TO:46 – Biosphere “Cirque”

[New Edition]

CD – 11 tracks
47:32

Originally released in 2000, this edition is redesigned with artwork and photography by Jon Wozencroft.

Biosphere – Cirque:

The Drama of Discovery
“I work slowly”, Geir Jenssen said in 1994, when asked about the three-year gap between his first two releases under the name Biosphere. Visions of six-month-long nights in Northern Norway amongst (whatever the thermal equivalent of visions may be) of hibernating temperatures would seem to explain this quasi-confession. As if taking one’s time would be considered dangerously old-fashioned, as if long processes of creation were doomed to turn into artistic suicide.

Quite the opposite.

First clue: the name.

In 1990, having learned of the Biosphere 2 Space Station Project, a sealed, gigantic glass dome in the Arizona Desert, then in its early stages, Geir decides to adopt it as his new alias.

The sound. The meaning. A sound that describes what the word means.

The Biosphere 2 Research Project was meant to test the possibilities of building self-sufficient space colonies, and hosted entire families living in a completely detached environment for years.

Geir Jenssen’s Biosphere has likewise been steadily creating a self-contained aural universe. Once inside, we will experience the outside world through the spherical window. As if watching a movie where, despite the monumental scale, we still manage to feel we belong in the script.

Second clue: the distance.

Geir Jenssen has decided to base himself permanently in his birthplace of Tromso, Norway, 400 miles north of the Arctic circle, having briefly tried out Brussels and Oslo before retreating back in total disinterest from the frenzy of too many cultural offers.

What exactly goes on in Tromso? And why, then, does Biosphere resonate so strongly in your walkman at rush hour in some downtown metropolis of the Western World? Because it surgically extracts time out of urgency, because it opens up huge spaces right at the dead centre of your urban claustrophobia. The viewpoint of the astronaut who contemplates Planet Earth from outer space and reflects on the billions of little lives down there.

Someone called it ‘Arctic Sound’.

Maybe.

Third clue: the distance.

Geir’s musical history has always been one of progressive self-distillation. Of maximising one’s chosen few resources. Bel Canto, Geir’s band in the late eighties, had signed up with Crammed Discs in Brussels and, after two albums, looked poised for crossover marketability. This is precisely when Geir decides to leave Bel Canto and start working on his own.

The reasons? A growing need to move on. A growing need for growth.

Two years, four singles and one album followed under the alias Bleep. First symptoms of Geir’s Ambient Techno that, by 1995, had come full circle and become truly mainstream. History revisited: the use of “Novelty Waves” (a track from Patashnik, his second album as Biosphere) on a Levi’s advertisement proved to be the last techno straw for Geir. Rather than turning achievement into formula, we see him dropping whatever was left of the hard beats, moving once again into unnamed, undiscovered territories.

One could still call them Ambient Territories if not for their deeply emotional undercurrent.
Someone said ‘Less is more’…

Precisely.

Fourth clue: interchange.

Geir says that music that excites him never fails to trigger visions in his mind. And I personally dare you to find music which is more visual. Soundtracks, yes, Biosphere has released the score for Insomnia and Man With a Movie Camera, and been elsewhere extensively commissioned.

Background music…. not quite. This is synaesthetic music. Sound sculpture, music as photographic collage. Echoes as warning signs. Liquid beats, samples as snapshots, faraway speeches of open-ended meaning.

No, not the hungover Balearic beaches. No, not even the deeply catatonic Winter nights of Norway. Something deeper, warmer, so much more human, so much more visceral.
Contemplation. Remember that word?

Try it.

Fifth clue: the circles.

Substrata, Biosphere in 1997, displayed an impossible proximity to perfection and is now an insistent visitor to the lists of ‘best ambient album of all time’, thus establishing a new canon for contemporary classicism. What distinguishes this new classicism is its humility: its status was never a pre-requisite, but rather an ageing process that reminds one of the finest wines. Substrata’s status as the new canon of ambient happened as a consequence of the monumental existentialism it contains – ambient music is no longer simply ignorable or ‘interesting’.

Cirque followed up in 2000, a dark, saturated recording, quietly descending from wonderment to despair, inspired as it was by the true story of a young North American explorer who lived a brutal dream of ascetism but fatally lost himself in the dense forests of Alaska. Cirque’s dramatic tension is magistrally woven amongst the sounds of enclosure, existentialist, dangerous, alone.

Sixth clue: complexity.

Geir Jenssen finds himself at a complex and fascinating crossroads right now: the heritage of Ambient Techno resting on his shoulders, the masterpiece of ambient music resting on his shoulders – we can feel the proximity of a new quantum leap into unimaginable territories. And if those territories, yet without a name, are not yet inhabitable, Biosphere will map them out for us, and recount his processes of discovery. The sound palette is now becoming lower, more abstract, more patient, more complex.
Geir Jenssen has always proved to be a masterful sculptor of sound, but, most importantly, has always known how to sculpt the silence that surrounds sound. In our world immersed in excess, Biosphere becomes the certainty of a softness that hits harder.
Biosphere has always made you pay attention. It now demands you to be active in your listening.

Use it as a seed.

Do it.

