"It's just like Music For Airports, innit?" the suave man with the leather jacket, the expensive camera and the British accent was saying. We were all on our way out of the somewhat nondescript Church of All Nations on West 57th Street, having just spent the past 80 minutes or so listening to Brian Eno's LUX at an invitation-only listening event courtesy of Warp Records.
Perhaps Mr. Brit Suave was right, but only in a superficial sense. LUX, essentially an album length composition in four parts (though it felt continuous), is based on a work Eno created for the Great Gallery of La Venaria in Turin, Italy, and makes explicit reference to Ambient 1: Music For Airports, Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror (with Harold Budd), Ambient 4: On Land, Neroli, and Thursday Afternoon. But it is in no way "just like" any of these. While it occupies the same universe of what Eno termed Ambient Music, LUX is it's own discreet (yes) planet.
I can't say for sure why Warp chose to hold these listening sessions here and England, but I respect their effort to engage people outside of the music criticism complex, such as it is, and was grateful for the opportunity to step in off the sidewalk of my life and just listen. Naturally, I took some notes as the music unspooled from the nave of the church.
A series of tones, dropped, continuing then fading out, but not before new tones overlap. Piano? Violins? Something synthetic? Possibly all three. A major key feel, but calming and contemplative, very much in the mold of the early ambient works. Harold Budd is present, if only in theory and mood. About five minutes in, melodies and repeating motifs begin to emerge, along with a sense of foreground and background. It's like watching a painting take shape, or a time lapse of natural phenomena, such as ripples on a pond or crystals forming.
Around the ten minute mark, some new sounds make their entrance, sharper sounds, and then what is definitely a guitar (actually "Moog Guitar," played by Leo Abrahams) takes over part of the foreground. Eventually, echoes and reverb become the source of repetition and the mood gradually darkens - but only for a moment.
One wonders if there is science or theory behind the structure of the piece as a whole, or in the way one note follows another. At the same time, it all flows beautifully and feels quite organic.
Forty or so minutes in, there are more patterns, quieting the part of the mind that seeks to organize what it hears, but gradually the piece returns to sound following sound. Then you realize that these actually comprise larger sections and that they are alternating, creating a much larger pattern. Over an hour after it began, Lux continues and, while it would be easy to drift off, it is also easy to remain engaged. Near the end, Eno makes some moves that, in the context of an ambient work, could be called dramatic. More dynamics, patterns overlaying patterns, possibly guitar feedback reminiscent of Robert Fripp's work on Evening Star. Then it fades out, ending, as a car horn blares from outside.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Mr. Suave was wrong. Music For Airports is a classic and groundbreaking recording, but as a composition it is far less assured and sophisticated than LUX. Much of Airports relies on easy, Satie-esque melodies that comfort the casual listener. As such, it is an excellent introduction to Eno's sound world, like a well-appointed foyer, but it is certainly not the whole house. LUX is a gorgeous, lush new addition to the magnificent manor of Eno's ambient works and a room I look forward to visiting again.
In North America, LUX is released on CD and download on November 13, and vinyl on December 10.