A few years back, Geir Jenssen planted a diatribe on his webspace stating that Biosphere was no longer touring due to the general unhealthy lifestyle that comes with the trappings of endless crappy food, airports, hotels, air conditioning etc. Instead, he was simply going to stay in Norway, compose and breath clean air. This conscientiously low carbon footprint approach has always come across in Biosphere’s remarkable output. Everything has consistently sounded airy and clean, whether it was the acidy minimalism of MICROGRAVITY (’91) or the glacial ambience of the much lauded SUBSTRATA (’97). Aside from a live album in 2009 ( also on TOUCH MUSIC – run by various Hafler Trio personnel ), which didn’t really offer anything spectacularly new or different from the studio tracks, this is the first material from Biosphere since 2006’s excellent rhythm driven DROPSONDE.
N-PLANTS is a concept album in the purest sense. It takes it’s inspiration from the Japanese postwar nuclear power plant programme – the vision, the futurism, the architecture and the context in nature ( the fact that many of these nuclear plants are built in picturesque coastline locations, but also on notoriously temperamental fault lines ) .. and all this was recorded before the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that led to the Fukushima crisis in March 2011, which just adds to it’s premonitory strength.
Each track is named after a nuclear reactor and the opener, SENDAI-1 is a gentle grainy sequence which evolves just under the surface, looping like Susumu Yokota at his most ambient. SHIKA-1 is very much in the DROPSONDE mode; downbeat and rhythmic with low breezy jets of electronic noise releasing sporadically as a sort of audio coolant. JOYO-1 is more abstract, sounding like an industrious ( rather than industrial ) machine part innocently doing what it was designed to do as an eerie backdrop of keyboards sneak up behind it. This is the first sinister tone leaking into the album. IKATA-1 is a sleepier soundscape with fizzing effects drifting in and out. MONJU-1, one of the album’s finest tracks sounds more like something Cluster would come out with, only for the whispery Japanese female voice that visits it. It’s all too brief but is revisited 3 tracks later with what sound like brief distorted fragments of emergency sirens ( Monju has been mostly suspended from action for the last 16 years due to a leak and subsequent attempted cover-up scandal ). GENKAI-1 has the air of 2nd generation Berlin-school synth about it ( think Rolf Trostel ) and OI-1; a reactor built in 1979 is given a minimal 70’s delivery. Unsurprisingly, It wouldn’t sound out of place on Kraftwerk’s RADIOACTIVITY. The final track, FUJIKO, powers it’s own delicate kinetic pulse in a minimal Germanic way and is also punctuated by a Japanese voice although it’s difficult to ascertain the context of this as it’s too soft to simply be the obvious – a news sample or eye-witness account of something foreboding.
The strength of Biosphere has always been the ability to remain extremely organic no matter what the sonic output. This is Biosphere moving forward with a very healthy curiosity for new territory and an understanding that there would be little bravery in returning to the freeform Nordic ambience of INSOMNIA or anything else from that period. Those albums were masterpieces that sealed Geir Jenssen’s leftfield reputation in ice, high above the melt water, but N-PLANTS displays a wonderful intuition for something new. The last time someone attempted a major work on the “Atomic Japan” theme it was Tangerine Dream with their commissioned, meandering and rather flaccid new age ATOMIC SEASONS series. By sounding like every other crap record they’ve made for 20 years, they got it very wrong. Here, Biosphere approaches from a different latitude and gets it very right – BOZ