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Biosphere’s “Departed Glories” Is a Brilliant Homage to the Hazy Eastern Europe of Memory

There are certain things we’ve come to expect from Geir Jenssen over the past thirty years.  His longstanding project Biosphere has deified him among ambient artists, and he’s known for making much out of the minimal as he is for his knack of injecting a precise sense of place into his recordings.  Whether it’s the icy washes of Substrata and Polar Sequences or the nuclear pulse of N-Plants, the majority of Jenssen’s previous albums are built around the scenery, their thematic content derived, above all, from location.

In this aspect, at least, Departed Glories isn’t much different.  From a glimpse of a photo, a walk in the forest, a snatch of folklore, Jenssen has drawn out a narrative of wartime atrocities and the even older horrors to be uncovered in Poland’s Wolski Forest.  It’s a sharp departure from the ‘Arctic ambient’ we’ve come to associate with Biosphere, and one that will certainly disappoint anyone expecting a sonic return to the likes of Substrata.  Inspired by a brief residency in Kraków, Jenssen creates a landscape both more and less human than permafrost and power plants.  Manipulating decades-old recordings of Polish and Ukrainian folk songs has allowed the artist to part ways with his old haunts, turning instead to a hazy Eastern Europe of the mind.

Very little of the original recordings remain unsullied; voices are compressed and stretched until they bleed into dull roars, single murky tones, and clouds of tiny amorphous choirs.  The album is entirely devoid of beats and, for the most part, instrumentation.  When vocals or the rare bleating of horns occasionally rise above the pooling sound, such as on “Sweet Dreams Form a Shade,” it’s quickly tamped back down into the morass.  That’s not to say Jenssen entirely departs from custom—the album’s exquisitely delicate title track is characteristically Biosphere through and through.

Biosphere

If the muted, buzzing-beneath-the-floorboards reverb and watery half-vocals of Departed Glories call to mind much of Akira Rabelais’ discography, it’s not coincidental.  Jenssen processed his samples with the Argeïphontes Lyre: a notoriously “unusable” audio-filtering app written by Rabelais that functions by randomizing sounds and effects, leaving the resulting track up to pure chance.  While this rather unwieldy method undoubtedly contributed to Biosphere’s five year period of silence, it’s also created an album that’s almost pure texture.  Departed Glories requires a close listen, lest the important details— and there are many.  Disappear into the web of sound.

There are inevitable comparisons to be drawn between Departed Glories and the “hauntology” typified by Ghost Box Records, though they differ radically in aim and sound.  Both pick and choose from certain histories to create a sort of über-country: a fictional space a thousand times more than the tangible places it’s based on.  Jenssen’s “Eastern Europe” is an amorphous concept built on tragedy and longing that draws no distinctions between Polish songs or Ukrainian melodies or the Armenian woman gracing the album’s cover.  While Departed Glories suffers, at times, from an overall lack of distinction—many tracks seem to bleed into one another—it’s coherent and lovely as a whole.  Inspired by the sorrows of one particular place, Jenssen has managed to create another world entirely.


Track List:

01) Out of the Cradle
02) Wyll and Purpose
03) Down on Ropes
04) Free from the Bondage You Are in
05) With Their Paddles in a Puddle
06) Than Is the Mater
07) Sweet Dreams Form a Shade
08) Aura in the Kitchen with the Candlesticks
09) Departed Glories
10) Whole Forests of Them Appearing
11) Invariable Cowhandler
12) Behind the Stove
13) You Want to See It Too
14) In Good Case and Rest
15) Tomorrow then We Will Attend
16) With Precious Benefits to Both
17) Fall Asleep for Me

Written by: Rebecca C. Brooks
Label: Smalltown Supersound (Norway) / STS281 / 2×12″ LP, CD, Digital
Ambient

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