Here’s one for the creepy file: In February, 2011, Biosphere’s Geir Jenssen became concerned that several Japanese nuclear power plants were at risk of being hit by natural disasters, and wrote an album that focused on several facets of these majestic structures, including the human cost of nuclear radiation if such disasters ever came to pass. One month later, the Japanese power plant Fukushima 1 was hit by a tsunami and created the largest nuclear catastrophe since the meltdown at Chernobyl. You’d be forgiven for believing Jenssen was, if not a prophet, so strange and brilliant as to be able to predict the future. He remains one of ambient music’s superstars and is responsible for at least one cornerstone of the genre (1997’s Substrata), and he only rarely emerges from his arctic hideout to record an album or play a heart-stopping show. When you see him in the flesh, bedecked in Norwegian stoicism, he looks unshakeable. However, even he appeared to be freaked out by his terrifying prescience.
Without knowing the context, as some might not, Biosphere’s ninth studio album—the first in five years—simply delivers the goods in the way fans have come to expect. With the nuclear theme and Fukushima tragedy in mind, however, N-Plants takes on a life of its own. Like the nine Japanese nuclear plants that lend their names to the titles, these tracks are intricate, metallic structures pulsing with manufactured energy, each one slightly different but built on the same basic platform. In them, you can hear Jenssen’s intrigue over the power of these plants, both to keep the world running and to do monstrous damage. In one respect, the songs feel stately, repetitious, even serene—fully operational. In another, they hang on the edge of a precipice, hissing ominously, as if they know something we don’t. Biosphere has, in fact, always had an underrated interest in the unknown; in his seminal track “Kobresia”, for instance, a man speaks provocatively in Russian about an object he can’t quite identify by its features. The Fukushima disaster might make us hear N-Plants with a kind of pathos, but in February, 2011, Biosphere was simply ensconced in his own fascination with nuclear power, asking himself questions, and that comes through beautifully in the music.