Biosphere – Substrata (1997)

Geir Jenssen’s 1997 “Substrata” album is considered by many to be one of the most essential, genre-defining pieces of ambient of all times. And I concur.

Substrata was my first contact with this “serious” form of ambient. Back then, I’ve been listening to some chill-out and dub (if I remember correctly…), and the occasional beatless opening or closing track on a goa/trance album. But an entire album of such atmospheric and ethereal intensity? It left a lasting impression on me.


Substrata Front Cover


From the very first moments of “As the Sun kissed the Horizon“, it is deeply mesmerizing. Even today, whenever I hear the droning sound of an airplane passing high above, I’m reminded of the opener of this album. I’m not going into a track-by-track rundown of the album. I think it’s intended to be listened to from the beginning to the end without interruption. This works so well that around track four, I almost fall asleep – and right at that point, there’s the sample from the “Giant” in Twin Peaks, beginning with “Sorry to wake you” – and I’m spooked out by it every time. 🙂

It is certainly an album that is more on the cold and dark side of the ambient spectrum. There’s no new-age feel-good happiness in here. Substrata maybe was the album that gave the entire long-form, droning, “glacial” or “polar” ambient scene a big boost.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve became interested in this type of music just when it was released. I was there! But after Substrata, it was hard to find anything as hauntingly beautiful and intense. And the biggest problem for Geir Jenssen is probably that even today, none of the albums he released afterwards comes close to the level of Substrata, 18 years after its release.

You can listen to the album (and buy the download version) on Bandcamp. Track 12 “Laika” is a bonus track that was not on the original CD release. There’s also a “Substrata 2” which contains some new material and the original tracks. I have to be honest with you: I never listened to it. It can’t possibly be better.

This is the first in a series of posts about what my personal “essential ambient” albums are. The “stranded on a lonely island” type of music that I will never grow tired of. I’m writing these posts in no particular order, as they come to mind. Which maybe reflects my personal ranking, but then again, that might change depending on my mood, the time of day, etc. – taste is such a wonderful thing. 🙂

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