Arctic Ambient (or) Ambient House at 30,000 Ft

I’ve really been enjoying my copies of Gas’ Nah Und Fern vinyl set and the deluxe edition 9LP set of William Basinki’s epic Disintegration Loops. It seemed long-overdue that I retrace my musical steps to the summer of 2009 when I’d first crossed paths with a fellow music-lover and ambient guru who introduced me to Gas in the first place.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

He’d mentioned several similar artists which I briefly sampled but never fully-explored.  There’s no better time than the present to remedy that mistake.

This friend had a particular affinity for Nordic-based “arctic-ambient” music – frigid soundscapes of isolation and desolation. Still these recordings had a cerebral and meditative quality that really draws the listener in and that’s something I really need in my life at present.

So I began my re-visiting of 2009 with an artist whose name happened to surface in one of my online vinyl communities. (Call it a sign if you’d like.) Biosphere is Geir Jenssen – a Norwegian musician specializing in ambient electronic music. It was while researching him that I first-encountered the term, “arctic-ambient” and I just had to hear more. In 2001 users of the online rave community, Hyperreal voted his Substrata LP as the best all-time classic ambient album. It was this very album which surfaced in the vinyl community and inspired my rediscovery of the genre, and I was truly impressed by the transportive quality of the record.

Another artist I recalled as having worked with Biosphere was HIA. Higher Intelligence Agency is the music project of Bobby Bird of Birmingham, UK. I was instantly excited to learn that he had released two ambient glitch albums on Pete Namlook’s brilliant FAX +49-69/450464 label of which I make frequent mention.

HIA collaborated with Biosphere on two live recordings, namely the frigid Polar Sequences in 1996…

…and the more temperate Birmingham Frequencies in 1999.

These are wonderfully expansive, atmospheric recordings and make for excellent headphone listening.

But stripping things down to the very shell of ambient music I found the next half-forgotten memory of the summer long-passed.  Deathprod is Norwegian artist Helge Sten. (I envision Norway as being absolutely overrun with ambient laptop musicians.) If you only buy one Deathprod album, get the self-titled Deathprod box set. (Not cheating – box sets are okay in my book.) The 4-disc set comprises Morals and Dogma, Treetop Drive (a long-deleted album from 1994), Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha from 1996, and “Reference Frequencies” (a disc of previously unreleased, rare and deleted tracks). Better-still, Deathprod Collaborated with Biosphere in 1998 on the album, Nordheim Transformed.

Christian Fennesz (performing simply as “Fennesz”) of Vienna, Austria has produced a number of albums in the same stark, ambient-electronic vein. Highlights include his 2004 album Venice,

Endless Summer from 2001

and Black Sea released in 2008.

I also enjoyed his collaborations with ambient veteran, Ryuichi Sakamoto – Cendre (2007)

…and Flumina (2011).

Fennesz creates white-noise washes of modified guitar loops very much in the spirit of the Frippertronic tape works of Fripp and Eno and Sakamoto adds a refined touch of modern-classical solo piano.

Deaf Center is the last major piece of this dark ambient puzzle.  Norway’s Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland produce epic and theatrical minimal soundscapes.  To steal a beautifully-concise description from RYM user, Son_of_Northern_Darkness – Deaf Center is, “a nice soundtrack to the construction of your own snow-coffin.”

Neon City was an impressive first-outing for the duo, but their first full-length LP released the following year, Pale Ravine stands as their most cohesive work thus far.

Neon City

and the haunting, Pale Ravine

To close with something a bit more lively, Sweden’s own Carbon Based Lifeforms leans more in the direction of psybient music, with their heavy usage of melodic loops, echoes, and steady rhythms. This is ambient music with a vibrant pulse. Check out World of Sleepers

So thank you, my old friend for sharing such wonderful music with me.  I’m sorry it’s taken me all these years to really explore it, but better late than never!

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