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Biosphere is the solo project of Geir Jenssen, the keyboardist of everyone's favorite Norwegian dreampop band, Bel Canto. With Bel Canto, he makes happy light pop. With Biosphere he makes odd, very minimal, droning electronica. Biosphere makes very ambient music.

As such, the Biosphere audience is potentially very limited. Let's face it, the mellow tones of a standard Biosphere release will bore most folks. And that's okay. I think that Jenssen is cool with the fact that his target audience is very small. Heck, that very fact gives him the ability to experiment. There is no reason at all for ambient music to get stuck in a form: what are you afraid of -- losing fans?

So, Shenzhou is a very experimental album. Jenssen has constructed around 40 minutes of so of ambience based on DeBussey's La Mer. How cool is that? Now, i am not really a classical music fan, but from what little i have heard, i have been impressed with the rich textures that DeBussey created. His music seemed lush to me, and so sampling it for an ambient disc is a great idea.

And what's even better, Biosphere manages to pull it off. The first 10 tracks on this disc are based on La Mer, and each contain small samples (taken off of very old records, if you believe the static!) looped and played against each other, but done so quietly and calmly. It sounds like classical music, but it is looped until it lulls the listener into a trance-like state of relaxation. The barest sensation of "floating" is felt, and that is only appropriate for something based on a piece who's title translates as The Sea. (Or, maybe, i am subconsciously projecting the feeling of floating because of that connection. Who can tell which way the causality goes?)

All of the tracks are great listening, but i thing my favorite of them all is called Ancient Campfire. The samples used here are the oldest, hissing and popping like a cranky old record. The rich sound of vinyl is invoked, and it gives the tune an almost IDM feel (although in IDM, the scratches and pops of the vinyl would be imposed on the sound, and they would be too rhythmic to feel natural). With this, Biosphere layers in the faintest hint of percussion: a faint echoing drumming that adds a lovely counterwieght to the tinkling string melodies of the Debussey loops. Really nice.

But all of the tracks are well done, really, not a loser in the bunch. In fact, i would go so far as to say that this is the best ambient album i have heard in quite some time. This is the cream of the crop, so if you are curious as to the genre, this is a good place to start.

One of my co-workers (one cube behind, and down) is a classical music fan. A serious one, really. So i told him about this album, and he was curious to hear it. So, i let him borrow it, and he liked it, which to me is a good sign. Perhaps Shenzhou has serious crossover potential in the classical market. It's worth a shot, i suppose.

At at any rate, i am very impressed with this release. It is quite well done.

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