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Biosphere

Wireless: Live at the Arnolfini, Bristol

(Touch; US: 9 Jun 2009; UK: 18 May 2009)

In 2007, Biosphere—the primary vehicle of Tromsø, Norway’s Geir Jenssen—played a set at the Arnolfini Arts Center for Touch 25, a concert series commemorating the 25th anniversary of Jon Wozencroft’s Touch label. In a way, it was also a celebration of Biosphere’s own storied career, which began in 1991 and continues to this day. Jenssen is the recipient of a five-star rating on All Music Guide, and his 1997 LP Substrata is widely regarded as a classic of ambient techno. He composed the soundtrack to a Norwegian film, collaborated with scene stalwarts Deathprod and the Higher Intelligence Agency and kept his proper solo output coming at a respectable pace. Jenssen looked fame in the eye when his song “Novelty Waves” appeared in a Levi’s commercial in 1995, and then he turned away from it, choosing instead to satisfy himself with altering and updating his sparse panoramas of electronic gelidity.


If anything about Wireless has the air of a victory lap, it would only be because we believe that Jenssen now deserves to take one. But the music itself is modest, as it always has been, and the presentation lacks showmanship: Aside from the crisp breakbeat added to “When I Leave” (a nearly beatless track from 2000’s Cirque), Biosphere is laissez-faire with his material and keeps the mood quite tranquil. To this end, he has chosen his selections carefully: three pieces from his most recent full-length, Dropsonde (2006), two from Cirque, two from Substrata  and the title track from 2002’s Shenzhou. (Wisely, he opted to leave out 2004’s uncommonly stony Autour de la Lune and his first two records, 1992’s Microgravity and 1994’s Patashnik, which are beginning to show their age.) The result is part career overview, part aural montage, with an emphasis on the kind of stirring, emotive drift that has represented the singular Biosphere experience for more than a decade.


The live setting puts an interesting spin on this music. A few songs lack the depth of their studio counterparts. “Birds Fly by Flapping Their Wings”, for example, was far more resonant and less uniformly mixed on Dropsonde than it is here, and it’s easy to detect the difference. But Biosphere’s material is intimately linked with the locale that Jenssen calls home, a city 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and Wireless gives the impression that it’s happening out on the ice somewhere, played loudly and from far away. You can almost feel the chilly European air swirling between the audience and the speakers. Besides hearing such beloved ambient standards as “Kobresia” wrapped in a unique package, the set’s real draw is “Calais Ferryport”, a previously unheard track that brings Jenssen’s production prowess to great heights. Longtime followers will find that the music holds up surprisingly well in a performance situation; likewise, Wireless is as good a place as any for newcomers to begin their journey into Biosphere’s extensive, alluring catalogue.

Rating:

Mike has been a staff writer at PopMatters since 2009. He began writing music reviews for his college paper in 2005, where he cut his teeth as an arts editor and weekly columnist. He graduated from Vassar in 2008 and is pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. He is currently writing his dissertation on the role of rejection sensitivity in online infidelity, and lives with his incredible girlfriend in a wonderful shoebox apartment in Washington, DC.


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