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BIOPHON

A remastered version of Shenzhou on triple vinyl and double CD with the bonus album"The Samphire Tower.

Paul Cooper, Pitchfork: ""Shenzhou", aside from being the name of the Chinese manned-spaceflight vehicles, means "magic vessel", and I can't imagine a more apt description for Geir Jenssen's latest excursion into ambient deep listening. After following an Aphexian trajectory with his releases on Apollo, the ambient sublabel of Belgium's R&S; Records, Jenssen veered from the padded sci-fi-inspired techno of Microgravity and Patashnik with 1997's Substrata, a genre-defining exploration of drifting soundscapes. Substrata remains for many the album that perfectly expresses the serenity and intensity of Arctic wildernesses, a landscape Jenssen knows intimately, having spent much of his life in the Norwegian Arctic Circle.

In 2000, Jenssen nearly eclipsed the success of Substrata with Cirque, a frequently frosty submerging of excerpted conversations and found environmental sounds that rivals Wolfgang Voigt's Gas project in its rumbling, gauzy beauty. Jenssen again relies on found sound as source material for Shenzhou, but this time, the found sound is old vinyl recordings of the orchestral works of French Impressionist composer and ambient precursor, Claude Debussy. Jenssen lifts fragments of these scratched records in a similar manner as he did for Cirque's "Black Lamb Grey Falcon" and "Iberia Eterea".

The ten tracks (out of the dozen on the album) that follow this model all begin as a barely audible hum, like a small electrical transformer, out of which the dust-dappled loops of Debussy's woodwind, brass, and strings emerge, condense, and fade out into pink noise rustles. Unlike Steve Reich's phase pieces or Brian Eno's Discreet Music, though, Jenssen doesn't set his loops against each other to produce juxtapositions and piquant dissonance; he uses them to describe imagined terrain, at first glance monotonously flat and barren, but on concentration, replete with minute detailing. The overall effect of these pieces is a sense of immensity. The orchestral loops sound distant, abandoned in a vast wilderness, and strenuously battling against Arctic winds. Jenssen sets the listener down in this wilderness as an aloof observer, a witness to the music's futile struggles against entropic forces.

The two tracks not derived from Debussy share the same hypnotic aesthetic. The brief interlude "Bose-Einstein Condension" is a loop of piano chords lolloping in search of coherence, while "Gravity Assist" is a longer voyage into woofer-quaking low-frequency manipulation, bell-like drones, and contrails of subdued noise.




STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: Aah Biosphere, what can't you do? Glacial cavey ambience, folky new agey ambience and now classical, chopped-up ambience? it might sound like i'm being derogatory here, but when it comes to ambient (which I love), nobody really does it better. Amazing.

Noregian dub-ambient veteran Geir Jenssen pulls together a collection of his compilation appearances and hard to find one-offs in his Biosphere guise for this mind-melting collection on Biophon. 

With the junglist rave missive of 'Hypnophone' kicking things off, you'd expect that the haunting glacial atmospherics and trance-inducing pads of Cirque or Substrata would be left to the LP's, but 'The Third Planet' is another classic biosphere ambient piece, building tension with increasingly determined envelopes and echoing bit-crushed percussion. 'The Seal & The Hydrophone' is perhaps the most danceable piece on here, with hi-passed snares panning around the stereo image, while a throbbing analog bass pulses away in the background and cosmic squeals and fractured churns are beautifully overshadowed by hypnotic vocal snippets. 

The wistful bleary-eyed nostalgic ambience of the stunning 'Sun-Baked' comes at a perfect time, providing a counterbalance and thematic breather to the icy ambient assault of 'Valchirie' and the jarring choral malaise of 'Visible & Invisible' 

A stunning collection, brilliant for filling in the gaps of his already venerable canon, or for new listeners hoping for a taste of Biosphere's pioneering electronic underworld.  



STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: From thudding excitable rave, to brittle, lonely ambience, Biosphere has you covered. As stunning and groundbreaking as all of his other work, and previously unheralded. If there's any more of this to come, i'm in. Top notch.

Biosphere is the main recording name of Geir Jenssen (born 30 May 1962), a Norwegian musician who has released a notable catalogue of ambient electronic music. He is well known for his works on ambient techno and arctic themed pieces, his use of music loops, and peculiar samples from sci-fi sources. His 1997 album Substrata was voted by the users of the Hyperreal website in 2001 as the best all-time classic ambient album.
Cirque - originally released in 2000 - was Biosphere's first album for the UK label Touch. This new re-issue comes with a 6-track bonus album and new artwork.
Coming to prominence with 1992's Microgravity - which along with the first couple of Aphex/Polygon Window CDs, defined the genre ambient - Geir Jenssen as Biosphere made three of the '90s' best albums, culminating with the near beatless Substrata. The idea - as it always was thanks to Eno's On Land - is music as environment (reflecting, creating): working from his base in Tromso, Arctic Norway, Jenssen offers a polar, Apollonian exploration of the human psyche. Cirque is a perfectly constructed 47-minute sequence: cold clarity up against real depth of field, synth cycles dissolving into sudden moments of sonic revelation that sound like a waking dream - try the first 20 seconds of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. (And if you think that's pretentious - your loss). Inspired by the story of a young American, Chris McCandless, who walked alone into the Alaskan wilderness and perished, Cirque balances the tightrope between warmth and unease, resolving into a moon melody that leaves you a peace. (Jon Savage)

STAFF COMMENTS

David says: If January has made you want to curl up in a ball and wish you were back in the womb, then fear not! This reissue of Biosphere's classic ambient album is the perfect accompaniment.

Based in Norway near the Arctic Circle, Biosphere creates all-enveloping ambient masterpieces through the use of field recordings and swirling pads, interspersed with heavy reverbs and heavenly chimes. 

Opener 'As The Sun Kissed The Horizon' is a frigid cave of glassine pads and empty swells which perfectly traverses into the isolated but hopeful beauty of 'Poa Alpina'. Bracing reverberating guitar one-shots and barely-there strings glide between each-other like a ghostly game of twister. Through miniscule developments in space and scope, there is a distinct impression of travelling, out of the swirling winds and into further unknown territories. 

Throughout the experience, we go from the sublime into the unknown in ever expanding territories, the cacophonous spoken-word fragments of 'Hyperborea', cosmically segueing into the minimalist and shining 'Kobresia' before emerging into the divine and peaceful wildlife utopia of 'Uva-Ursi'. 

This is a haunting and transformative collection of hostile plains and terse atmospheres interspersed with idyllic reprieves, a journey into the unknown with no rope to guide you. To be taken whole, and uninterrupted for full effect. One of the greatest ambient albums around. 





STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: If you like any sort of ambient, this is an absolute essential. A perfectly mapped and bracing journey into the unknown, with profoundly moving results. Stunning.


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