Higher Intelligence Agency and Biosphere | Polar Sequences
Beyond (1996), Headphone (2003) | CD
By 1995 Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) and Higher Intelligence Agency (Bobby Bird) were both well established on the ambient music scene and were separately pushing at the boundaries of the genre in both live and recorded settings. That year Higher Intelligence Agency would release the classic 'Freefloater' (Beyond) and in two years Biosphere would release the genre-defining album 'Substrata' (All Saints).
Jenssen and Bird met up during October 1995 for the first of two documented live collaborations at gigs in Tromso, Norway - Jenssen's home town - on a snow capped mountain accessible only by cable car. The result was 'Polar Sequences' and on this and the later 'Birmingham Frequencies' (Headphone, 2000) - recorded in Bird's home town - the brief was to use sounds sourced from the immediate locality.
Not surprisingly then, environmental sounds feature prominently, but the tracks are far from straight field recordings. The pair deftly mingle snatches of conversation, the clanking of lift machinery and a host of arctic sounds (meltwater, ice crunching, glacial creaks, wind and rain) - an effective merging of the hostile/outside and sheltered/inside sound-worlds characteristic of the gig and its location. Typical of both artists there is a strong, but sympathetic melodic element with most of the tracks reaching a steady rhythmic stride.
'Cimmerian Shaft', the opening track, establishes a tone of menace that is strongly suggestive of inherent local danger. A dark undertow characterises the remaining tracks, but all exhibit a natural ebb and flow and shifts from dark to light that mimic changes in the weather. With no glaring edges, no lapses, and nothing that sounds 'jammed in' it would be difficult to identify this as live material but it speaks volumes for the artists that such coherent recordings are not only live but arise from a cluster of one-off performances.
Cited by some as one of the best ambient albums ever this CD sees a welcome re-release to perhaps a new and wider audience.