Heitor Alvelos
March 2000 / December 2001

Track list:

1 Nook & Cranny (4:02)
2 Le Grand Dôme (5:36)
3 Grandiflora (0:48)
4 Black Lamb & Grey Falcon (5:08)
5 Miniature Rock Dwellers (1:04)
6 When I Leave (5:54)
7 Iberia Eterea (6:38)
8 Moistened & Dried (2:25)
9 Algae & Fungi (Part I) (5:43)
10 Algae & Fungi (Part II) (5:17)
11 Too Fragile To Walk On (4:51)


Reviews:

Ambient Trance (USA):

Better late than never… even though Cirque is circa 2000, I’m happy to give it full-length coverage; as always, Biosphere unleashes gently psychedelic auras of barely-tangible music… soft, sweet experimentalism. Wafting ephemera shifts beneath a muted rhythm as Nook & Cranny releases dreamy gusts of hypnotic loveliness. Phantasmal jungle drums pulse through the hovering sheens (and quiet radio voices) of Le Grande Dôme, another entrancing blend of intangible essences with not-quite-concrete percussion. The brief stuttering shimmers of Grandiflora (0:48) seep into the deeply thrumming expanse of beatless Black Lamb & Grey Falcon, where piano-esque notes tinkle and less-recognizable energies swell. Woozy blurs and sub-bass blurts course through When I Leave , joined by feminine conversation and cymbal taps. Iberia Eterea (6:38) throbs (again somehow drunkenly) as oddly-diffused chords pump in time, eventually revved up by more-proper percussion (and briefly allowing a rather different musical nature slip out). Ghostmachine resonance hovers into a heaven of Algae and Fungi part 1, where it washes like seafoam clouds which are surprisingly stirred by deeply thumping bassiness, which gradually murks-out into muted rumblings as the piece evolves into its thunderous, wondrous part 11. In 47.5 minutes/11 tracks, Biosphere builds otherworldly concertos of pillowy electronic mutations, sometimes which are driven by seductively subdued beatsystems. Lovely weirdness flows all around Cirque. [A]

Your Flesh (USA):

With Cirque, Geir Jenssen has released a record that effortlessly combines elements of ambient, techno, drum-n-bass, concrete and experimental styles that fuse to reveal an assured and remarkable musical voice. “Nook and Cranny” opens the disc like a harsh dream, with a slow soft build. “Le Grand Dome” begins a song cycle in which voices, panning left and right, float above the sonic bed; at one point a new age spiritualist is speaking of “Stairway to Heaven” and then about peace being a “matrix” which must come down from on high. Cosmic. With “Iberia Eterea” the momentum builds while “Moistened and Dried” sounds like impossibly cold droplets of falling and disappearing into a deep well. Scattered throughout are subtle orchestral flourishes and “Algae and Fungi (parts 1 and 2)” took me on a fast ride at night on a deserted roadway with fluorescent lights shooting by. Add to this the superlative packaging and design by Jon Wozencroft, and you have one of the most notable releases of the year. Stunning. [Wade Iversen]

Touching Extremes (net):

The album cover says it all: ice all over, blue sky, the idea of silence. Put the stylus on the vinyl and what you get is a classy, mesmerizing pot of loop-based new ambient bathed in reverb and delays, with some rhythms and voices here and there. Minute by minute, time runs out and you’ve come across various phases of detachment, flying high in your mind but never exiting your window actually. Notice the deep search into this – just apparently – simple music. Peculiar, in a class of its own. [MASSIMO RICCI]

Incursion (UK):

Geir Jenssen presents 11 pieces of smooth soundscapes and muted, gentle rhythms in his latest release on Touch. Right from the opening sequences of this record I am drawn in. The quiet textures and mellow tones of the opener lead into the excellent track “Le Grand Dôme”, in which a walking-pace rhythm kicks in with alluring effect. “When I Leave” offers a deeply submerged bass rhythm, “Iberia Eterea” enjoys some crisp jazz-house drumming and sampled woodwinds, leading into the glacial “Moistened & Dried”. “Too Fragile to Walk On” closes the album with quiet wonder. Some deep, cool atmospheres and loops are sometimes reminiscent of 1997’s Substrata on All Saints Records, but overall Cirque presents a thoroughly developed and distinct sound from his earlier work. Sounds and voices of the world weave in and out of the mix, giving the sense that the listener is both connected to that world and set apart from it at the same time; the listener is placed in that quiet town pictured on the back cover of the record, with Geir himself as guide, so close to the arctic circle and so far away from these voices that come to us through mysterious channels and frequencies, over radio waves and through the very space itself… Jenssen’s music has an incredibly alluring quality that I find difficult to rationalise; I let this music wash over me completely and take over the space of my house. A superb achievement. [Richard di Santo]

VITAL (Netherlands):

This is Geir Jenssen’s first release in three years, and it is a perfect reminder that perhaps brevity and quality are inextricably linked. Not enough of a good thing is far more preferable than an excess of mediocrity, after all. Cirque is partly inspired by the story of Chris McCandless, who hitchhiked to Alaska in April 1992, went walkabout in the wilderness and, due to an error in his food supply, was found four months later, quite dead. The music is cinematic, even symphonic in structure. Single sounds occur throughout as thematic elements, delicately punctuating the melodic theme with the precision of a snowflake. There are acres of space: sounds heap up in harmonic order like conscious clouds assuming formation. Geo-thermal yawns and glacial rumbles close winters grate. Boreas, barely able to hold his breath, exhales soft, frosty clouds, and melting ice coruscates as cold slowly shuts its snap. Faraway floes turn turtle. The swing of spring music retunes the sky. Drops drip like Ligeti’s metronomes, unwinding with each step the sun takes up its northern tropical staircase. The primordes awake – algae bubbles like the witches’ sulphuric soup and lichen creeps like grey fingers up stony spines. Biology stirs in sleeping stumps, ‘splaying green smudges. Hoof-smears, bird-chitter, morning stars. No trudge across the winterbound tundra, this. Rather a journey across unknown surfaces, some sheer, some sweet, all fierce and full of fight to guard their frailty.

Mojo (UK):

Fourth full album from ambient pioneer:
vinyl version contains killer locked-groove.

Coming to prominence with 1992’s Microgravity – which along with the first couple of Aphex/Polygon Window CDs, defined the genre ambient – Geir Jenssen as Biosphere has made three of the ’90s’ best albums, culminating with last year’s near beatless Substrata. The idea – as it always was thanks to Eno’s On Land – is music as environment (reflecting, creating): working from his base in Tromso, Arctic Norway, Jenssen offers a polar, Apollonian exploration of the human psyche. Cirque is a perfectly constructed 47-minute sequence: cold clarity up against real depth of field, synth cycles dissolving into sudden moments of sonic revelation that sound like a waking dream – try the first 20 seconds of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. (And if you think that’s pretentious – your loss). Inspired by the story of a young American, Chris McCandless, who walked alone into the Alaskan wilderness and perished, Cirque balances the tightrope between warmth and unease, resolving into a moon melody that leaves you a peace. What a good record! [Jon Savage].

