It makes sense that a project named Biosphere would delve into how people survive on earth, likewise that an electronic musician would pay close attention to power sources. N-Plants is the product of Geir Jenssenís inquiry into Japanís heavy and perplexingly blithe reliance on the original energy alternative, nuclear power. This music is supposed to be a soundtrack for nine plants. But the timing of this albumís recording, just one month before the commencement of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and its release four months afterward burdens it with a significance that the music just canít support.
Itís no mean trick for instrumental music to comment directly upon current events, and it usually does so either through obvious sonic references (the cannons in the The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49), emotional evocation (John Coltraneís ďAlabamaĒ), or simply anointing a piece of music with a title that refers to the event under consideration. The third is usually the least effective option, but thatís exactly what we have here. N-Plantís nine pieces could just as easily have been named after canneries, koi ponds, or members of Japanís World Cup champion soccer team.
Granted, Jenssen set himself a hard task: What does nuclear power (as opposed to nuclear destruction) sound like, anyway? But hey, he asked for the job. Thereís nothing in ďMonju-2ísĒ oscillating figures and recurrent buzzes that brings to mind the appalling saga of accidents and public relations gaffes associated with the Monju-2 reactor, which has generated just one hour of power and has served mainly to enrich attorneys since it suffered a major accident in 1995. Likewise itís hard to know what the subliminal whirrs and percolating bloops on ďSendai-1Ē have to do with the Sendai-1 plant, which in January 2010 experienced an accident that resulted in one death and six injuries. Yes, Sendai is one of the cities slammed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami; however Sendai-1 is actually located on Kyushu in the far south of Japan, so it did not melt down, and you can be sure that the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi debacle will make sure no one fusses about such small-potatoes accidents for a long time. Speaking of which, thatís one plant thatís not name-checked here.
N-Plants is not Biosphereís finest musical moment, either. Its beats are kind of big and obvious, its synth sounds overly familiar, its melodies pleasant but hardly indelible. If Jenssen hadnít preemptively tried to shake us up by associating his music with Japanís nuclear safety record, this review would probably devote more time to wondering what sort of a shake itíll take for Jenssen to get back to the top of his game, because heís far from it musically and conceptually on N-Plants.