Mark Richardson, Pitchfork:
Biosphere's Geir Jenssen knows from cold. Residing as he does near the Arctic Circle in Norway, Jenssen understands the psychological implications of a sun that, like a lamented deadbeat parent, routinely disappears for months at a time, and the absence of that essential lifeforce takes an inevitable emotional toll that informs Jenssen's art. It's tempting to say that Biosphere's bleak music sounds as it does for the same reason countries of Norway's approximate latitude make the world's best Vodka. But then Jenssen's other great passion is mountaineering (he has climbed the 26,906 foot Himalayan peak Cho Oyu without oxygen), suggesting a kernel of inspired humanity frozen in the tundra.
The vacuum of space gets pretty close to absolute zero, cold's recognized ideal, so it makes sense that the conceptually minded Jenssen sets albums there. His latest trip into the beyond started when French radio commissioned Jenssen to create a piece using their archives. He selected sounds from a radio dramatization of Jules Verne's space travel story De la Terre à la Lune ("From the Earth to the Moon") and pulled additional material from recordings made at the MIR space station, then combined the fragments with his own new music. The result is Autour de la Lune, a single 74-minute piece in nine movements.
The samples are used sparingly throughout Autour de la Lune, and the beat-driven side of Biosphere is completely absent. Mostly, the record is a showcase for long and impossibly deep drones. The 21-minute opener "Translation" is an exception here, as a cluster of midrange notes that braid to form a definite melody. Rather than referencing found sound or environmental recordings, "Translation" seems inspired by film music, with tense throbs and horn-like synth lines that suggest captured images of a spacecraft leisurely moving in front of stars. The scene is set.
The following "Rotation" does away with the fanfare to send faint pings and bass swells into the blackness, but the exceptional "Modifié" is where the record starts to get creepy. Jenssen processes human voices-- hard to tell if they're from the radio broadcast or MIR cosmonauts-- in a way that merges them completely with the electrical noise that carries them. They sound lost and unreachable, the last little whimpers of a doomed crew about to be swallowed by the event horizon. And yet, they're singing, kind of.
We follow them into darkness with the next few tracks, which consist of little more than the most punishing bass tones I've ever heard on a CD. On "Déviation", sounds hover at the bottom end of human audibility, causing all but the heartiest subwoofers to sound like an open newspaper flapping in a strong wind. I've approached this bass from three different sources (two sets of headphones and my living room speakers), and I can only guess the genuine sound through triangulation.
Strange things happen when I listen to "Circulaire" loud on headphones; the low end is total and all encompassing, but with the kind of throb that happens when you can hear your heart beating in your ears. The contrast means that the ambient sounds wherever I happen to be create "notes" in between the pulses. Because it seems so grounded in biology, I can't help but imagine this middle section as a musical approximation of the ambience in a suit during a spacewalk, where you hear nothing but your own body. If that's so, "Tombant" is accompaniment to the final drift back into the docking hatch, as it reprises the textures and symphonic swell of the opening "Translation".
Autour de la Lune is an excellent record that is nearly victimized by its awesome conceptual success. It offers such a compelling and internally complete idea of interstellar space-- moods, textures, samples, cover art, all of it-- that it loses some flexibility when it comes to individual interpretation. Still, Jenssen gotten exactly where he wanted to go. Upon reaching the icy mountain peak, he kept climbing into the stars.
supported by 33 fans who also own “Autour De La Lune [Reissue]”
While tempted to call Rituals a return to form, the FSOL sound has no form & is an ever evolving sonic odyssey. Stepping in directions familiar & less so its another inspired collection of 21st century soundtrack gems! 3FR