Bizarre (UK):

Quite, quite beautiful. Deep and lush, this sounds warm and enveloping while occasionally hinting at the sub-zero temperatures of Geir Jensen’s Arctic home in Tromso, Norway. But that’s not all: there is flow, there is edge, there is tension. Immerse yourself, then float higher than the surface. Jenssen uses the proceeds of his recordings to finance mountaneering trips and he deserves a goody on the back of this disc.

Les Inrockuptibles (France):

“Quel désaccord avec le monde m’a fait me retrouver là” murmure cet explorateur polaire français récupéré par le norvégien, cartographe et poète incontournable de l’arctique en musique Gerd Jenssens. Découvert avec Bel Canto, son projet Biosphere révélé au plus grand nombre grâce à une pub levis pour la poche à capote, sa musique reprend un tour des plus excitants avec son nouvel album Cirque. Lui dont les hymnes technos et les morceaux d’ambiance mordants révélaient la complaisance pour le froid a réussi a apprivoiser son terrain d’inspiration. De lieu de mort, la glace devient une terre promise avec de la neige autour. Déformés par la distance et les échos, ces sons dub et techno nous emmènent pour une épopée sans réelle issue dans un univers matelassé peint en connaisseur. Chaque année qui passe nous voit écouter des albums allant toujours plus loin pour donner à la musique électronique les pulsations de la vie, mais il faudra sans doutes des années à la masse pour dépasser Cirque, disque parfait. Ce sont aussi les latitudes extrêmes qui ont fait de ce premier véritable album de Tele :funken ce qu’il est. Découvert au détour d’un disque douteux ou il remixait le portrait de Flying Saucer Attack, on avait appris à aimer la délicatesse de ce Tele :tubbie allemand que l’on croyait issue de la même portée que Isan et Plone. Au hasard des rencontres, il échoue chez Pram à Birningham, ville dans laquelle il faut beaucoup d’imagination pour voir l’herbe verte et les petits lapins sortir du béton. Ce stage en milieu urbain mené en compagnie de spécialistes du rêve décalé l’amène à réviser ses idées, à corser sa musique en la teintant de sons empruntés aux ténors de l’électronique à poil dru comme Autechre et Scanner, les rockeurs plus ou moins hallucinogènes de Tortoise et Spacemen 3. Voilà tous ces grands noms conviés sur cette Collection of Ice Cream Vans aux pneus sales – tous garés devant un jardin d’enfants. C’est cette fraîcheur jointe à un réel talent pour nous faire revivre certaines terreurs enfantines avec deux ou trois blips qui font de l’album de Tele :funken un disque qui est au For Beginner Piano de Plone ce que Cendrillon est à l’Etrange Noël de Monsieur Jack. [J-B André]

re:mote induction (UK):

It has now been three years since the last Biosphere album Substrata, with the intervening period now being shown to have not been stationary for Geir Jenssen. The latest Biosphere album, Cirque, shows definite progression in many ways, whilst remaining undoubtedly identifiable as the work of Jenssen. At the same time the progression between the two albums is quite stark, especially in an A-B comparison of the two.

A big part of Jenssen’s work has always been the emotive nature of the music. The ability to conjure image and convey almost tangible feelings of being in the environment of his music. Previously the music has been easily linked with this environment and intimation of an arctic climate was undeniable. With Cirque this link to the desolate tundra is not so clear although the music is no less emotive. To my ear, the sound of Biosphere seems to be thawing with this release. The timbres of the sound still remain cool but the sounds have now become more liquid in their nature. This theme is continued within the artwork of the album with the photography of the booklet often depicting bodies of water, temperate landscapes and the edge of ice against water.

Attempting to select individual tracks from this release for discussion is a difficult task and I would even go so far as to say that judging any single track by itself is less than satisfying. This is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of it’s part. The individual songs are almost dull and pointless, lacking any strong direction or commitment that allows them to be enjoyable by themselves. However, once these are placed into the context of the album and allowed to merge with the other tracks the flow becomes very strong and it becomes a pleasure to sit back and let the mood of the album lead you. Close examination of the album does reveal a more upbeat feeling than of the previous album. Ambiences to this are not as bleak, containing a more organic sway and the feeling of movement is enhanced through a greater presence percussion.

The structural aspects of Cirque also aid to the generation of emotion and mood on this release. Progression through the album is slow but steady, taking time to allow aspects of the music to evolve and fully express themselves. Toward the end of the album the build has become quite definite and it is only with the sharp counterpoint of Algae & Fungi Part 11 to the ultimate track Too Fragile To Walk On that the speed of of the former gives way to the soundscaped conclusions of the latter.

As may have been apparent throughout this review I have enjoyed this release a great deal and view this as being another strong release from Geir Jenssen. In my opinion this album has no weak tracks to sully any feelings toward it but the need to listen to the whole album to get full enjoyment makes this a release that is not for everyone. In many ways though, this makes for an excellent introduction to the Biosphere sound for those new to the band as it stradles the sheer ambiences of recent time with a hint of the more upbeat sound of the early material.

