Geir Jenssen's career as Biosphere started in 1991, but before that, he operated under the moniker of Bleep - releasing an (almost) fundamental record of ambient-house in 1989 and the seminal “The North Pole By Submarine”, alongside his work as part of the band Bel Canto, pioneers of electronic pop in Norway. Since then, his trajectory includes over ten LPs, released under his own name, or in collaboration with Deathprod and The Higher Intelligence Agency, plus a good handful of EPs. However, in all this time he has never released an anthology of his career, which is one of the most consistent of all artists in ambient. Not even “The Best Of Biosphere” (Sony Japan, 1996) would serve that purpose; first of all because of its rarity (being a Japan-only release), and second, because it only focuses on his first two albums, “Microgravity” (1991) and “Patashnik” (1994). The latter two are flirtations with dance music, before he immersed himself completely in icy and weightless textures, starting with “Substrata” (1996). That said, we're sorry to say that in spite of its title, “Compilation 1991-2004” isn't the record that gives an overview of Genssen's 20-year+ career, either. Maybe next time.
This “Compilation” is a different kind of retrospective: it's a collection of pieces released by Biosphere on several compilations over the course of almost fifteen years. They had all disappeared into oblivion, forgotten and hard to find, except in the jungle of second-hand record stores. There's no unexpected twist in history, none of the tracks point at any transition or turn for the better (if Biosphere has anything, it's that he has said everything of any importance on his records, extensively and when he wanted, up to 2011's “N-Plants”) - but for his most loyal fans, it’s a good way to have all of his most valuable material in one go, instead of having to save up in order to buy over ten titles through Discogs. What does help to understand the evolution of Biosphere is the sequencing of the material: organised chronologically, the first track dates back to 1991 ( “Hypnophone” was part of a compilation of Norwegian electronic music from that year), and on the two tracks that follow, his mythical contributions to “Trance Europe Express 3” ( “The Third Planet”) and “Apollo 2: The Divine Compilation” ( “The Seal & The Hydrophone”), we hear the early Jenssen, launched by the R&S label as the Nordic answer to The Orb.
Everything that comes next is free of noise and beats, moving discreetly along the most static lines of ambient. The stylistic break from the fourth track is traumatic, but that's exactly how Biosphere developed after leaving Apollo-R&S. Signing with All Saints and then with Touch, he diverted his interest in dance music and astronomy towards field recordings and the most extreme geographic places on the planet. Losing fans on the way whilst winning new ones, his sound became more radical, an aesthetic direction through which he channelled his fascination for all things polar and desert (in short, for the barren land tracks like “Valchirie”, “Sun-Baked” and “Vi Kan Tenka Digitalt, Vi Kan Tala Digitalt” are so much indebted to, some of them over ten minutes of serene tranquillity). The sources are diverse (compilations on the Touch label, a collaboration with Jony Easterby for a compendium by festival The Big Chill, the ambitious “Money Will Ruin Everything” on Rune Grammofon), but in the end, the whole feels monolithic - in spite of its liquidity, its weightlessness, whether the tracks are made with synthesiser, guitar ( “Colpa Mia”) or organ ( “Visible & Invisible”). Although it's not the retrospective Geir Jenssen deserves, after almost two hours of music in the vast emptiness, “Compilation 1991-2004” turns out to be a fine collection of all that disperse and hard-to-locate material the fans need to own, in order to feel fulfilled and at ease.