Brian Eno: Oblique Music

Brian Eno - Oblique Music Book

Oblique Music is a 2016 collection of essays examining Eno’s work as a musician, as a theoretician, as a collaborator, and a producer. It was published by Bloomsbury Publishing, who also released my favorite musicological text, Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. The book is divided into two primary collections of essays – the first pertaining to Eno as composer, musician, and theorist, and the second section on “The University of Eno” exploring his work as a producer, collaborator and ethnographer.

The book’s introduction dives right into Eno’s early influences. Crucial to Eno’s early development as an artist, in addition to his experiences at The Fine Art Department at Ipswich in the mid-sixties, was Beers’ book The Brain of the Firm which Eno received from Jane Harvey, the mother of his first wife. The central insight of the text was this idea: “instead of specifying it in full detail, you simply ride the dynamics of the system where you want to go.” This resolved the stubborn dilemma of how one can get anywhere creatively if they don’t know what or where their destination might be. Beer’s insights were incorporated into Eno’s strategies as he moved from the quasi-hierarchical working structure of Warm Jets to his present position – that of a key part of the creative system, but not necessarily its centre.

It is this very tenet of Eno’s philosophy which attracts me to his generative work – that Eno endeavors to remove the ego from his artistry and instead he merely engineers the conditions from which his process music will commence and then permits the system to run its course. There seems to be an almost Eastern / Buddhist perspective about this approach to musical composition, and I find it infinitely more satisfying than the proud and declarative concrete structures typical of rock music.

Chapter 1: The Bogus Men explores the forcefully and glamorously modern synthesis of style and experimentation pioneered by Roxy Music in the early 1970s. Quoting Allan Moore, essayist David Pattie describes how the band managed to create a sound world in which ‘the traditional instrumental relationships are frequently and subtly overturned.’

The virtual environment of sonic space is examined structurally as three component parts – localized space,  spectral space and morphological space, and contrasts are drawn between the sonic environments of Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” from 1973 and Eno’s “Discreet Music” from 1975. The essay closes touching upon the creative divergence of Eno and Ferry and the unsustainability of the Roxy Music project. “Ferry,” Pattie describes, “was drawn towards the shaping of a musical object; Eno, then and now, preferred to explore systems and processes.” This tension led to the breakdown of their relations.

Chapter 2 explores Eno’s non-musicianship, his experimental tradition, and his strategy of deliberately selecting musicians who would be incompatible with one another, as well as creating conditions wherein the performers are not able to hear each other to introduce unexpected interactions. Both the Portsmouth Sinfonia and The Scratch Orchestra are examined. The chapter closes drawing parallels between the non-musical properties of Discreet Music and Satie’s Musique d’ameublement (“furniture music”) from a half-century before. The chapter addresses the fundamental differences between the teleological nature of traditional musical structures and what Eno calls the ‘hypothetical continuum’ of experimental music.

Describing his ‘non-musicianship,’ Eno remarks,

“Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part. That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.”

In chapter 3: Taking the Studio By Strategy, David Pattie offers an examination of Eno’s creative process. Pattie calls attention to Eno’s serendipitous taxi accident which created the circumstances inspiring his discovery of ambient listening, via the now legendary tale where Eno was bedridden and unable to turn up the volume on a barely-audible recording of eighteenth-century harp music. He also describes Eno’s incorporation of chance into otherwise strictly-structured systems. And like his contemporary Cornelius Cardew, his approach to composition permits hierarchical structures to give way to a more heuristic process. However, Pattie notes, Eno endeavored not to simply recast the compositional framework of Reich’s Music As a Gradual Process, but incorporated the artists’ response to the introduction of chance, via what Eno termed, “scenius” or communal genius.

Chapter 5 by Mark Edward Achtermann entitled Yes, But Is It Music? views and analyses Eno’s earliest ambient works through several lenses and philosophies of established artistic theory beginning with Tolkien’s critique of allegory and aesthetic theory, as well as Collingwood’s 1938 Principles of Art. Eric Tamm’s 1989 book, Brian Eno: His Music and The Vertical Color of Sound is also touched upon to frame the merit of music employing static harmony and timbral homogeneity. It was interesting to see ambient music framed by Tolkien’s theory, specifically his argument that art provides three great benefits: escape, recovery, and consolation. Achtermann proposes that Eno both confirms and challenges this theory. Further parallels are drawn between the systems at play in Eno’s ambient compositions and Lazlo’s evolutionary theory.

