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Biosphere and Higher Intelligence Agency

'Birmingham Frequencies' (10.95)

Audio CD plus CD Rom section with Video footage.

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Tracklist and MP3s
Cannon Hill [Hi-Fi, Lo-Fi]
Gas Street Basin [Hi-Fi, Lo-Fi]
Narrowboat [Hi-Fi, Lo-Fi]
The Rotunda [Hi-Fi, Lo-Fi]
Augusta Road

Polar Sequences and Birmingham Frequencies are two parts of a same project. Polar Sequences, released in 1996, was recorded two years earlier, during Tromso’s Polar Music Festival. Tromso, hometown of Biosphere’s Geir Jenssen, is situated 70 degrees north, above the Arctic Circle, in Norway.
In 1995, the organisers of the festival commissioned Geir Jenssen and Higher Intelligence Agency’s Bobby Bird, a series of three concerts, using environmental sounds recorded in the area. The concerts were given on top of a mountain, where the audience was brought to in turn by cable car.
The second part of this project was put together by Bird and Jenssen, using a similar approach, this time set in Bobby Bird’s native Birmingham. The chosen venue was on the twelfth floor of the Rotunda, situated in the heart of the city. The one off event also featured videos and digital images, as well as a café and one of the best views over Birmingham.
The music created for the two events is very similar in form, the two artists creating a slow moving, chilled soundtrack. But where Polar Sequences feels very natural, using sounds of snow and melting ice, the only human interaction being the cable car, Birmingham Frequencies is definitely more urban. Voices of children playing in a park or a pelican crossing alarm are amongst the sounds used as the basis for the creation. These two records are complementary, and Jenssen and Bird both bring their own creativity and technology to a very interesting project. Absolutely unmissable.

Milk Factory Review above.

Ambient ain't dead, it's just biding its time. While its chillroom chic spawned a genre which at times so crassly exploited the name that the term became almost pejorative, its true pioneers have continued to quietly develop challenging and multifacetted soundspaces. Among them are Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) and Higher Intelligence Agency (Bobby Bird), both of whom were in the vanguard of early 1990s ambient.

In 1995, they took the cable car together to the top of a mountain outside Tromsø and produced Polar Sequences, one of the truly classic ambient collaborations, comparable to the Brian Eno/Harold Budd records. Now they have ascended a tower in midtown Birmingham and applied the same aesthetic used in pastoral Norway to a city centre in England.

Employing sounds sourced from their surroundings, "Birmingham Frequencies" is perhaps a tad more dynamic, as befits the urban perspective, than the undulating aurora borealis of Polar Sequences. The patented, warm electronics of Biosphere are perfectly complemented by the jauntier rhythms and extrapolations of HIA. Although there is an air of light pervading the entire album - this virtual tour opens in bright sunshine with the twitterings of little children at play - one also discerns an undertext, the juxtaposition of old and new that characterizes any big city in flux: analogue familiarity versus digital distance. Track four, named after "The Rotunda" in which the performance took place, makes a welcome detour into spooky guitar and bass strummings over a slow rhythm. Finally and somewhat perversely, the album ends with a track entitled "Midway", the listener left hanging in the air. More to come?

Review by Stephen Fruitman

Order a copy here (Select 'Music by Genre > 'Ambient')


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