Touch
Geir Jenssen lives in a different world. From his Artic Circle perchthe man called Biosphere is building a body of work as iconoclastic asAphex Twin, with as much eerie remove and accidental influence. Albumslike Patashnik and Substrataare landmarks in ambient music not because they spawned a millionrip-offs but because they work within a recognizable stylisticblueprint to create absolutely alien music, threatening total immersionto even the most cautious of "background" listeners. Jenssen's last,2002's Shenzhou found him treading further towards alienatingextremes, something like a pitch-black homage to Debussy, withorchestra samples stretched thin and opaque across an ocean of icy,crevice-filled ambience (in other words, what we all wished Drukqs had been). Autour,commissioned by French radio last year, not only rejects anything closeto a wide "radio" audience, but it is by far the most trying Biosphererelease thus far, with Jenssen moving past the beat-less transparenciesbegun with Substrata and into a harsh meditation on deep-space,a 74-minute confined drift that begins well into the air-less upperregions and does not conclude until positioned hopelessly within adimensionless dump-off on the darker side of some heavenly body.Occupying a third of the disc's length, the opening "Translation" actslike the final kiss-off to Earth and the earthen sounds that often finda place in Biosphere music. A rebus of plastic tones, entwined withenough care to erase all human touch, becomes a sky-like ceiling withwhich groaning engine sounds and whining drones struggle in a pitilessslipping, past the threshold and into the heart of Autour. Apart from a track or two based around a few distorted samples from a 60s radio dramatization of Jules Verne's De la Terre à la Lune(the "focus" of the 2003 commission) and actual recordings of MIRastronauts, the majority of the disc develops a vacuous, unsettlingatmosphere made up of seriously subsonic bass frequencies and shrill,synthetic tones dividing and encasing the deliberate arcs and hiddentextures of each of the nine "movements." By the sixth track,"Circulaire," the trip has arrived at a false ending of sorts, anoff-putting climax where the piece grounds out to two dissentingsounds, one a near-inaudible below-bass pulse and the other thesinister calm of a solid flatline. From this remote place, more Onkyothan Eno, Jenssen really has nowhere to drift except slowly backtowards the beginning, to the lush plasticities of "Trombant," almostcoming full circle on the opening track but stopping short, allowingmelody and lush texture enough footing only to remind us of what hasbeen left behind. Melodies emerge, like the aimless cosmonaut voicesamples, as if beamed from a great distance, light years into theblack, like ghosts of a human presence long since abandoned. Autouris not easy listening, and if it doesn't stand as the most returnableplace in the Biosphere catalog, it's only because Jenssen has neversounded so remote and thoroughly haunting.

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