Somnambule - Writing About Music

Biosphere – Autour De La Lune

There was something deeply nocturnal and gorgeously luminescent about the remixes of Arne Nordheim pieces provided by Biosphere and Deathprod on 1998’s Nordheim Transformed (one of Rune Grammofon’s first and arguably most beautiful releases). Autour De La Lune sounds like the long-delayed successor to those pieces. There is a degree of commonality between that project and this new release insofar as Biosphere (Geir Jenssen’s pseudonym) has again chosen to respond to external sonic stimuli. In response to a commission for La Festival de Radio France et Montpellier, Jenssen samples dialogue from a dramatisation of Jules Verne’s ‘De La Terre a La Lune’, a nineteenth century story that accurately predicts aspects of space flight which would be unknown until NASA’s expeditions decades later. To these samples are added sounds captured by the MIR space station which were then incorporated into Jenssen’s own compositions.

The result is a breathtakingly beautiful, haunted work which is divided into nine movements over 71 minutes. What is most immediately noticeable is the spare and spectral nature of this music. One of these pieces might best be described as the sonic equivalent of the moon’s milky white light, another appears to record the infinitely heavy transit of that globe as it arcs gradually across the sky, and another might be a spectograph recording of the moon’s palest phase. Rather unsettlingly, these pieces in totality convey the impression that they are fragments of the moon, rather than songs to or about the moon.

The moon is a manufacturer of myth, exerting its mysterious pull upon the oceans and our souls: note the etymology of the word lunatic, for example. It’s the basis for the Islamic lunar calendar, an alternative to the West’s gregorian divisions. There are lunar gods and goddesses found in a host of ancient cultures from Sumeria (Lillith) to Greece (Hecate), Ireland (Danu) and Egypt (Thoth). Hanging in our nightskies, patchy white in its full glory, slender as a crescent, or bloated orange at harvest time – it’s difficult not to wonder at our nearest planet.

Pigeonholing Autour De La Lune as Ambient would be a painfully simplistic action. Although attention might be drawn to Brian Eno’s Apollo Soundtracks as a comparable endeavour, Eno devoted a significant portion of that recording to musical metaphors for the astronauts’ navigation of the moon, which took the form of country-tinged atmospheres. Biosphere does something very different by expressing something like a lunar essence in sound, one devoid of humankind. This is a subtle work of alchemical invocation which summons the moon into the listener’s presence, even at midday.
Colin Buttimer
June 2004
Published by the BBC