This is perhaps more of a sound engineering exercise than flat-out composition, but the subtle effect that Biosphere created is incredible; this really is outstanding, and I'd have to toss a coin as to whether this or Cirque is his best record. Absolute genius, and as someone else said, it's almost more art than music. It's not _ambient_ as such with the washing synths et al, but meticulously contructed atmosphere from a very original choice of source material. Almost what I could imagine DJ Vadim putting together if he was coming from an ambient background rather than hiphop
After ten years of recording as Biopshere, Tromso born Geir Jenssen has firmly established himself at the forefront of experimental ambient music. Although his early releases still bore the marks of dance music, his music has now evolved towards more atmospheric structures, where beats are scarce and environmental sounds are essential. Patashnik, his second album, was already shaping what would become the Biosphere sound, but it is not until his third opus, the seminal Substrata, originally released on All Saints Records in 1997 and recently reissued by Touch as a double album, that Jenssen really started exploring the immense possibilities of ambient music the way Brian Eno did in the eighties with his Ambient series. He now comes back after two years of silence with a new album, almost entirely based on orchestral works by French classical composer Claude Debussy. One of the most important French composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Claude Debussy was very often associated with the impressionist movement and symbolist writers, and his non-conformist tonal structures still inspire many musicians. Probably better known for his orchestral works, including Prélude A l'Après-midi D'Un Faune and La Mer, Debussy was very influenced by the work of Russian composers such as Borodin or Mussorgsky, and traces of eastern music can be found in a few of his compositions. Geir Jenssen experiments on Shenzhou with similar elements, weaving his distinctive near-beatless soundscapes around recurring patterns throughout, superposing them on Debussy's own orchestrations. The title track, which opens the album, slowly introduces the multiple elements of this work, reverently contrasting them to establish a perfect balance of impressions. These diverse components are echoed in turn in each track, placing them in different perspectives. Jenssen acts as an impressionist painter himself, applying little touches which, heard individually, do not equal to them heard in context, contributing to producing sonic effects and auditory illusions. If Houses On The Hill or Path Leading To The High Grass confront these warm soundscapes with isolationist percussions, the remaining tracks are entirely devoid of rhythmic structures, Jenssen relying instead on more subtle sound organisations to create movement. With this visionary record, Geir Jenssen proves once more that he is the most talented musician around able to create such beautiful and intense music out of arid sources. By associating himself with the musical genius that was Debussy, not only does he emulate his own work, but also give a whole new dimension to the work of the French composer.
Geir Jennsen and his Biosphere project has been a success from start to finish. It's quite good to say that all of his albums have been quite brilliant, though some of course more brilliant than others. But all have been of a high standard, which others in the same genre can't even begin to match. 'Shenzhou' is no different. Incorporating influences from Claude Debussy, Jennsen makes another album full of soft, ambient sounds, ready to delight the listener. Not a huge departure from his previous album 'Cirque', he retains the warm ambient sounds, but evolves them into a more classical sound, due to the constant samples from Debussy's many works. For any fans of Biosphere this is another album that will add greatly to your appreciation of this man and his fine work. All that you need to know is that if you were worrying if the classical influence would impede on the Biosphere sound, then your fears are misguided. Biosphere interweaves the classical influences into his electronic ambient sound, so much so that it is like listening to a (high) standard Biosphere release. Top Marks
Biosphere's music is very effective in getting the listener completely absorbed into the soundscape that is being presented. The "icy" yet warm(?) drones of "Substrata" (earlier album) actually made you feel like you were sitting a the foot of Mt. Everest with blue skies and sunshine to keep you warm. Being a fan of Biosphere I was hoping for that deep ambience that draws you in and takes you to that place that enables you to completely dis-connect from the hustle and bustle of the world. "Substrata" was an album that did that very effectively. I am yet to find an album that is as mysterious, yet hauntingly beautiful as that. I am dissappointed to say that my search continues... Shenzhou is ambient, but not in the warm 'floaty' sense. The loops are quite uneasy and awkward, they dont really allow the listener to settle. Tracks 2 and 12 come closest to the mysterious beauty of Substrata. But these were not enough to keep me interested. If you want a Biosphere album, go for Substrata - it's one the (if not 'THE') best ambient albums I possess - along with 76:14 by Global Communication (everyone says that! - but IT IS a great album!!) Geir Jenssen (Biosphere) is a fantastic music producer and I'm sure this release will appeal to those who prefer a darker touch to their ambience. I for one, will look forward to his next deeper, more beautiful musical outing.
I am a big fan of Biosphere, modern composition, electronica and ambience in general. To me this is a disappointing release for a consistently excellent artist. It takes short samples of debussy and layers them to create sound landscapes. It is quite well done but doesn't really gel and has little direction. Artists like Pole, Oval, Microstoria, Mum and others process digital sound much more innovatively. The samples used are very short and uninspiring, seeming to pick bland extracts that don't extract the romanticism and delicacy of Debussy. Ingram Marshall does a similar process much more effectively weaving in melody and emotion. When Biosphere edit the sound and process it, it works much better. However the looping of samples is painfully done with poor transitions creating an irritating scratched record feeling. Phillip Jeck layers vinyl to much more subtle and dramatic effect and Thomas Koner or Steve Roach go much deeper into the sound, extracting the intense quality of digital processing. Biosphere has done some excellent albums and in Substrata produced a 90s ambient/electronic classic along with Global Communication's 76:14. This is competent but somehow doesn't add up to much for me.