As human beings, we have different ideas of what Heaven (or death, or the afterlife) might look like. Some people picture marble Greco-Roman structures, others imagine being able to journey through the universe, detached from reality yet still aware of it. Many believe that a nothingness exists on the other side, although the term “exists” might be a misnomer considering what they describe is the total absence of existence. Personally, I found Dante’s “Paradiso” to be the most interesting interpretation when I was younger — not because I agreed with it or found it pleasant, but the opposite.
“Paradiso” is meant to be a glorious depiction of the most virtuous aspects of humanity, and yet to me, it exhibits a much more terrifying essence. The visual of a blank maelstrom of angels churning in an endless vortex is unnerving in its own right, but the figure of the angel itself — an incongruent light with a pair of wings attached — is what always terrified me the most. I’m supposed to believe something so ambiguous, so soulless, that is not only a conscious entity but the literal representation of a soul itself? I only bring this up because while listening to Biosphere’s new project Angel’s Flight, thoughts of “Paradiso” came swirling back like the beings that inhabit it.
Of course, I am in no way trying to argue that Geir Jenssen, the man who has been creating music as Biosphere for over 25 years, was inspired by or even thought of “The Divine Comedy” when creating his album, but there is no doubt the same level of ambiguity at work here. Make no mistake, Angel’s Flight is one of the most obscure and complex pieces of music to come out this year so far, which is weird to say, considering it’s an ambient project whose sounds and melodies are based on “Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14.”
One would think the simplicity and familiarity would create some semblance of groundedness, and yet the project thrives in a world between worlds. Perhaps as consequence, the album cover by Alex McCullough and Noah Baker augments this liminality. The art is both captivating and ephemeral, so full and yet so empty, descriptors that could easily be applied to the music as well. Biosphere allows nothing to feel certain.
Even though their sounds are nothing alike, Jenssen often exhibits a Frippian obsession with incongruency. Icy textures that feel halfway between string and synth modulate between beautiful melody and unsettling tension in such a fluid manner that I came up with the term “auditory motion sickness” while listening to it. But I still listened, over and over, until the sounds were rolling off me like the tepid waves of a shallow pond.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever find out if Biosphere was thinking about death as he constructed this album. Nonetheless, it helped me understand why I felt so petrified by Dante’s angels. It is human nature to fear what is ambiguous.
Angel’s Flight embodies not only the ambiguity of death, but also of life. We are — in spite of our ego telling us otherwise — quite limited creatures. We can’t say we understand our universe even slightly. We can’t even say we understand each other most of the time. It is a terrifying realization, but there is also a beauty to our vulnerability. It forces us to be creative, to expose ourselves.
This album exhibits all of these things. Angel’s Flight makes you feel amorphous, for a time. It stretches and pulls at you until all signs of self are gone, and all that is left is a bare core. A core that has no choice but to let an angel wearing the cloak of Beethoven’s Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile take you upwards.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at email@example.com.