The City Newspaper, Rochester (USA):

The sun doesn’t shine much during the winter months in Tromsø, the small Norwegian seaport 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle that Geir Jenssen calls home. Of course, that doesn’t explain why the electronic music he records as Biosphere is so visual, evoking images of far-flung glacial formations, moving at feature film speed through liquid beats and warm, deeply human sound sculptures. Biosphere has come a long way from the ambient techno it started out as. (The 1995 cut “Novelty Waves” served as the soundtrack for a Levi’s ad.) This music is much slower, textured, almost “environmental” in its sound and deliberate development. The record can be played as one continuous, 47-minute sequence, with each track gracefully flowing into the next. You’ll find rhythm, but its hiding behind a haze of synth cycles and blurred sub-zero bass that, together, weave a graceful, liquid-metallic sheen across the music’s surface. Cirque is inspired partly by Into the Wild, the 1992 book that documents the story of Chris McCandless, who walked alone into the Alaskan wilderness and died four months later. Like Jon Krakauer’s book, Cirque presents tension between comfort and discomfort, peace and unease. Far from self-indulgence, Cirque is a deeply focused and fertile project, teeming with detail. Pay close attention.”Cirque” and other Biosphere releases are available on the Web at . [Chad Oliveiri]

TOP Magazine (UK):

Cirque du Soleil by Pete Lawrence
Three years after its release, BIOSPHERE’s ‘Substrata’ is already being recognised as one of the all time greats of deep electronica. It is his acute sense of musical spaciousness and suspense that perhaps enables Norway’s Geir Jenssen to create such powerful musical statements – a quality possessed by very few musicians and only the best mood manipulators. LTJ Bukem, Global Communication and Another Fine Day come to mind. (no they don’t! – JW.). On ‘Cirque’ [Touch]*****, Biosphere’s music quietly demands time and attention. No use looking to chalk up quick, hedonistic pleasure points here; your best approach is to slow down to its pace. It’s best analysed not in terms of its separate tracks but as a totally immersive entity with the incidental details of spoken word, musical fragmentation and voice-over blending into the script. No escapist new age fantasy but a real life drama, the beauty is in the discomfort and the danger, as well as the moments of blissful freefall. A perfectly imperfect union of nature and technology for the summer.

Publico (Portugal):

Cirque (8/10)
Da pop gelado de baunilha dos Bel Canto às primeiras sess’es de ambient tecno e chill out levadas a cabo sob a designação Biosphere, o percurso musical do norueguês Geir Jenssen tem sido uma constante aproximação ao P’lo Norte. Para já, estabeleceu a sua base criativa num estúdio situado a 400 milhas a norte do Círculo Polar Árctico, para aí, alternadamente, prospectar sob a superfície do gelo em busca de sinais de vida e apontar o telesc’pio para a escuridão gélida do céu, em busca de frequências alienígenas. “Cirque” é mais um passo na direcção de uma música que definitivamente rompeu com o compasso tecno para se localizar no centro de uma região povoada pelos espíritos do Norte. A novela que serviu de inspiração a este álbum, “Into the Wild”, de Jon Krakauer, a hist’ria das viagens pela América do Norte de um explorador em busca do autoconhecimento que finalmente acaba por morrer no Alasca, na mais completa solidão, ilustra na perfeição a demanda de Geir Jenssen da definitiva banda sonora para o cérebro, que, quanto mais gelado, mais e mais coloridas alucinaç’es consegue produzir. Comparado com o suave batuque astral dos Can em “Future Days”, “Cirque” pode igualmente ser encarado como uma espécie de visão da fauna e flora microsc’pica, substrato invisível da selva que, mais acima, Jon Hassell desbravou com a sua música do “quarto mundo”. As batidas são quase subliminares, de água e poalha de gelo, as vagas electr’nicas avançam lenta mas inexoravelmente como um gigantesco glaciar em fase de degelo. A música de “Cirque” é tão bela como as imagens da Natureza que a acompanham no respectivo livrete. Tão bela como as metamorfoses subtis de uma aurora boreal. [Fernando Magalhães]

The Sheffield Telegraph (UK):

Album of the year by a mile already. It’s not pop music but chilled out instrumental grooves and sounds which reflect the space and climate of Biosphere’s base in the Arctic, Tromso, Norway. It was inspired by the story of a man who hitchhiked to Alaska, walked alone into the wilderness, and was found dead after a tragic error with his food supply. Beautiful and intense. [Martin Lilleker]

The Wire (UK):

The word ‘Ambient’ might now be a fairly lazy and degraded label, but it still feels like the best quickfix adjective to slap onto Cirque. Though it lists 11 titles, the album sounds more like one seamless piece. Leisurely, pulsing, eerie and seductive, it locates itself at the more reflective end of electronica. A cynic might label it chill-out music with an ecological gloss – indeed, South Park’s Cartman would brand it ‘tree-hugging hippy crap’. I guess it is, but of a distinctly superioir kind.

The packaging alone would enrage Cartman: the CD booklet shuns words for a series of landscape photographs featuring snow, water, rocks, sunsets, mountains, even a stone circle. It that’s a recipe for eco-whimsy, the music itself is stronger and more subtle, tracing mesmerising geographies of sound. Nothing leaps out and assaults you; rather, eveything entices and lingers, with gently insistent rhythms and sparingly melodic chords draped around field recordings (running water, birdsong, the occasional snippet of anonymous interviews).

Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere) was partly inspired by the story of Chris McCandless, an explorer whose solo trek across Alaska ended in his untimely death, but Cirque doesn’t require narrative support. In the best sense of the the term, this is abstract music, rooted in a certain relationship to natural phenomena but otherwise not shackled to any over-schematic meaning. It draws a little on on early 90s crossovers where Ambient nuzzled up against dance (Jam & Spoon, KLF’s pastoral gambits, The Orb), but it’s not in any way dated. [Andy Medhurst]

Weekly Dig (USA):

Unfortunately, around the mid-1990s ambient’s reputation took a tremendous beating, with many calling it nothing more than an evolved form of cheesy new age music. While I understand that there is a tremendous amount of ambient that does evoke shades of Narada and other notable new age artists, there have been some ambient works that continue to leave an undeniable mark on the music world. For example, Aphex Twin’s Vol. 2 – Selected Ambient Works, a brilliant compilation featuring Richard James’ most notable ambient works, still has a mystifying effect on me, as does Shuffle 358’s Optimal EP, which was possibly 1999’s greatest undiscovered secret.

