Recently, I had the distinct opportunity to hear Geir Jenssen’s 1997 album Substrata, which has been described as a landmark in the field of ambient music. Recorded under the pseudonym Biosphere, the power of this recording is so stark and profound that it goes beyond what many people can grasp. I was skeptical when reading the reviews, but the work is spine chilling.
Substrata takes the listener through many different aspects of the natural world; frozen waters, dark caverns and clear blue skies as jet trails, ancient chants, bells and instrumental drones morph into a beautifully balanced listening experience. There are moments of unease, melancholy, careful happiness and welcomed darkness. There is just no way to measure the quality of this recording.
Geir bought his first synthesizer in 1982, performed as part of a Norwegian trio called Bel Canto between 1985 and 1990, and then began releasing albums under the name Biosphere, which has existed up to this day. He claims to prefer having a concept or theme when starting on a new project, coming up with a new story every time which drives the resulting soundscapes. This becomes obvious when listening to other works in his catalog.
He often starts with a sample taken from a record or film, or one of his own field recordings. Uninterested in improvisation, he finds it unimportant that an audience be able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work, describing that aspect of the process as boring. It is in the sounds themselves that his ideas progress and transform.
Jenssen currently lives on the Norwegian island of Senja and enjoys the isolation and small community. An avid mountain climber, he has released field recordings from his treks at 26,000 feet, but he claims to find the experience of mountaineering to be completely separate from his music making. Considering the drive and relentlessness of Substrata, I feel the two disciplines may actually influence one another.