Ambient music as background? Not a bit of it, as this well-matched split album proves
Geir Jenssen, better known as Biosphere, and Helge Sten, who operates under the charming name Deathprod, are no strangers to working together or with other artists. They previously collaborated on a tribute to Arne Nordheim and both are well known for their improvised live sessions with sundry like-minded individuals, so they’re clearly receptive to the challenges and opportunities that arise from creative alliances.
For ‘Stator’, the pair have chosen to produce a split album, so this is only a partnership in the loosest sense of the word. Nevertheless, the seven tracks here underline how fundamentally sympatico Jenssen and Sten are, as the pieces seem to build out of the same elemental constructs as each other, whether that be grainy static blocks, tiny melodic sprinkles or urgent synth pulses. The effect is a uniform feel, a consistent atmosphere, even though the ideas have come from two different minds working entirely independently.
Jenssen is best known for producing electronic music that carries an Arctic chill. No musician, with the possible exception of Thomas Köner, has evoked the sound of icy tundra like Jenssen, every note and texture carrying a sort of delicate, frozen quality that forever links his music to that environment. Sten, working out of units like Supersilent, similarly fashions music that reflects a sonic landscape, but one more akin to the gritty, post-industrial soundworld of The Hafler Trio. His methods include using something he calls “Audio Virus”, a Heath Robinson collection of old kit, homemade electronics and sundry bits of sound-making detritus.
‘Stator’, named after a stationary element within rotating machinery, is an exercise in extreme reductionism, taking both musicians’ distinctive approach and paring it right back. These are tracks that exist in a fragile state of minimalism, from the pretty timbres and carefully controlled distortion of Biosphere’s opening ‘Muses-C’ to Deathprod’s harrowing static soundbed on his closing ‘Optical’. At times, the effect of all these tracks feels like being trapped within a vast machine, stuck to the mechanism and hearing the engine from the point of view of being inside rather than in the external world.
Biosphere’s contributions are quite subtle, quite delicate, quite melodic, although that melody is itself reduced to mere traces of tones or bubbling sequences. Deathprod’s pieces are more immediately arresting, in the sense that they are noisy blasts, albeit discreetly managed, full of reverb and suppressed in the volume department. They have the same sort of urgency that Can captured with the detonation that opened their seminal ‘Oh Yeah’.
Although this is an album best digested as a linear, single work, Biosphere’s ‘Baud’ stands out for no other reason than it sounds like a malfunctioning transmitter pushing out bursts of data into a barren, foggy, post-apocalyptic wasteland. Taken as a whole, ‘Stator’ is far from the background music often associated with the ambient genre. This is a dynamic, many-layered suite of tracks that deserves the listener’s complete, undivided attention.