England - Full Moon 250 - 01/12/17
In the mid and late 1970s I was a big fan of Genesis. Brian Eno guested with his synthesizer on "In The Cage", one of the key tracks of the group's epic double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Drummer Phil Collins returned this favour by drumming on a track on Eno's second song-based solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). He contributed even more on the following two Eno songs albums. I was eventually curious/completist enough to pick them up and was in for a pleasant surprise. Soon after I was a big Eno fan and discovered his other musical side, the ambient albums, as well. They also turned out to be pleasant surprises in a very different way. I picked up most of them, released by Eno's own label Obscure Records and the Ambient series. This way I discovered other exiting composers and musicians as well, like Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, Jon Hassell, Harold Budd, even John Cage helped out by Robert Wyatt! By 1984 Eno had discovered the possibilities of the new compact disc format that fitted his ambient compositions better than the old vinyl record. This meant the end of crackles and scratches interfering with his hushed-down music. The following year Eno was about the first artist to release an album especially fitted for CD, Thursday Afternoon, with only one track, but it lasted more than an hour. This release was probably a main reason why I bought a CD player as early as I did. It was about the first CD I bought, and I was deeply disappointed. I found this particular Thursday afternoon really boring and fell asleep on the sofa some minutes into the album. If it had been a comfortable sleep with pleasant dreams it might have served its purpose, but it didn't. I gave up Eno's ambient project for several years, but treasured his older ambient albums as much as before. It wasn't until well into the present century that I dared to listen to his new ambient creations, and they didn't sound too bad. On last years' The Ship he even introduced normal structured singing in an ambient context!
Reflection was the first album to be released in 2017, as far as I know, on 1. January. It follows the tradition of Thursday Afternoon. There's only the title track, that lasts about 54 minutes this time. But it's got a little bit more substance and variation than its predecessor (I've just listened to it again, without falling asleep this time). There's some simple synth reverbed notes as the fundament, overlaid by simple reverbed notes that sounds closer to electric piano with the occasional exotic sounds like a kinda melodic scream from a colourful bird in the jungle. Let's put Brian through, for a better explanation (from his home page):
Reflection is the latest work in a long series. It started (as far as record releases are concerned) with Discreet Music in 1975 ( - or did it start with the first Fripp and Eno album in 1973? Or did it start with the first original piece of music I ever made, at Ipswich Art School in 1965 - recordings of a metal lampshade slowed down to half and quarter speed, all overlaid?)
Anyway, it's the music that I later called 'ambient'. I don't think I understand what that term stands for anymore - It seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows - but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.
The pedigree of this piece includes Thursday Afternoon, Neroli (whose subtitle is Thinking Music IV) and Lux. I've made a lot of thinking music, but most of it I've kept for myself. Now I notice that people are using some of those earlier records in the way that I use them - as provocative spaces for thinking - so I feel more inclined to make them public.
Pieces like this have another name: they're generative. By that I mean they make themselves. My job as a composer is to set in place a group of sounds and phrases, and then some rules which decide what happens to them. I then set the whole system playing and see what it does, adjusting the sounds and the phrases and the rules until I get something I'm happy with.
Reflection is so called because I find it makes me think back. It makes me think things over. It seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation. And external ones actually - people seem to enjoy it as the background to their conversations. When I make a piece like this most of my time is spent listening to it for long periods - sometimes several whole days - observing what it does to different situations, seeing how it makes me feel. I make my observations and then tweak the rules. Because everything in the pieces is probabilistic and because the probabilities pile up it can take a very long time to get an idea of all the variations that might occur in the piece.
Perhaps you can divide artists into two categories: farmers and cowboys. The farmers settle a piece of land and cultivate it carefully, finding more and more value in it. The cowboys look for new places and are excited by the sheer fact of discovery, and the freedom of being somewhere that not many people have been before. I used to think I was temperamentally more cowboy than farmer... but the fact that the series to which this piece belongs has been running now for over 4 decades makes me think that there's quite a big bit of farmer in me.'
Well, there ain't much western swing about Reflection. It certainly doesn't kicks ass, but works very well for, yes, you know, reflection. Not least on the back in a dark room. I can also confirm it works as background sounds in conversation with other people. In a cultivated way, of course. The album is available as a downloadable or streamable digital album and also in the good old physical CD and double LP formats. With the latter it had to be divided into four parts, one for each LP side, of course. But there is a more sophisticated possibility as well, an app via Apple TV/iOS. Here you can keep the music going along with changing video artwork in the generative way described by Eno above for as long as you wish. There are no interactive options with the app, though, so the listener can't tweak the rules as Eno could, only listen.
Eno is god, a friend of mine once declared. That was a long time ago. He may not be ground-breaking in a divine way anymore, but it's always worth checking out his thoughts, ideas and music. The latter both of the song-based and ambient kind.
Copyright © 2017 JP