Recently I received Biosphere, a stunningly beautiful ambient release containing a mixture of etherealness and spacy downtempo grooves. This 11-track compilation at times shuffles back and forth between tribal percussions, trip-hop beats, drum and bass licks and glacial bleeps and bloops. The album is inundating with peaceful overtures, allowing one to focus and relax without ever feeling overtly bored with the background music being played. That is one of ambient’s biggest criticisms, that it is either too boring or too similar to all of the other releases in the genre. Cirque doesn’t suffer this fate; in fact it overcomes this as an extreme level of uniqueness. Simply put, I have desk drawers full of releases that are completely uninteresting and forgettable. However, this one avoids the trap. If you are a fan of ambient, I strongly urge you to check out this release, as it has a musicality that completely drawers you in. Definitely a keeper. (Craig Kapilow)

Motion/State 51 (UK):

The long-awaited follow-up to Substrata, by many (the undersigned included) considered to be the finest ambient album of the 1990s. After releasing brilliant remixes of the Norwegian electronic pioneer Arne Nordheim (Nordheim Transformed, together with Deathprod), a retrospective of poppier remix work (Biosystems), and a second collaborative site performance with Higher Intelligence Agency (Birmingham Frequencies), Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere returns to the Arctic ambience which he has made into a genre all its own. With patient, consummate craft, his deceptively simple recipe of quiet electronic loops and disembodied, sampled voices and instruments – seemingly plucked out of the microwaves coursing through the long Norwegian night from his studio in Tromsø. – lends that actually-existing geographic place its own, conceptually fascinating, imagined soundtrack. A somewhat forbidding environment – a woman’s voice warns, “When I leave, don’t follow”. Wise advice, perhaps, since the last track is called “Too Fragile to Walk On”. But the surface of this soundworld is anything but thin; and Cirque is a source of warmth whose presence one would be foolish to quit. Huddle down and turn your back on the winter night outside.

OOR (Netherlands):

Biosphere is een overlevende van de ambient-rage van een jaar of 6 terug, een ambacht die hij nog steeds als geen ander beheerste. De muziek is als de foto’s (van onder andere zijn Noorse woonplaats Tromso) op de hoes en in het boekje : ijzig, desolaat, statisch en op zijn best van een beklemmende schoonheid. Maar af en toe kleeft er iets gemakzuchtigs aan de ambient formule van Geir Jenssen, die zijn gebruik van ‘veldopnamen’ van veel creativiteit blijk geeft, maar de mist in gaat als hij ergens een stijf en plichtmatig drum ‘n’ bass-beatje uit het doosje trekt. Zijn muziek drijft op keurig afgeronde hoeken en dat is bij Mika Vainio wel anders. Ook zijn nieuwe roept ietwat gemengde gevoelens op, maar dan om omgekeerde redenen. De helft van het Finse duo Pan Sonic trekt kale geluidsvlakten op, die van een stekelige hoekigheid blijken. Klanken verschieten subtiel van kleur en richting, een proces dat aandachtige beluistering verdient en dan voor het eigenlijke drama in de muziek blijkt te zorgen. Vainio is echter iets te streng in de leer, wat Kajo tot een zwaar verteerbare aangelegenheid maakt. Maar om zijn onstuitbare exploratiedrang is Vainio me net iets liever dan Biosphere. [Jacob Haagsma]

ROCK SOUND (UK):

Geir Jensen’s music has always been about remoteness and distance. Based in his home town of Tromso, situated in northern Norway, 200 miles above the Arctic Circle, surrounded by glaciers and imposing fjords, and plunged into total darkness for three months in winter, ‘Cirque’ is very much a product of this environment, its slowly enfolding polar ambience far removed from the supercharged techno of ‘Novelty Waves’ that brought him to the fringe of mainstream success. Biosphere is unusual in its instantly recognisable style, an ability to transport the listener to a totally different landscape and a deep sense of spatial awareness that puts you in no doubt why Jensen is in such demand for film soundtracks and art installation work. ‘Cirque’, literally an amphitheatre-shaped crevice cut by a glacier, is inspired in part by the story of Chris McCandless, an amateur explorer whose trek into the Alaskan wastes ended in tragedy. That’s not to say the music itself is cold; unlike similarly inspired composer Thomas Koner whose Arctic-inspired ‘Teimo’ gripped like frostbite, Biosphere’s is enveloped in mist with the Northern lights flashing wildly in the distance. From the moody rhythm gymnastics of ‘Iberian Eterea’ to the snowstorm flurry techno of ‘Algae and Fungi’, via ‘Black Lamb & Grey Falcon”s ghost orchestra, ‘Cirque”s windswept abandonment leaves you in no doubt of the benefit of Jensen’s artistic hibernation. At one point a disembodied voice intones solemnly “When I leave, you’ll follow”. Too true. [Neil Gardner]

gg (net, USA):

Geir Jenssen’s output toward the latter end of the ’90s includes a soundtrack, a remix collection, a reinterpretation of Arne Nordheim’s ageless electro-acoustic works, and collaborations with HIA’s Bobby Bird. CIRQUE is the first volume of undiluted Biosphere since 1997’s SUBSTRATA. The exquisite CIRQUE was inspired by the harrowing story of Chris McCandles, a young man whose self-determined survival quest in the Alaskan wilderness ended tragically.

Like the best Biosphere, CIRQUE captures the grandeur and danger of the ice-bound North. Elegant ambient loops and craggy beats call to mind miles of frozen tundra and boundless blue sky. It’s apparent how McCandles was seduced by the siren song of Alaska’s natural mystery. As the listener is led through the layered landscape, accumulating accents suggest the mirage-like shadow play of sunlight on snow (“Iberia Eterea”), the arrayed flight of furred and feathered onlookers (“Black Lamb & Grey Falcon”), the imposing presence of mountains and weather fronts, and the mesmerizing underfoot crunch of packed permafrost. Sampled wireless transmissions and emphatic bass undulations impart a menacing character to CIRQUE’s aural Arctic, and the elegiac closer (“Too Fragile to Walk On”) serves as a sad reminder that Man’s spirit is always subject to his physical frailties.

