10. Ismistik – ‘Remain’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Ismistik - Remain

Ismistik * Remain * 1994 * DJAX

The quiet masterpiece of Norway’s Bjorn Torske and Mette Brundtland, Ismistik’s Remain is a bittersweet, dreamy record. It sounds like it was literally handcrafted, gentle care put into every electronic note and beat. So that decades later, its delicate beauty still glows with a numinous light that renews mind and spirit.

As music critic Tim Barr once declared, Remain was the sound of a group “surfing romantic moods, experimentalism and pure electronic genius.”

At the heart of that sound was a longing from the outer limits of humanity. Ismistik hailed from the small harbor city of Tromso, which sits in the northern reaches of Norway, inside the Arctic circle and in the middle of the aurora borealis zone. It’s a magical but harsh setting. In summertime, the days are long and beautiful with a deep blue ocean glittering under snowcapped mountains. Flowers and animals creak into colorful activity after long slumbers. From May to July, the midnight sun never sets.

But in winter, Tromso is shrouded in cold darkness as the polar night extends from October to March. With the stars bright, this “Detroit of the north” turns into a frontier settlement at Earth’s edge, its boats sputtering off in the distance like spaceships. The mystic show of the northern lights limns the sky with curtains of green, red and purple, electrons dancing in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Remain refracted all of these natural phenomena. It perfectly captured the native yearnings of Tromso’s electronic scene — which included Royksopp‘s Torbjorn Brundtland, Biosphere‘s Geir Jenssen and Mental Overdrive‘s Per Martinsen — as well as the global idealism of the time. The delicate ‘Absence’ falls like a ghost of an avalanche in slow motion. ‘Orange Peel’ and ‘Woodvibe’ chirp with melodies fine as sunshine creeping through a morning mountain cloud. And the understated ‘Bulb’ is hands down one of the most beautiful electronica compositions ever written, surfing on heartache and determined optimism.

Released in a golden year for electronica, 1994, Remain‘s remote milieu in the Arctic climes of northern Scandinavia muted its international impact. Subsequent releases by Torske under his own name took on a sunnier flavor, the northern lights of his hometown increasingly faint in his grooving chords. Which makes the singular brilliance of his debut album with Brundtland all the more wistful.

Made at a time when electronic music was reaching every remote outpost of humanity, Remain‘s simultaneous appeal and obscurity remains a poetic testament to the power of Ismistik’s romantic wonder. It’s the little album that could. And it still gives those who know it, big, awesome chills.

1. Absence
2. Woodvibe
3. Orange Peel
4. Running Water
5. Cassis
6. Daybreak
7. Bulb
8. Tortoise Thoughts
9. Phidou
10. Flowcharts Remade
11. Cycling

Leave a Reply