Smalltown Supersound – STS281CD
Format: CD, Album
Released: 05 Aug 2016
Style: Ambient, Experimental
The artist Jessica Ingram’s series of photographs “Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial” seems, at a glance, to simply portray beautiful or quotidian parts of the Southern landscape. But the postcard-ready images are backlit by an appalling fact: They were all the sites of racist murders. On his new Biosphere record, Departed Glories, the influential Norwegian ambient musician Geir Jenssen does something strikingly similar, poised at the emotional conflict between the world’s everlasting beauty and the evanescent atrocities that seem to linger around it long after actual events.
While he was temporarily living in Krakow, Poland, Jenssen started to notice the sites where Polish people had been executed during World War II—the horrors lurking behind an indifferent natural splendor. He began to research the area’s history and learned of a medieval queen who had hidden from invaders in these same forests, and he started to wonder what kind of music she might have thought of to comfort her in her fear. The outcome is an album made mostly from heavily treated samples of Eastern European and Russian folk music, and its forbidding, haunting beauty is a sensitive encomium to the queen hidden in the forest, to all those erased by war, and to the other ghosts of history that invisibly crowd the world.
Jenssen has explored this kind of site-specific territory before. On 2011’s excellent N-Plants, he drew inspiration from the futuristic gleam and looming danger of Japanese nuclear plants, in tracks where pneumatic basses and skating electronic beats gave the impression of mechanical architecture producing massive energy. (The album came out not long after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, though, uncannily, Jenssen says he finished it before.) Those flickers of minimal techno also crept in, albeit less prominently, on 1997’s Substrata, widely regarded an ambient classic. Though Departed Glories has elements of both of those works—the concrete context of N-Plants and the sparser, icier regions of Substrata—it eschews any beats, and exchanges a structure of geological movement for something more like classical composition.
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