XLR8R (USA):

If you think ambient music is just too mid-90s, think again: Biosphere, who for a decade now has designed the blueprint for resonant, ambient techno, returns with two releases proving the genre’s continuing relevance….On the masterful Cirque, Jenssen updates the Arctic dread of 1997’s Substrata, warming up otherwise icy climes with orchestral loops and multi-hued sunlight. Drifting and rumbling, these glacial tracks host scraps of songs and narratives frozen inside them, like the personal effects of a lost traveler trapped and carried down the mountain to the sea. Jenssen and Bird proved that music can craft a world of itself; and each one promises to hold you rapt in its microcosmic perfection. (Philip Sherburne)

Grooves (USA):

Geir Jenssen left his first band, late ’80s group Bel Canto, to develop his own musical direction after releasing two albums. He went on to record two techno albums and four singles as Bleep. Adopting the name Biosphere from the sealed, domed experiment in self-sufficient living based in the Arizona desert, Jenssen released two increasingly successful ambient techno albums, Microgravity and Patashnik. After the single “Novelty Waves” from Patashnik was used in a Levi Jean’s ad, rather than use the sound as formula for future works, Jenssen moved away from it, his music becoming increasingly less like techno. The last three Biosphere albums, Polar Sequences and Birmingham Frequencies with Higher Intelligence Agency, and Substrata, the last real Biosphere album some 3 years ago, are relatively minimal and spacious, not completely devoid of beats but more ambient than techno.

It’s hard to isolate any one given track to review as the music fits together wonderfully as a single piece, flowing naturally from tract to track. Jenssen’s music is referred to in the press and on his website as having an “arctic sound”, and it is easy to appreciate why. The packaging of his albums commonly shows several images of iceflows and frozen landscapes and is printed in shades of blue, grey and white, reflecting the terrain he is familiar with and samples for his music, the word cirque itself is defined as “a semicircular amphitheatre-shaped feature with steep walls carved by a glacier”. This fascination or love of his surrounding terrain is reflected in Jenssen’s music, conjuring up images of vast expanses of snow, ice and rock, the beauty such a sight is to witness and the inherent danger this can ultimately bring. The Cirque album itself is at least partly inspired by Chris McCandless, who in April 1992 hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness, only to be found dead 4 months later having made a tragic error with his food supply.
Jenssen’s work acts on a very emotional level, one that encourages you to drift away into a haze of images and scenes brought to you by the music, where spectacular beauty hides unseen danger. Intense and moving, but comforting and soothing at the same time. (Paul Lloyd)

Exclaim (Canada):

A cirque is a bowl-shaped hollow situated on the side of a mountain. More than just a title, it’s the most appropriate metaphor to describe the philosophy behind Biosphere’s music – that in order to climb higher, you must first go deeper into the sound as well as your senses. The 11 tracks on Cirque evoke this kind of meditative excursion. They’re a series of soundscapes progressing with tremendous subtlety, colour and passion. The album tends to operate in ambient modes, but Biosphere’s production style de-emphasises the electronic-ness of it all. Low-attack synths move like oceans and 808s step like footsteps in the forest. The highlights of the album include “Iberia Eterea” and “Algae Fungi (parts 1 and 11)”, with their frenetic rhythms rushing like rapids against the layers. With such vivid scenes in the tracks, Cirque is one of the finest pieces of chill-out music to come out in years. (Prasad Bidaye)

Humo! (Belgium):

Het is weer zomer. Wat zou Geir Jenssen aan het doen zijn in de Nooit Meer Slapen-stad Tromso? Het is er 23 en een half uur per dag licht (euh, nu toch). De zanger van Noordkaap ging er op zoek naar zichzelf. Ik denk niet dat er veel gebeurt. Dat komt goed uit, want op de platen van Biosphere gebeurt ogenschijnlijk nog minder. Biosphere is muziek die niet nog snel wil reserveren in een trendy sushi-restaurant. Biosphere blijft thuis. We roepen dan kluizenaar en loner. En als we er ook electronische muziek bij krijgen zonder blote Ibiza-borsten en Frankfurt bockwurstbeats, denken we aan mensen die hun cd’s laten opstaan voor de katten als ze naar de bakker gaan. Waarom trouwens niet? En okee, Biosphere is ambient. Als er een boeddhistisch klooster in de straat was, zaten we misschien daar en niet onder onze koptelefoon. ‘t Zijn cosmic lovegrooves. Passons! Geir Jenssen woont vlakbij Rusland. De naam Biosphere ligt voor de hand. Biosphere is een ruimtekolonie op aarde in het midden van Arizona, een oefening in leven in afzondering, het zoveelste god game van de wetenschap. Ook de muziek van Biosphere blijft achter glas, en bekijkt de wereld vanop een afstand. Noem het laf en luister verder naar Slipknot. Of noem het moedig, draai hét meesterwerk van het jaar (‘Silence is sexy’ van Einstürzende Neubauten) nog eens om, en kom dan gerust binnen. Weet nog dat Biosphere veel minder met gesproken samples uitpakt dan op de jaren negentig-klassiekers ‘Patashnik’ en ‘Microgravity’, dat er tracks zijn die ‘Algae and fungi part 1’ én ‘Algae and fungi part 11’ heten, dat de eerste beat langer op zich laat wachten dan bij een concert van The Orb, en dat ‘Cirque’ is opgedragen aan Chris McCandless, een man die de eenzaamheid opzocht in de wildernis van Alaska, wiens lijk werd teruggevonden naast een S.O.S.-briefje, en zonder wie Jon Krakauer’s boek ‘Into the wild’ nooit zou zijn geschreven. We zeggen het maar: Biosphere is donkerder en minder soft dan op het eerste gehoor zou kunnen blijken. Wij zijn bijvoorbeeld ooit aan deze trip begonnen door de sample ‘It’s rather like fairyland isn’t it/except for the smell of gasoline and burning flesh’. En ja, u hebt gelijk, die muziek in die zwartwit-jeansbroekenreclame met die condoom kwam van Biosphere. Toen maakte Geir Jenssen nog een klein beetje techno. Dat heeft hij op ‘Cirque’ helemaal afgeleerd. File under: absolutely new age-free advanced ambient machine music. Op 27 oktober in een schouwburg in Antwerpen. (gvn)

