Biosphere Shenzhou Review

BBC Review

Geir Jennsen (aka Biosphere) gets jiggy with the works of Claude Debussy in an ambient...

Dan Hill 2002

For his latest release as Biosphere, Geir Jenssen has based the bulk of this album on "the orchestral works of Claude Debussy" - an interesting choice, given how David Toop argued for Debussy's status as the forefather of modern ambient music in his seminal book, "Ocean Of Sound", and that Biosphere is one of the few projects still flying the ambient flag with any purpose.

Seemingly sampling miniscule sections from vinyl recordings (as far as I can tell), there are no melodic quotes from the composer's work. Shenzhou is a deeply ambient album, barely containing any traditional melody at all (quoted or not). There is a sense of Debussy's liquid, impressionistic approach in the timbre and harmony, but as with other Biosphere recordings, the overwhelming mood is Northern Scandinavian, rather than Javanese Gamelan (In "Ocean of Sound", Janssen said, "I feel at my most creative when the sun is gone" - two or three months of the year in Tromso, his home town).

This results in an intriguingly mismatched experiment which works on its own terms, but ultimately raises as many questions as answers. Jenssen deals in fragments, looped and smeared across the mix, but more smoothly integrated, working in waves, pulses, and electrical fields rather than splashes of paint - a modern take on delicate, abstract expression. Compared to other pre-eminent purveyors of ambient, say Susumu Yokota or Paul Schütze, Jenssen's music employs fewer dynamics, and there's little sense of an individual voice to provide contrast ; the entire album drifts past in an engaging diaphanous waltz, but without leaving much of a mark...Only on "A Path Leading To The High Grass" do we get a sense of percussion; and on "Bose Eisenstein Condensation", tumbling motes of piano provide a more clearly delineated sense of space within the music.

Both catch the ear amidst the rest of the album's "tints". It's a lovely work and no mistake; a beautifully-crafted series of gently undulating backdrops and scenes which will appeal to most discerning listeners to contemporary music: classical, ambient, whatever. It's just ... if you draw from Debussy, you're raising the bar a bit.

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