Biosphere Dropsonde

[Touch; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient techno, electro-acoustic, electronic post-jazz, downtempo
Others: Thomas Köner, Brian Eno, Gas, post-OK Computer Radiohead

Though it is being touted as an effort to incorporate elements of modal jazz with the signature Biosphere "arctic sound," Dropsonde, put simply, is merely another strong release from Norway's Geir Jenssen and is very much in the same vein as previous releases, albeit with jazzier, slightly noirish overtones. Much of the album, which was recently issued on CD after having been previously released on vinyl, has a vaguely jazz-tinged flavor, but beneath its downtempo trappings, Dropsonde shows Biosphere remaining close to its ambient techno roots””perhaps even making something of a return to them after the starkness and minimalist austerity of recent Biosphere efforts.

The first half of the album alternates between beatless, Eno-esque ambience and evocative, jazzier soundscapes featuring beats that reveal their vinyl source material. Much of Dropsonde sounds influenced, to some degree, by the Radiohead b-sides of the Amnesiac era. Like the Radiohead tracks, Dropsonde shows Jenssen not so much attempting to create an album of modal jazz per se, but rather utilizing jazz elements to infuse these tracks with a moody, smoky atmosphere. Dropsonde, like previous Biosphere releases, is certainly characteristic of the artist's signature downbeat and trancelike sound, but the addition of sampled live instrumentation and gentle, brushed drum loops adds a warm, autumnal hue to these pieces. Like his peers Thomas Köner and Jan Jelinek, Jenssen makes liberal use of needle noise and vinyl static to add a pleasant warmth to the proceedings that helps to offset their frigid, wintry chill.

Biosphere, like Brian Eno, has been a pioneer in the genre of electronic ambient music. Additionally, like Eno, Jenssen is a master of using music of a frequently quiet and unobtrusive nature to generate tension and an often palpable mood. Aside from his releases under the Biosphere moniker, Jenssen is an experienced soundtrack composer, having composed the haunting, icy score to the original 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia. Dropsonde, though perhaps closest, structurally, to the 2000 Biosphere release Cirque, is the artist's most melodic release to date. Conspicuously moving away from the glacial drones and minimalist dub that was featured so prominently on previous Biosphere releases, Dropsonde shows Jenssen putting his compositional skills to better use, as well as utilizing a richer sonic palette than that to which we are accustomed. The album is an accessible and beautifully-produced recording that shows what Geir Jenssen is capable of when he allows his Biosphere project to thaw out just a little.

1. Dissolving Clouds
2. Birds Fly by Flapping their Wings
3. Warmed by the Drift
4. In Triple Time
5. From a Solid to a Liquid
6. Arafura
7. Fall In, Fall Out
8. Daphnis 26
9. Altostratus
10. Sherbrooke
11. People Are Friends