Alternative Press (USA):

Here’s a challenge: Try to keep your eyes open through to the end of this disc. It’s impossible. From the opening strains of “Nook & Cranny”, with its distant synth refrains and soft fizzy beats, to the haunting last gasp of clipped flutes on “Too Fragile to Walk On”, Biosphere wraps the listener’s ears in sound as lulling as that heard in the womb. To call this music “techno” does it a great injustice. Biopshere (a.k.a. Norway’s Geir Jenssen) uses “real” instruments to flesh out his mostly beatless sound, such as guitar, piano, woodwinds and strings. Combine this with a skill for crafting drifting machine sounds not rivaled since Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, and what follows is warm and comforting, belying the album’s glacial artwork. The information accompanying this disc warns of lurking in paradise for too long, but if there is danger awaiting listeners on the other side of Cirque, may they die blissfully ignorant. [Jason Olariu]

Outburn (USA):

Biosphere have foregone their previous reliance on vocal samples for a stricter ambient approach, which should make them more accessible to a wider audience. While the format is typical laid back ambient, they have mixed in subtle samples that give the music an extra depth not found in most discs of the genre. One track has water sounds and another has crunching sound reminiscent of old vinyl. Listeners who chill out will find themselves drawn happily into the details upon repeated listenings.

Sequences (USA):

Following in the footsteps of the excellent “Substrata,” Geir Jenssen has again served up a tasty selection of his unique brand of ambient morsels. Eleven brief tracks serve as a musical documentary, at least in part, to the true story of a man who hitchhiked to Alaska, ventured off into the wilderness, and was found dead four months later. Before I heard this story, I still found “Cirque” to be a fascinating listen, and even more so afterward. Like “Substrata,” “Cirque” is filled with relatively short, rich pieces, mixing assorted sound samples with unusual musical textures. Unlike its predecessor, a noticeable beat runs through much of “Cirque.” In most cases, the beat trudges along, the musical equivalent of the lost traveler ambling step by step through the icy wilderness. Each track tends to be repetitive loops, used for maximum hypnotic effect. Jenssen loves to use a wide array of sounds to achieve the desired ambient chill. “Le Grand Dome” has French voices in the background. “Black Lamb & Grey Falcon” has a simple, abrupt piano phrase which repeats endlessly, surrounded by oboe-like samples, drones, and static like one might hear on a vinyl record. “When I Leave” has a very short, staccato piano note which pulses every few seconds throughout. Ambling bass lines and more interesting vocal samples run through it, but the piano is a little too jarring for my taste. More successful is “Iberea Eterea,” with a similar pulse, crisp cymbals, and lots of atmosphere. In the end, it seems that’s what Biosphere recordings are about – atmosphere. “Moistened and Dried” is just going to sound like sonic wallpaper to some, mostly just dripping water, but I found it fascinating. This is the sort of true experimentation that, in the wrong hands, would just sound like self-indulgent noodling. Somehow, Jenssen manages to always pull it off deftly. “Algae & Fungi” is surprisingly accessible, comparatively speaking, with its buildup of musical intensity as a deep, insistent beat evolves, then devolves into dark, distant echoed rhythms in the latter half of this two-part piece. Unusual flute samples in “Too Fragile to Walk On” make a beautiful closer. Similar and yet quite distinct from “Substrata,” “Cirque” offers another unique view into Jenssen’s musical mind. Strange, but stirring and compelling.

Wreck This Mess (Netherlands):

“Cirque” on Touch is a great disc from a great generator of beautiful sounds. It is pure northern sound which to me is the ‘polar’ opposite of say, Berber / Moroccan / Sahara music but in many ways the stark meditative waves and horizontals come back to the point where they are very similar. Apparently Biosphere = Geir Jenssen. He rejected the acclaim he was receiving for previous discs and chose the hermetic over hype or ‘mountain climbing over train spotting’. What is beyond ambient? Well, speculative – exploration, music that unravels itself. Music that not only rides and caresses a surface but penetrates it until we get some sense of what its dimensions and intentions are. It is about exploration rather than mimicking. Anyway, it is inspired in part by the story of Chris McCandless who “in April 1992 hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness, only to be found dead 4 months later having made a tragic error with his food supply.” Definitely one of my favorites. [Bart Plategna]

Live Review (Norway):

NORDLYS, (Norwegian newspaper) 29 SEPTEMBER 2000
Technological Shamanism
For the first time since the Polar Music Festival in 1995 Geir Jenssen aka Biosphere gave a concert in his hometown. And what a concert! An evening with Biosphere is, in fact, so much more than a normal concert experience. And Geir Jenssen, aka Biosphere, is so much more than an ordinary artist. With his glasses, laptop and arsenal of samplers and sound modules he reminds us of something between a clerk and a space scientist when he is sitting behind his desk in the centre of the stage at Driv. Jenssen led the audience at Driv into a world of ambient sound-scapes and hypnotising beats that we did not want to end. He created powerful atmospheres and took them down again exactly when we expected an explosion. But Wednesday’s concert was not only Geir Jenssen. With the performance artist Jony Easterby joining the team, this evening became so much more than just music. Biosphere’s sound-scapes were often just an accompaniment to Easterby´s installations. Melting icicles dripping onto miked up mirrors, sparklers patched through effect modules. Even the insides of an electric iron were heated and used as a sound and light source. Stones were hanging from the roof oscillating hypnotically over the stage and creating an almost religious atmosphere in the hall as their shadows moved back and forth. The crowd experienced probably this year’s most beautiful and most rewarding performance this evening. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another five years before it happens again. [Håvard Stangnes]

tijd cultuur (Belgium):

