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4 stars Substrata is the first fully picturesque ambient album by Biosphere and is justifiably held in high regard in the ambient electronic musical community.

Following Pataschnik, which is basically ambient but features a lot of juvenile house bounciness and new age touches, this album opts for painting very quiet and well constructed soundscapes that evoke the coldness and whiteness of the arctic.

There tracks on Substrata are not so much for individual enjoyment as they are pieces to a whole that over time enhances the invoked mental imagery of the cold. In some ways the atmosphere created on this album is similar to a much more spacious and ambient interpretation of Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children minus the strong analog synthesizer sound and powerful hip-hop attitude.

Beyond the chilling synthesizers that drive the album's primary sound, there is also a respectable use of various field recordings such as creaking wood and running water, along with vocal samples that are short but contemplative in meaning -- another similarity to Boards of Canada.

Substrata also has a moment of slight weirdness; "Times When I Know You'll Be Sad" is a simple psychedelic clean-toned guitar driven track with disconnected vocals that remind me personally of Barrett-era Pink Floyd. It doesn't meld very well within the context that the album sets, but it's also not a terribly upsetting song. Just kind of odd, is all. This moment of weirdness is made up for later on the album by a song called "Kobresia", a rather progressive and lightly symphonic ambient soundscape that features everything from running water and beautiful swelling synths to radio static and nylon string guitar -- the overall tone of this composition is similar to Einojuhani Rautavaara's beautiful and otherworldly Cantus Arcticus.

For the most part, Substrata is an ambient album but includes various elements that make the music more compelling and engaging than is usually expected from the ambient genre, and definitely a lot more progressive. Its high status in the ambient electronic community is well deserved and is a chilling listen that makes great use of the tension-and- release dynamic throughout its duration that any adventurous listener with an ear for slow progression should be able to enjoy.

Report this review (#640323)
Posted Friday, February 24, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Geir Jenssen emerges to light!

In that not so distant "Ambient Music" planet, Geir Jenssen a.k.a. BIOSPHERE, is quiet known and respected. And as far as they tell "Substrata" (the 1997 release, which will later be added entirely to the "Sustrata2/Man With a Movie Camera" 2001, 2 cd album), was Biosphere's turning point. It even caught the attention of electronic/ambient pioneer Brian Eno, which of course made everyone else turn their heads and listen.

It takes no genius to figure out this is "game". The music itself, although confined in the "ambient" tagging, offers a taste of this musician's "trade", up to that point in his career and shows him as a mature "clean thought" electronic music experimentalist.

Now, all of this would be senseless, if it lacked song writing to match things up. "Substrata" is completely inspired in that regard. The music blends many ways of expression into single songs, unconnected with each other. With brushes of dark symphonics, plenty of attractive electronic environments, down to earth tape recordings, hypnotic lo-fi acoustic guitar melodies (Shoegaze-like), with intense and deep choirs and unintelligible voices here and there. All lightly threaded into huge musical structures in contrast to the minimal ones. But above all it is a great Prog/Electronic album, which offers to this genre a "new" OWN language musician, which we all know are so scarce.

****4 + my review, PA stars. Welcome to this machine!

Report this review (#1153562)
Posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | Review Permalink

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