Art Direction: Jon Wozencroft
Cover image: Yusuke Murakami
Mastered by Denis Blackham @ Skye
***When you buy this CD in the TouchShop, you also get a free download of exclusive track, "Oma".***
Geir Jenssen writes:
"Early February 2011: Decided to make an album inspired by the Japanese post-war economic miracle. While searching for more information I found an old photo of the Mihama nuclear plant. The fact that this futuristic-looking plant was situated in such a beautiful spot so close to the sea made me curious. Are they safe when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis? Further reading revealed that many of these plants are situated in earthquake-prone areas, some of them are even located next to shores that had been hit in the past by tsunamis.
A photo of Mihama made me narrow down my focus only to Japanese nuclear plants. I wanted to make a soundtrack to some of them, concentrating on the architecture, design and localizations, but also questioning the potential radiation danger (a cooling system being destroyed by a landslide or earthquake, etc). As the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said: "the plants were so well designed that 'such a situation is practically impossible'.
The album was finished on February 13th. On March 17th I received the following message from a Facebook friend: 'Geir, some time ago you asked people for a photo of a Japanese nuclear powerplant. Is this going to be the sleeve of your new coming album? But more importantly: how did you actually predict the future? Kind regards, David.'"
The name "Geir Jenssen" has become synonymous with "isolation". When we think of Biosphere we think of his stark compositions such as the "Insomnia" soundtrack, or his early forays into techno on albums such as "Patashnik", or his general bleak take on electronic music in general. Jenssen has taken a tired ambient genre and transformed it into an exciting cinematic experience which rivals any "darkwave" or other sinister styles that claim to plunge into the deeper parts of the psyche. On Biosphere's latest, "N-Plants", Jenssen achieves something he hasn't reached before inbringing all of his styles from the past into one cohesive piece of work. In doing this, he has never sounded warmer or closer to his beloved machinery.
Always present on a Biosphere album is its soundtrack quality. There isn't a single instance in the Biosphere catalog where you wouldn't be able to paste the music against a celluloid backdrop and not be able to make the viewing experience more rich because of it. Opening track "Hendai-1" is a stark mood piece with an underlying and sinister synthesizer foundation stringing the faint melody and percussive elements together into an intriguing introduction. "Shika-1" follows, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. It's a warm, dynamic, and human moment with Jenssen abandoning the cold and minimal sounds of most of his recent work and exploring melodies and drum patterns more akin to his early albums.
"Ikata-1" is similar with its more open approach and subtle hand claps whilst layered upon a simple foundation. Instead of being intent on establishing a complete and total reduction of the senses, Jenssen pulls you in closer and illuminates the way. With "Monju-1", the sound of a foreign voice crawls into the ear and whispers with an intense sincerity, and empathic tone. It's been quite some time where any vocals were present on a Biosphere album, but Jenssen makes sure it is poignant when it does appear.
"N-Plants" is the sound of being welcomed after a long, solitary, intense journey. Jenssen is a master at creating landscapes of sound mirroring our need to be entrenched in mystery and unease. This album extends its hand and brings you inside after the freezing walk through the tundra. "N-Plants" has more form and shape than any Biosphere album before it, but instead of completely departing from the signature sound, Jenssen uses his power of subtlety by incorporating old tricks and applying them to what he knows works. The foundation is what's important, and he slowly builds upon it by immersing himself in melody and form. He's never sounded more full and realized, not being shy to be overtaken by more traditional arrangements instead of immersing himself with desolate minimalism.
Oddly refreshing is the album's detour into nostalgia. Much of this album sounds as if it was imported from the mid-90's with its employ of synthesizers and drum pads, but instead of sounding washed-up and exhausted, it comes together in a naturally progressive way. Jenssen's nod to the old school is sincere, and you feel that he only references his past self to make his present sound more complete.
To say "N-Plants" is the best Biosphere album would be a silly thing to claim. The albums all feel like a natural extension of the other while never feeling like a silly conceptualization project. Jenssen is capable of producing music that feels like icicles being jabbed into your spine. He conjures a remoteness that can be stifling yet inspiring. "N-Plants" is a departure from this aesthetic without losing any intensity. It's not as emotionally devastating as most of the Biosphere we're used to, but we don't mind being uplifted, even for an infinitesimal amount, after trying to adjust to the darkness.
Okay so this is weird – in February 2011 Gier Jenssen finished an album that he had dedicated to the Japanese post-war reconstruction and, specifically, their futuristic nuclear program. After surveying photos he became fascinated by the idea that nuclear power plants could be built so close to seas and in earthquake-prone areas, and this slowly became the focus for the record. A few months later, hearing the album is a totally different experience – we are now in the aftermath of one of Japan’s most grave disasters and Jenssen’s findings have an eerie poignancy. The music itself is hardly melancholy, but has a damaged, cold, digital edge which mirrors the clean architectural perfection of these ominous structures, pre-earthquake of course. As Jenssen’s clipped, purposeful rhythms make their way slowly into the synthetic patterns they guide the record and give a very fitting stark Kubrickian sci-fi haze. ‘N-Plants’ almost reminds me of early SND (think ‘Stdio’ or ‘Makesndcassette’) but played at the wrong speed. These are slow, booming passages of sound and carried out with a masterful ear, and the razor sharp precision of a true veteran of the field. Lazy, lackadaisical witch-house this is not, but ‘N-Plants’ certainly shares threads with its purposeful slow-down of dance music tropes. Rather than doing this for a specific trend, Jenssen’s sound rather seems to be rooted in its subject matter; the visions of the future that remain entrenched in the past, and the hopes of our ancestors that simply end up dashed on the rocks of our mistakes. Without the context ‘N-Plants’ is an affecting, engrossing listening experience, and with the added air of melancholy it makes it all the more haunting. Huge recommendation.
Norman Records (UK):
Geir Jenssen is total zen-master when it comes to producing ambient landscapes. Viewed reverentially as something of a visionary spirit within the techno world, his albums all carry a rich individuality and strong identity. What is remarkable and somewhat spooky about this eagerly awaited return to the fray is the concept - Geir was researching into the post-war economic boom in Japan and eventually narrowed his field of interest down to the humble old Japanese Nuclear power plant, their apparently safe location brought into question by the weight of historical ground faults and the prevailing geophysical dangers and risks, especially facing countries in the pacific region. How could he have known the awful fate that would befall poor Japan earlier this year? But with Biosphere's music, there is usually a strong wave of peace and optimism running throughout and this album is another classic offering I must say! With some of the most affecting gliding synths, android keys, understated pulsing rhythms and a divine underlying aura of tranquility, 'N-Plants' is a lush, cohesive album that flows beautifully, easily measuring up to past glories whilst sounding like little he's done before. When beats are employed they're unobtrusive, the electronic soundscapes he conjures up are breathtaking and sensual as you like. Like as in much Russian electronica, Norwegian ambient music possesses both intoxicating glacial moods and a strong human element in the playful, dreamy synth work. You truly get into the idea of these tunes all being attributed to the otherworldliness and powerful efficiency of such futuristic behemoths as Mihama - a chance encounter with a photo of that particular plant leading to the fruition of this particular project. One to treasure like all his others!!
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Track 1: Sendai