Arctische weidsheid Met het album Cirque dat sinds dit voorjaar in de winkel ligt, presenteert de Noor Geir Jenssen of Biosphere een glooiende ambientplaat waar ritmes slechts in kleine straaltjes door een arctische duisternis dringen. Zaterdag zakt de muzikant/ componist uit Tromso, een dorp 800 kilometer boven de poolcirkel, af naar Antwerpen voor een concert in CC Luchtbal. Geir Jenssen ligt met zijn minimale doch melodieuze soundscapes aan de voet van de nieuwe ambientbeweging begin jaren negentig. Biospheres eerste soloalbum Microgravity verschijnt, na een jarenlange collaboratie in de cult popgroep Bel Canto en het acidproject Bleep, in 1992 bij het Gentse R&S Records. Een revelatie. De klankeigenheid van Brian Eno’s klassiek geworden Ambient 1: Music For Airports uit 1978 – een plaat die voortbouwt op Pierre Schaeffers musique concr?te – vertaalt Jenssen naar een repetitieve structuur; de minimal music en de destijds vanuit Detroit oprukkende techno-underground in navolging. Opvallend is de aanwezigheid van kouwelijke geluiden als gierende wind of afbrokkelend ijs op Microgravity. Maar paradoxaal krijgen die bij Biosphere een warme melodische context. Sinds zijn eerste release als Biosphere werkte Jenssen met een groot aantal muzikanten – Deathprod en Higher Intelligence Agency als voorbeelden – en verschenen drie albums onder de naam Biosphere. Dit voorjaar voegde de muzikant/ componist een vierde aan dat rijtje toe. Na vormexperimenten met beats laat Jenssen die op Cirque opnieuw haast volledig – in sommige nummers schuilt een ijle streep drum ‘n’ bass of een echo van een rechtlijnige drumloop – achter zich. Wel worden samples van akoestische instrumenten als violen of spaarzame toetsen piano repetitief ingezet. Die elementen maken dat Cirque ruimte ademt: opnieuw schildert Biosphere sonoor zijn geboortestreek, het arctische Tromso. Geir Jenssen: “Eigenlijk stigmatiseer ik mezelf met dit soort muziek te maken. Alleen het feit dat ik noordelijk woon, leverde in het verleden gekke verhalen op. Zo zou ik bijvoorbeeld enkel werken als de zon onder gaat en hier in Tromso is het s winters zeer lang donker. Ik houd van deze streek, in de eerste plaats omdat ik er geboren ben. En in de tweede plaats omdat ik van de natuur, de bergen, het ijs en voornamelijk van de goedlachse bevolking geen afstand kan nemen. De mentaliteit staat hier ver van de gewone wereld en de drukte van de grootstad. Dat terwijl de faciliteiten nagenoeg dezelfde zijn, Tromso heeft bijvoorbeeld een universiteit, een aantal cinema s en theaters.” Voor Cirque inspireerde Jenssen zich deels op Into the Wild van John Krakauer. Dat boek vertelt het geromantiseerde verhaal van Chris McCandless, een man die in 1992 naar Alaska trok om er in de wildernis rond te trekken. Vier maanden werd zijn lijk gevonden, na onderzoek bleek dat er wat was misgegaan met zijn voedselvoorraad. Jenssen: “Zelf trek ik vaak de natuur in en het boek van Krakauer bevatte veel van de gevoelens die ik op zulke momenten beleef. In de perstekst staat echter dat ik me liet inspireren door het boek, wat slechts ten dele klopt: het bevestigde mijn bevindingen eerder dan een concept voor de plaat aan te reiken. Een veel belangrijkere inspiratie is mijn dagelijkse omgeving. Die werkt meteen op je in. Toen ik eind jaren tachtig een jaar in het stresserende Belgi‘ leefde, klonk mijn werk bijvoorbeeld helemaal anders (de acidreleases als Bleep, nvdr). Ik heb dus tijd en rust nodig om te componeren en dat kan enkel in Tromso. Voor Cirque kostte het vier jaar.” Sinds kort verzorgt Jenssen zijn eigen hoezen. In de booklet van Cirque exposeert hij eigen foto’s, samen met Bjorn Arntzen en Jon Wozencroft (de excellente huisfotograaf van het Touch label, een man die een keer natuur en stad tot kringelende vormen abstraheert en een andere keer een woonwijk tot een gealieneerde buurt transformeert). De verstilde landschappen van droogstaande meren en weidse bergformaties passen perfect bij het geluid van de plaat. “Ik fotografeer ongeveer twintig jaar en wil me meer op de relatie tussen beeld en geluid toeleggen. Op dit moment werk ik aan een reeks composities, ingegeven door de ervaring van een brug in het landschap. Fragmenten daarvan zijn in het museum voor actuele kunst in Roskilde onder het multimediale – foto’s, video, performance en geluid – project Krydsfelt ge‘xposeerd. In de toekomst staan meer samenwerkingen met andere kunstenaars op mijn verlanglijst.” (Ive Stevenheydens)

The Milk Factory (Norway):

Geir Jenssen’s career started with fellow Norwegian band Bel Canto. But soon, it appeared that Geir was to explore other grounds, and he left to release his first solo album under the name Bleep. And then, it was Biosphere. A name he would appropriate to make people dance. The high point of his commercial success came in the shape of the ubiquitous Novelty Waves, taken from his second album as Biosphere, Patashnik, and most famous for being the soundtrack of a Levi’s advert. But this sudden exposure didn’t suit the man. He moved back to his native Tromso, reflected on his fame, and decided it was time to move on. And he did. The next proper Biosphere album would take three years to come out. And Substrata was the antithesis of Patashnik. It was an album of intense atmospheres, of long cold nights and hazy days, using pure sounds, unusual samples and no beats at all. Cirque is different. It is not a rebellious album, more of a reflective work. Organic sounds, pieces of conversations put together and, on some tracks, drums, cohabit in the most harmonious manner. It is almost an extension of his work with Higher Intelligence Agency, or a continuation more like. Cirque is to perfection what Champagne is to alcohol: a must. There are certainly no other artists like Geir Jenssen. The transformation from pop to dance to art act has taken him over ten years, but he has accomplished the journey with pride and determination. Cirque is the result of it. Not the end of the road, more the beginning of something major. [5 stars]