Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brian Eno

Word has come down that Lux, a new Brian Eno album, will be released on November 13. This will be his third on the seminal Warp label, and his first solo effort since 2005. Small Craft On A Milk Sea, a collaboration with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams from 2010, was nearly a return to form, as far as his instrumental music is concerned. Last year’s Drums Between The Bells saw him working with poet Rick Holland in a spoken-word format that didn’t quite take off. But I have high hopes for Lux based on the pure conjecture that he’s feeling the heat from his label-mate Flying Lotus, whose brilliant Until The Quiet Comes is the best electronic release of 2012. On the eve of Lux, here are some thoughts on Eno and his music.

I remember reading an interview with Eno in the early 80′s (in late, lamented Musician magazine), where he described spending time in Africa and how he would sit outside with his headphones on, listening to his Walkman as it recorded the night sounds of the jungle. Then there was a little note that said: [Why not just take the headphones off? - ed.] The answer to that question is simple: because then he wouldn’t be Eno. The idea of filtering – thoughts, sounds, perceptions, even the creative process itself – in central to Eno’s method. He’s been credited on some albums with one word: treatments, which kind of says it all.

He first came to my attention through his work with the Talking Heads, where his production was obviously central to their transfiguration from nerved-up bubblegum pop to floor-filling funk avatars. Remain In Light was the pinnacle of that collaboration and its creation was preceded by his record with David Byrne called My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Thirty years later, its mixture of art-rock grooves with recordings of preachers, mystics and recordings from other cultures is still stunning.

Notice taken, I bought a box set called Working Backwards, 1973 – 1983, and did just that. What a body of work! Simultaneously while making signature records like Here Come The Warm Jets (with it’s perennial show-stopper Baby’s On Fire) and Another Green World (with the ultra-charming I’ll Come Running (To Tie Your Shoes), he found time to invent a new genre, Ambient Music. The idea was to create a sort of good Muzak, sounds that could be in the background, but that were interesting enough so that you could turn your attention to them if you so desired. I’m not sure if his Music For Airports was ever played in an airport, but it has had a second life as an orchestral concert work.

Speaking of second lives, while Eno’s work with the Talking Heads and David Bowie (Low, Heroes, Lodger) was legendary, none of us fans could have predicted what would happen when he starting working with a scrappy band of Irishmen called U2. Globe-dominating success followed, along with the fact that the formerly glammed up co-founder of Roxy Music would never have to work again. But work he did, continuing with U2 and moving on to Coldplay. I’m no fan of either of these bands but it is heartening to see Eno get his due.

Since he became a mega-producer, he’s released a few good records, most notably Wrong Way Up and Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, collaborations with John Cale and David Byrne, respectively. His original run of albums is forever undeniable and should stand as his ultimate achievement, along with his radical work on the first two Roxy albums. When it came to the ambient records, he often liked to put little diagrams on the back, explanations of how the music was made, or instructions for how to maximize the listening experience. Once, when my parents were away, I took one of their speakers and wired it into my stereo to make the tri-phonic set-up described on the back of Ambient 4: On Land. I put the needle down, sat in my chair and…something happened. I think I went into a spontaneous hypnotic state, which continued until the side ended. It was an amazing experience and par for the course when you’re a fan of the man born Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno!

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