw,” he says – will celebrate his first release on Portland’s Audio Dregs label by inviting friends to open the show before taking the stage solo.

On-again off-again electronic manipulator Plates of Hydra will get things started, followed by guitar-and-drums duo Nice Nice. Nice Nice will expand the audience’s collective ears just enough to catch the all of the subtlety and nuance that is the sound of Supersprite.

This show is part of the Blackbird’s first anniversary celebration – that means it’s free. Every show through Monday, July 8 (with the Exception of Wednesday, July 3) has no cover. If you’re of legal age, there’s really no excuse not to go.