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Biosphere - N-Plants

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Artist: Biosphere

Album: N-Plants

Label: Touch

Review date: Jul. 19, 2011

It makes sense that a project named Biosphere would delve into how people survive on earth, likewise that an electronic musician would pay close attention to power sources. N-Plants is the product of Geir Jenssen’s inquiry into Japan’s heavy and perplexingly blithe reliance on the original energy alternative, nuclear power. This music is supposed to be a soundtrack for nine plants. But the timing of this album’s recording, just one month before the commencement of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and its release four months afterward burdens it with a significance that the music just can’t support.

It’s no mean trick for instrumental music to comment directly upon current events, and it usually does so either through obvious sonic references (the cannons in the The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49), emotional evocation (John Coltrane’s “Alabama”), or simply anointing a piece of music with a title that refers to the event under consideration. The third is usually the least effective option, but that’s exactly what we have here. N-Plant’s nine pieces could just as easily have been named after canneries, koi ponds, or members of Japan’s World Cup champion soccer team.

Granted, Jenssen set himself a hard task: What does nuclear power (as opposed to nuclear destruction) sound like, anyway? But hey, he asked for the job. There’s nothing in “Monju-2’s” oscillating figures and recurrent buzzes that brings to mind the appalling saga of accidents and public relations gaffes associated with the Monju-2 reactor, which has generated just one hour of power and has served mainly to enrich attorneys since it suffered a major accident in 1995. Likewise it’s hard to know what the subliminal whirrs and percolating bloops on “Sendai-1” have to do with the Sendai-1 plant, which in January 2010 experienced an accident that resulted in one death and six injuries. Yes, Sendai is one of the cities slammed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami; however Sendai-1 is actually located on Kyushu in the far south of Japan, so it did not melt down, and you can be sure that the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi debacle will make sure no one fusses about such small-potatoes accidents for a long time. Speaking of which, that’s one plant that’s not name-checked here.

N-Plants is not Biosphere’s finest musical moment, either. Its beats are kind of big and obvious, its synth sounds overly familiar, its melodies pleasant but hardly indelible. If Jenssen hadn’t preemptively tried to shake us up by associating his music with Japan’s nuclear safety record, this review would probably devote more time to wondering what sort of a shake it’ll take for Jenssen to get back to the top of his game, because he’s far from it musically and conceptually on N-Plants.

By Bill Meyer

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