Biosphere - Autour De La Lune [Touch - 2004]Biosphere. One of the biggest names in the music we call ambient. Albums which we will still enjoy after 50 years. Timeless and abstract. Mysterious and distant. Cold, as well as warm. Not always easy, but always a relief to listen to. That is Biosphere. And there’s a new album out…
Geir Jenssen is the man behind this electronic act, and his musical work is now spanning almost 20 years. Jenssen started in the pop music with Belcanto, yet after two albums he decided to concentrate on a solo career in the electronic music. In the period before Biosphere and the very beginning of it, beats and rhythms were clearly present. During the years Biosphere evolved; the musical drafts went by the board and minimal ambient got the upper hand. Biosphere’s music is therefore used quite a lot as a soundtrack for movies or supporting art installations, with as musical highlight Substrata released in 1997. Named after the scientific project in the Arizona state and strongly inspired by nature; Biosphere knows like no other to titillate the senses and suggest images to go with the music. That these images contain the cold wintry landscapes of Norway for the most part, is perhaps due to the influence of his hometown Tromsø, 70 degrees north of the Artic circle. Jenssen is an enthusiastic mountaineer as well, addicted to high altitudes and fascinated by the effects. For this new album he climbs a little bit further into the sky.
Autour De La Lune was originally a assignment given from Radio France to be performed at a festival in Montpellier. For this occasion, Geir Jenssen was allowed to take a dive into the archives of this radio station, something that is not granted to everyone. Jenssen came up with some interesting source material. He selected sounds from a radio broadcast from 1960, telling the story of Jules Verne’s De la Terre à la Lune (From The Earth To The Moon). The original book already appeared in 1868, and as the title implies, tells the tale of a man’s journey to the moon. In addition to this, Jenssen used sounds recorded on the space station MIR, together forming a striking contrast between past and future. The festival was cancelled eventually, but the recording was broadcasted on Radio France Culture last year, and was available for download as well. Jenssen interested was aroused, and he decided to work further on the material until a full-length album came into being.
Listening to music with headphones gives a surplus value to a lot of different styles, with this Biosphere album it has become an essence. The 75-minute piece is divided into 9 movements, the opener Translation already clocking 22 minutes. There’s still a sense of melody here, which passes by the listener in a pulsating state. A truly tremendous piece, seemingly working like a hypnosis; the space journey is underway. After that, it all gets very minimal, focusing on deep and low bass tones which give you the sensation of being in a condition at zero-gravity, but also that of lonely floating in the sinister and endless universe. There’s only darkness, and the hope that this is all going to end soon appears to be far away. Dim the lights, close your eyes and give your imagination free rein. Perhaps the only minus point of this album; the concept reaches a state of unbelievable completeness (including amazing stunning artwork – yet simplistic and sober) that your fantasy can go but one way: into space.
The dark sounds begin to transform into nightmarish-forms in Circulaire, track number 6 in the list. Without headphones this seems to be completely inaudible to the human ear, yet in the distance… It comes closer and disappears again, while in the background a frequent beating can be heard. My childhood dream of becoming an astronaut falls to pieces; it is way too scary in deep space. You get the impression of hearing nothing but the sounds of your body and organs (like your heart beating), what is left is total silence. Thankfully, in the following Disparu some melody returns in the music, not long after that we go back to deep drones in Inverse though. The album closes with Tombant, a follow-up to the melody from the opening track and a worthy ending. We return to Earth.
Even Brian Eno’s Apollo album is a comparison not fitting for Autour De La Lune. This work is more complete, darker and more beautiful. When the CD has ended it seems unfeasible that such minimal tones can bring on such an amount of emotions. There is no beat (in the sense of rhythm or drumming) to detect on the album, and it looks like the samples are wholly interwoven with the electronic “music”. What Geir Jenssen demonstrates here is an ageless soundtrack for a space expedition, something that should be impossible to lay down by sound only. The package reaches such a state of perfection though, that the images, emotions and everything that goes with it appear in your fantasy almost instantly. Possibly one of the best Biosphere albums to date, the most minimal too. Still this is unmistakable Biosphere, how the cold but often natural & organic sounds are processed and presented. I continue to be impressed of this first-class musician. Breath-taking, really.Justin Faase