The final chapter of Book One entitled The Voice And/Of Brian Eno examines Eno’s post-humanist use of voice in song “to chart the convulsions at the boundaries of race, gender, and the human.” The use and manipulation of voice on albums released between 1991 and 2014 are explored, as are other artists who have synthesized and otherwise technologically manipulated voices of “post-human ventriloquism” in popular song from the 1940s to contemporary artists like Boards of Canada, DJ Shadow, and Giorgio Moroder.

Sean Albiez quotes P.K. Nayar’s Transhumanism proposing that Eno “explores strategies that emphasize co-evolution, symbiosis, feedback, and responses as determining conditions rather than autonomy, competition, and self-contained isolation of the human.” And it is that “loss of ego,” that concept of “scenius” which makes him such a powerful critical force of the post-human perspective.

mi00044121301432564378.jpg

Part 2 is entitled, The University of Eno and explores his work as a producer and collaborator.

Chapter 8: Before and After Eno contextualizes Eno’s seminal lecture, ‘The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool’ and how Eno “acts as a nexus between historical and contemporary currents in experimental, avant-garde, and popular musics.” Parallels are drawn between Eno’s musical philosophy and that of John Cage, as well as those of Satie, Varèse, Russolo, Schaeffer, and other pivotal music theorists of the era of recorded sound. Albiez and Dockwray demonstrate that Eno reiterated ideas many decades in the making but that his work is noteworthy due to his unique position in bridging the early & twentieth-century avant-garde with later experimenters in popular music.

Interestingly, not all of the essays are voices of praise. Elizabeth Ann Lindau offers some important criticism in chapter ten of the ‘ethnographic surrealism’ of Byrne and Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and its role in cultural anthropology. Further criticisms are presented in the final chapters detailing Eno’s role as producer for Devo and U2 as well as in the closing chapter where Martin James’ briefly examines Eno’s curation of the no wave scene in 1978 with the album, No New York.

Oblique Music effectively contextualizes the many facets of Eno’s work throughout the course of his illustrious career. And I appreciated that the text wasn’t all one-sided praise, but instead sheds light on the friction between Eno and his many collaborators. The book also excels at outlining Eno’s musical philosophy without being overly academic and makes for a stimulating survey of one of the most influential artists and producers of the century.

The History of Modern Ambient Music: Part 1 – 1973-1993

Hello friends!  My second video is now up on The Innerspace Connection’s Youtube channel – this is the first of a 2-part series showcasing milestone recordings of modern ambient music.

Here are the highlights of albums recorded between 1973 and 1993, presented in the order of their release.

Or click here for the HD version.

Modern BBC Docu-Rock and Ambient Space Treasures

Friends, I have some very special records in store for you, and many more in the post on their way.

Recently I was exploring related-artist lists for long-standing favorites Sundae Club and Lemon Jelly on a number of music services.  One result had quite an intriguing name, so I gave them a listen.

Public Service Broadcasting is a project of J. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth from London.  The association with Jellyheads and fans of Sundae Club is instantly apparent – their music is electronic, but with a uniquely organic (and perhaps an emotive) element that separates it from the countless electro-pop artists of the day.

PSB uses samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material, which fits well in a playlist of Found Sound Orchestra and Future Loop Foundation recordings.

The result, when paired with their minimalist geometric album packaging, is a krautrock-flavored mechanical sort of BBC documentary music, if you can imagine such a thing.

I enjoyed their INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN LP, but was most impressed by THE WAR ROOM EP.  Just one look at the album jacket and anyone who follows my blog with any frequency will instantly understand why I just had to acquire this glorious disc.

 

Here is your new desktop wallpaper.  You're welcome.

Here is your new desktop wallpaper. You’re welcome.

See if you can detect traces of the metronomic percussion of Neu!’s “Hallo Gallo” in PSB’s music, or a touch of Kraftwerk inspiration in the packaging of INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform-Educate-Entertain

On to other treasures, I had perused the Record Store Day list for April 2014 but no items particularly grabbed me so I sat the holiday out and saved my cash for the seasonal record show that followed.

In the days after the holiday, I stumbled upon a redditor who ran an independent record store in the States offering limited edition RSD items at store-price to those who couldn’t make it that day.  He listed an album that had entirely escaped my radar – a condensed and remastered 50-minute distillation of the epic 24-hour “7 Skies H3” by Flaming Lips.

Available exclusively for RSD, this was most fans’ only opportunity to own a piece of the notorious track, of which 13 copies were produced and sold on a hard drive encapsulated in a real human skull.

