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Biosphere - Dropsonde

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Artist: Biosphere

Album: Dropsonde

Label: Touch

Review date: Mar. 26, 2006

At work above the Artic Circle for around 15 years, Biosphere's last few records have shown Norwegian Geir Jenssen using subtle conceptual tweaks to build upon the landmark gossamer style he came close to perfecting with 1997’s Substrata. While Shenzou's Debussy reworkings and Autour de la Lune's mining of a French radio play based on Jules Verne's De la Terre à la Lune provided welcome abstractions, there's a certain unwanted heavy-hand that settles over Dropsonde's approach of modal jazz structures and appended percussion. Whereas Jenssen had previously allowed his instrumental loops, samples and gauzy textures to traffic in hints and innuendos, here they become overstated and bluntly obvious. Melody is the focus, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, this emphasis forces the loss of some of the brilliant sheen that made his other records so intoxicating.

Originally released as a six-song LP, the CD version of Dropsonde doubles the length of the vinyl and still manages to omit one track from the original release. The major problem here comes from the added percussion. While not affixed to every track, Jenssen's sampled drum loops sound as if they were stapled to his pieces as a mere afterthought, and generally his rhythmic counterpoints lack variation throughout the course of his tracks. Previously cadences were implied, but here they come front and center. This isn't really bad, per se, and when the titular signature kicks on "In Triple Time," the effect is actually quite sublime. But there wasn’t much of a need to muddy up the birdsong recordings on "Birds Fly by Flapping Their Wings" with generic drum patterns when his typical exegesis would have done just fine. Likewise, the pronounced blurps of "Altostratus" chafe a bit too much, while the harder loop of "Sherbrooke" sounds like an unwelcome return to the click + cut aesthetic.

There are patches of brilliance throughout Dropsonde, however, even with the added skins. "Daphnis 26" approaches Jan Jelinek-worthy loops by holding the percussive patterns at bay – they threaten to pulse hard, but Jenssen always manages to pull back on the reins. For those seeking a return to his earlier highlights, "From a Solid to a Liquid" capably soundtracks transference to melodic whisps, while "Warmed by the Drift" glacially stretches string tones to an effect that almost sounds like bowed ice blocks.

Ultimately, it would be horribly unfair to fault Geir Jenssen for attempting to reach outside of his soundworld in a manner such as this. After all, a lack of variation has undone quite a few musicians who haven't been going for nearly as long. However, much of the Biosphere catalogue earned repeated spins because multiple listens were necessary to fully grasp the intricacies of Jenssen's work. Here, the emphasis on modal structures reveals too much too quickly, and the loss of the subtle makes the album just a bit forgettable. Still, it shows that Geir has plenty of tricks up his sleeve even after a decade and a half of work. Whatever comes next will undoubtedly still be worth a listen.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Biosphere


Autour de la Lune

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