Biosphere | The Senja Recordings
Biophon Records (2xLP/CD/DL)
Geir Jenssen is one of those rare artists who sets the modern standard for chill ambient electronic music. This work is an elegy to Knut Fjørtoft (1960-2017), a Norwegian artist who passed away in his prime, and who had created beautiful artwork for past Biosphere recordings. At first (Skålbrekka) it feels as though you are thousands of feet above sea level scaling an alpine mountain, with the warp of a tension wire being the only thing holding you and earthly matter together. The record sensitively navigates pleasant bright tones, sequenced expansively with a halo of melancholy.
Senja is a “fairytale island” in Norway encrusted in rocky and eroded mountainscapes, as depicted on the icy cover art here. The double vinyl set is lush, not only the layout et al, but primarily the content which whispers like wind between the organic cracks (Bergsbotn I) you might find in this remote location. For the recording sessions Jenssen manoeuvred a mix of both field recordings and studio improv, and the result, given that I’ve stuck with his output since the early days, is likely his most impressively secluded and restrained work ever – but manages to still come off empathetic (Berg).
Rivers flow, birds sharply tweet, crows caw, a foghorn blares (Kyle; Fjølhøgget) and all is gracefully crossbred with some curious, wavy electronic signatures that recall his days collaborating with the inimitable Fax +49-69/450464. The listener will easily slump low into the meditative blurry bass lows and cathodic melodies. Though this runs only a touch over one hour, The Senja Recordings is so expansive in its flow and pace, and feels incredibly full in length. There are many quiet passages, yet as many cloudy distortions that make this feel as if it is literally captures the allure of dawn and dusk. Yet on Bergsbotn II and Bergsbotn III the building simplicity of percussion feels quite textural as if he’s creating and erasing, etching in short strokes.
As this moves deeper into its latter tracks the drone becomes more intense (Lysbotn; Straumen) broken and bolstered by the howling wind and crashing waves of Steinfjord and right into Gilberg. This is a magical grouping of short works nearing the end, with hypersensitive tones, brittle effects and fine layers that seem to signal the sea. At one point there’s an overhead jet thousands of feet above (left to right channel) with winged creatures on the level seemingly unaffected by the rattle of its propulsion. And before we get to the final track, there is quite a bit of low lying hiss, likely the capture of soft rain as a storm seems to be at bay, drifting in and out with the crack of thunder (an all-too-familiar occurrence in my neck of the woods).
Closing with one of two tracks in the recording that run over eight minutes is Hå. We are lower to the surface now, with the muffled sounds of nature (rocks, perhaps a brook) met with a breathy, investigatory electronic oscillation. The majestic balance of watery pleasantry is thrown by the low end which keeps one thinking of some sort of protective barrier. This work reflects the in-situ experience of Rogaland county (Norway) – also the heart of the regional petroleum industry – where the population has grown exponentially over the last twenty years, and makes for a complex relationship to the otherwise pristine landscape.