Flaming Lips - 24hrskull - 7 Skies H3
The offer was extended to fellow redditors at 11am on the morning of Easter Sunday, and I didn’t hesitate for a single second.  To make the situation even more exciting, I discovered that I had just sold a record I had received for free for the exact price of the Flaming Lips album, which chalks up to getting it for free!

Flaming Lips 7 Skies H3 and KLF MINUS SIX

I should caution fans who acquire this record, however – The album ships with a download code from Warner Music, but the file is not what it appears to be.  There are no options for MP3 quality (or for a FLAC download) – the album automatically downloads a set of files marked as 256 CBR.  I was a tad suspicious of Warner Music so I tested the file and it appears to be only a paltry 128kbps MP3.

If anyone can verify this I would love to hear from you, but I was extremely disappointed that this rare recording was essentially presented in the sonic equivalent of a Napster file from 1999.

"I'm telling you... realplayer is going to be HUGE."

“I’m telling you… RealPlayer is going to be HUGE.”

Regardless, best to focus on the positive – like that mysterious KLF item from the Lips’ photo above!

I cannot express the level of my excitement in finally hearing this special recording.  You may well recall my featuring of Disc 6 and of The KLF Remix Project Part III in earlier entries.

This new disc was to be the ninth in the series of unofficial reworkings of the KLF’s catalog – masterfully engineered and easily one of the finest ambient recordings of the year. Sadly, due to issues beyond the producer’s control, the disc will not be released to the public.

The disc contains a 2014 72-minute epic rework of the original Space LP created 24 years ago, originally as a collaboration between Dr. Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty – the original line-up of The Orb.

For those who aren’t familiar with the outstanding KLF: Recovered & Remastered unofficial releases from my past entries, let me bring you up to speed.

1987. British acid house. Drummond. Cauty. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. The Timelords. The JAMs. One World Orchestra. 2K. The Stadium House Trilogy. Doctorin’ the Tardis. Anarchism.   The White Room. The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Top of the Pops. America: What Time is Love? The Manual. A lost road movie. The K Foundation. Extreme Noise Terror. Why Sheep? Waiting. The Rites of Mu. Chill Out. The birth of Ambient House. Burning a million quid on the Isle of Jura. Abandon all art now. And Space.

There. That about sums it up.

20 years into the silence that followed the K Foundation’s exit from celebrity a man surfaced who set himself to the task of recovering and remastering the KLF’s catalog to fill the void left in Cauty and Drummond’s absence.

The first six releases, catalog #KLF 001 RE – KLF 006 RE were brilliant, and the sixth release, Live From The Lost Continent 2012 presented listeners with a 77-minute stadium-packed concert that never was.

Following this triumph, two more released emerged – KLF MINUS-ONE and KLF MINUS-FOUR, each better than the EP before.

But our hero had one last stupendous project up his sleeve. And in April of 2014, it was complete.

A message from its creator revealed that MINUS-SIX was to be:

“…a 72 minute remodel of the classic SPACE release, sounding like a cross between ‘Silence’ (from Pete Namlook’s legendary Fax +49-69/450464 label), SPACE, and classic ambient drone releases. It’s almost like Trainspotting for KLF fans.”

The original Space LP (1990)

The original Space LP (1990)

The final piece is a monumental achievement – a new Music for Airports, or perhaps a new Selected Ambient Works Vol II.  It effectively unites sparse white-noise drones with all of the familiar elements of the original Space record which made it so memorable.  It is brilliantly subtle, while simultaneously making the sounds of simulated space flight an exciting and dramatic experience.

Then came the crushing news – the MINUS SIX project had suddenly been halted, and there were to be no more releases in the series.

I make no exaggeration when I state that, with this loss, the ambient music audience is experiencing its own Nick Drake, or more accurately – its own SugarMan.

searching-for-sugar-man-poster

At least this dude got his own movie.

Worse yet – because Rodriguez had a nation celebrating his work for generations an ocean away from his quiet daily life, and at least Nick Drake experienced posthumous success – becoming a household name in the years which followed his untimely demise.

But production of MINUS-6 has been cancelled. Quite sadly, the millennium’s ambient and drone audience and the millions of listeners who grew up with the KLF may never hear this record.

Its legend is shroud in mystery. Will KLF fans ever know the engineer’s name?  Why the sudden cease just before unveiling his holy grail?

But perhaps it is the legend and the mystery that adds a touch of vitality to the series.

