By 1997, when Insomnia came out, I was head-deep into electronic music, and I bought the soundtrack without much caring about the movie itself.  I must have come across it in one of the used record stores scattered around D.C. (Flying Saucer, DCCD, 12” Dance Records), because there’s no way I could have afforded the Norwegian import.  Not on a bookseller/part-time DJ’s salary, at least.

I’ve been a fan of Geir Janssen ever since he was a part of the band Bel Canto (with ethereal chanteuse Anneli Drecker and cute, bespectacled Nils Johansen).  I first discovered Bel Canto on Teletunes, with their video for “Birds of Passage,” and being a sucker for moody European synth-pop with gossamer singers, quickly tracked their first two albums which — luckily for me — were released in the US.  Janssen’s solo work under the moniker Biosphere, however, was slightly more difficult to find:  his first two albums were only released in Austria on the famed ambient label, Apollo.

What I knew of ambient music when I was younger was what I’d heard on Hearts of Space.  I sat beside my Dad’s stereo at midnight on Saturday, my finger hovering above the ‘record’ button on the cassette deck.  Even though I enjoyed it, much of what I heard struck me as hokey — like I should have been weaving dreamcatchers as I listened.  I felt the same way about soundtracks, as well:  stripped of their emotional context, soundtracks seemed somewhat thin.

But by the time I hit college, ambient music had taken a different place in my life.  I’d outgrown industrial music (no longer angry) and mainstream dance music (overexposure from work).  What I wanted — after an afternoon of shilling books and then a night of playing David Morales and Peter Rauhofer remixes — was to be transported.  Out of my studio apartment, out of Dupont Circle and its lazy Susan of entertainments.  When I put my CD of Insomnia into the player, I let the sound sink me deep into Norway.  The music was sparse and icy:  refracted piano chords, low electronic throbs.  I wondered:  what was happening in the film at that moment?  Who were those ghostly faces on the cover?  Why the tagline “No rest for the wicked”?  It was a soundtrack not for any film in particular, but the one projected on the ceiling as I lie on my futon, hands behind my head.

Yesterday, on the summer solstice, I rewatched Insomnia.  NPR had broadcast a story about the Midnight Sun Parade in Nome, Alaska, and I imagined the all-night (-day?) parties starting up in Scandinavia.  Pagans jumping over bonfires, beaches awash with vitamin D-seekers.   Sleepless Swedish detectives getting trapped in Norway and having hallucinations about their murdered partners.  Upstairs, on the third floor ‘man-den,’ I reclined on the couch in the sweltering heat.  The A/C blew intermittently.  Matthew was out watering the garden, trying to save his plants.

I put on Ruxpin’s album Avalon and remembered why I listened to ambient music:  it sets your mind adrift.  By the time “In Form of a Bird I Meet My Creator” came on, I had unmoored from the blistering Delaware summer and, amidst sunshine, slept blissfully.

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