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Geir Jenssen - Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings from Tibet

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Artist: Geir Jenssen

Album: Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings from Tibet

Label: Ash International

Review date: Apr. 18, 2007

The ascent to the peak of a gigantic mountain is something that few humans are able to experience; even those who manage to make a serious attempt are often turned back by the mental and physical demands that such a task entails. And while it in no way substitutes for actually undertaking such a climb, Geir Jenssen’s Cho Oyu 8210m is, in a small way, a chance for the listener to make the trip, at least in their mind, and while it can’t compete with the bone-chilling visuals of a professionally shot documentary, there’s something quite affecting about Jenssen’s field recordings, and the accompanying short diary that details the notable events of his journey to the top of the world’s sixth-highest peak.

Jenssen, a Norwegian known to ambient techno fans as Biosphere, traveled to Kathmandu on the first leg of his expedition, and began a 45-day saga that led him to the top of Cho Oyu, part of the Himalayas, on the Tibetan/Nepalese border. Traveling with a minidisk recorder and a microphone, Jenssen recorded his aural environment throughout the trip, with the addition, at times, of the sounds pulled in via his transistor radio. Cho Oyu 8210m is a document of his trip, presented in stages, from the trip between the town of Zhagmu and the border, to the different basecamps along the trek, to the literal apex of Jenssen’s trip at the titular altitude of 8,201 meters. While much of the journey took place on the cold face of the mountain and in seemingly spartan camps along the way, Jenssen was able to collect a surprisingly diverse collection of sounds, from the bells, whistles, and grunts of herders directing a yak caravan at the Paling campsite, to passing airplanes, neighboring birds, and the rather ominous wheeze of some of his fellow (and less fortunate) climbers on oxygen. Jenssen’s recording of the summit, mainly the sound of wind on a microphone (before what seems like more transistor transmission makes an entrance) is what one might expect from the entire disc, but Jenssen’s ear is able to find subtle sounds worth hearing along the trip, like an airplane far overhead, and his use of the shortwave brings fittingly fragile bits of music into the mix, bringing the recording (and Jenssen) back to earth in a sense, as such reminders of humanity were likely comforting diversions in the cold of the camps, especially as Jenssen climbed higher and human companionship grew scarce.

The short diary entries that accompany the disc and summarize Jenssen’s journey are powerful bits of first-person narrative; we, with Jenssen, watch as previously confident climbers succumb to the grueling conditions, and even the author’s ascent is no given as the altitude climbs. Those looking for a wholly straightforward set of field recordings won’t find them; instead, Jenssen’s aural documents are fraught with his fingerprints, and one is able to hear not just the sounds of the climb up the world’s sixth-highest peak, but the more human side of things, those sounds by which one might retain their sanity amidst the whirling winds and bone-numbing cold. Jenssen seems intent on finding life at each step of his trip, even if such life comes in the form of static-ridden radio waves, or a plane passing far too high to register as anything more than a dark blip on a white plain. Were Jenssen to simply present the sounds of wind, ice, and snow, Cho Oyu 8210m would have been the story of a mountain, but, instead, it’s the story of a man.

By Adam Strohm

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