And I still have hope. The K Foundation announced a 23-year moratorium on all projects beginning November 1995. Perhaps, in honor of the 2018 reformation of the KLF, our mysterious friend will emerge.

My sincerest hope is that the man behind these nine fantastic EPs one day receives the recognition (and listenership) that he deserves.

If you’re out there – Bring the beat back.

The+KLF

 

Attack of the 50 foot Mixtape

It’s been an intense week of genre-hopping and crate digging, (over 50 new albums in all) and I’m just going to lay it on you.

The most exciting find is easily the new Paul McCartney 12″ bootleg – Balearic Rarities.  Comprised of Paul’s forgotten 80s experiments with dance music and what might be labeled as early techno, it’s a far cry from the McCartney we know and love.  Similar tracks appeared on an older double LP bootleg titled, The Lost McCartney II Album.  Here’s “Check My Machine.”

Another bootleg I found was from Beck around the Midnight Vultures era which includes a Bruce Haack cover.  If you’ve never listen to Bruce, check out Electronic Lucifer and The Way Out Record for Children.  You may remember the clips of Haack’s appearance on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which I featured on my old blog.

Along the same vein as Beck’s idiosyncratic musical styling, I’ve finally completed my Cornelius discography, consisting of 36 albums, singles and EPs.  Cornelius has often been tagged as “the Japanese Beck.”  Here’s a classic favorite, “Star Fruit Surf Rider” from his Fantasma album, which Matador records released as his American debut.

Also lovin’ new tunes from It is Rain In My Face, (the solo work of Matt Jones from Brooklyn.)  Delicious chillwave.

If you’re into lo-fi/bedroom pop like the tune above, mark your calendars for July 5th.  Trevor Powers aka Youth Lagoon will be releasing his first 10″ album and from the free singles he’s posted on the Web, it’s one to watch for.  Check out “Cannons.”

I can’t say enough wonderful things about Jimmy LaValle’s solo project.  Jimmy was originally the guitarist for Tristeza, but over the last 12 years he’s toured and released a number of albums as The Album Leaf.  In a Safe Place was recorded in Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studios with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson (of Sigur Ros) and Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv).  His song “Micro Melodies” appeared in the documentary film, Moog – a must-see for all analog synthophiles.

The Album Leaf’s earliest recordings were similar to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.  Over the course of the next few releases, he ventured further into ambient post rock territory.

In early 2010, The Album Leaf released A Chorus of Storytellers, this time with a full band.  Like his past efforts, Storytellers is comprised almost entirely of instrumentals.  Still, “Falling From the Sun” is a song which dispels any notion that lyrics might impede upon his near-perfect formula for songwriting.

Then there are those quazi-novelty records that I buy more for the cover art than anything else.  Funky Entertainment was a flea market find, the last hurrah from the 70s disco funk band, Brainstorm.

It turns out Soul Coughing wasn’t the first band to use a 50s girl in a space suit for album art.

You may have seen Tara Busch’s videos on Youtube.  You may also know her from Analogsuicide.com. Tara is best known as “the chick on the Web who sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ backwards.”

The Crazy CD packaging of the year award goes to Tara for her limited edition Pilfershire Lane box set. The CD comes with a stainless steel pop up model, interchangeable face plates, a recordable circuit, Polaroid 600 photo, and a splice of 16mm film.  Check out the assembled model in the clip below.

One last spaced-out treat for you, courtesy of goldenrecord.blogspot.com.  Listen to “Hang On Sloopy” by The Brooks Arthur Ensemble Featuring Kenny Karen released in 1971.  Golden Records likened it (quite accurately) to the bands Suicide and Spacemen 3.  I could easily see J Spaceman performing this live!

Brooks Arthur Ensemble – Hang on Sloopy 1971

Truckloads of New Music

About two years ago, I picked up nearly one hundred albums worth of dj sets and live material from a few of my favorite artists over the course of the fall.  During the next few years, I cooled my downloading jets and took some time to absorb the material.  Then about a week ago when I had grown tired of the same old thing, I began to investigate the music I had missed.

Around 2007 I was primarily listening to ambient, dream pop, slowcore/sadcore and indie folk music.  After four years, I was worried that each of these genres had nearly disappeared.  It seemed that they had been replaced by innumerable post rock bands and a hundred groups that sound like Arcade Fire.  (Sorry people, I just can’t get into mindie pop.)

Still, I knew that ambient music could not be dead – in 2010 The Black Dog had released the highly acclaimed Music For Real Airports.  It was a contemporary answer to Brian Eno’s genre defining 1978 masterpiece, Music For Airports.  The Black Dog’s album was built from over 200 hours of field recordings, and it was my favorite LP of 2010.  353 copies were pressed, and I got #16.

Music for Real Airports
Low’s Drums and Guns LP from 2007 sustained my faith that slowcore was alive and well but it wasn’t until I visited the Chairkicker website last night that I was struck with the incredible news that April 12th is the release date for Low’s new album, titled C’Mon.  It was recorded in the same church as 2002’s Trust album, so I’m expecting great things.

The 39 second album trailer for C’Mon

Also in 2010, Robert Plant covered two of my favorite Low tracks on his Band of Joy LP.  Both were well-crafted performances and do great justice to the originals.  They’re worth looking up.

I compiled a list of the top 120 artists I was interested in but hadn’t fully explored.  Goldmund, Hammock, Hannu, Helios, Mum and Mus were all in my top 10.  (If you enjoy any of these artists please drop me a line!)  I will listen to each of them in the coming weeks.

I then spent the next 7 days pouring over music blogs to find out what else I missed during this transitional period.  Thanks to the wonder of metadata I found twenty new artists to explore and learned of a micro-genre I had missed in my previous travels.

The first gem I found was a Swedish band called Air France.  They haven’t released a proper album but they have two beefy EPs of catchy chillout tunes that quickly caught my attention.

Here’s a track from their No Way Down EP titled, “Collapsing at your Doorstep.”

Insound laughably described their music as “beach foam pop.”  I found a beautifully sarcastic reply to this statement from the Neogaf forums…

“Let this be a lesson to you, inventing empty terms to describe simple musical styles makes you sound stupid, or ever worse, like a British music journalist.”

Air France appears to be too innocent and not nearly self-conscious enough to fall into the subgenre category I hinted at above – chillwave aka glo-fi.

Chillwave is nothing new, it was the so-called talk of the blogosphere in 2009.  The term was originally coined by Carles of Hipster Runoff and was used interchangably with the term glo-fi or even hypnagogic pop.  Poster bands would include Toro Y Moi, Million Young, Blackbird Blackbird, Memoryhouse, Weird Tapes, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Small Black and Delorean.

If you’ve ever listened to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch or Ariel Pink then you’ve heard the beginnings of the socially shunned sub-genre.

Toro Y Moi – Still Sound

To oversimplify the formula – record ambient psychedelic loops with some needlessly heavy effects and 80s synths, channel it all through a handheld tape recorder and stick a picture of a seagull flying on your album cover.  Perform at SXSW and you’re all set.

As cheesy as it sounds I still like what I’ve found so far.  There’s no shortage of bands offering their EPs for free or next-to-free and Soundcloud is loaded with chillwave mixes.  Even better is the latest incarnation of chillwave – blisscore.  Tanlines, Lemonade and Delorean are great examples.

But who knows… depending on how amazing this new Low album is, I may just tune out for another couple of years.

If you’re feeling particularly bitter and cynical about the whole concept, head over to flavorwire.com and read “How to Start a Chillwave band.”

Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul

As a massive fan of ambient music, there are few classic albums that stand out above all others.  Brian Eno’s seminal masterpiece, Music For Airports will forever hold my number one position, both for jump starting the genre of contemporary ambient music and for initiating me into ambient culture many years ago.  Harold Budd’s collaborations with Eno – The Pearl and The Plateaux of Mirror are also both highly recommended.

This evening I was going through my library looking for ambient house albums I hadn’t listened to since college.  I was re-exploring the KLF discography when I came upon Chill Out and Space.

KLF - Chill OutThe KLF – Chill Out

Chill Out is essentially a post-rave ride home from Texas into Louisiana.

The Orb’s hit single, “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld,” and the KLF albums Chill Out and Space are actually quite closely related.  Each of the three contain material recorded from Trancentral, (the KLF basement studio), and from the monthly “Land Of Oz” nights at Heaven, the London nightclub.  These sessions were a collaboration with Alex Paterson of The Orb.  “Ultraworld,” Space, and Chill Out were the result of those sessions.

KLF - SpaceThe KLF – Space

If you’re a fan of these albums, there is an incredible amount of information available from the Chill Out Facebook fanpage.

Chill Out and Space will be my next ambient vinyl purchases.

Brian Eno – Music For Airports – 1-1

Eno and Budd – The Pearl

KLF – Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul, 3 AM