The box set (Deluxe and Standard CD editions, Vinyl set) that some of us have been waiting for, for decades. This is a retrospective of one of modern electronic music’s most significant maestros, here is Brian Eno‘s Music for Installations (Opal Records). And happy birthday to him, a septuagenarian just today in fact. The collection was just released this month, and most of the work included on these half dozen discs is previously unreleased, some new while others have been derived from a/v presentations at the Venice Biennale, St. Petersburg’s Marble Palace, Beijing’s Ritan Park and illuminating the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The set is a great cross section of Eno’s in-situ soundworks created since the mid 80’s through today. From the ethereal Kazakhstan to the subliminal Surbahar Sleeping Music the original ambient experimenter par excellence delivers some incredible moody, situational pieces that are as dramatic as they are ultimately timeless.
The Nick Robertson deluxe case design comes with a full color booklet and much more, and looks just amazing from the press materials, perhaps I will obtain a copy to go into more details about the graphics and packaging later. For now, I’m lost in the bucolic eccentricities emanating from disc one. The multilayered synths never stop short of developing an atmosphere thick with suspended illusion. He incorporates bells and echo here and there throughout with varying pitch that leave their trace, aural watermarks lingering in space. Many of the tracks leave you with a better understanding of how even a recording of a live situation, or interior, can help the imagination understand dimensional specifics.
Many of Eno’s visual works incorporate various technology and the use of light, and though I have yet to have the privilege to experience any of these physically tangible works in the round, this set gives an ample opportunity to imagine being there, and Five Light Paintings is one such example. Infused with a slow-go downtempo ambient presence it’s part apparition, part variegated lightscape. This is my second time hearing disc two, 77 Million Paintings, released back in 2006 on DVD (All Saints). And it’s no less intriguing in its thick bass core, gong-like bells and heavily distorted vocal that are more like alien throat singing than intelligible spoken word. The copter-like percussion adds some tension alongside the rhythm in a silky slither of meditative sparkle.
Halfway through disc three offers two long tracks about lightness (of being, of space/time). So it is interesting to note that both Atmospheric Lightness and Chamber Lightness are a bit darker than the previous disks. No, it’s not like most of the so-called “dark ambient” these days, instead it’s as if Eno has simply added a scrim or tinted filter to an otherwise orbiting melange of futuristic bliss. Irregular sonic waves lead to a jittering vibration that splits and becomes a new layer in the mix. The two tracks here have a lot in common, twins really. Although, the difference is in attitude, one is more aligned to a sensitive melancholia, the other is a bit more explorational and sprightly.
Disc four begins with the previously released I Dormienti (Opal, 1999), which was Eno’s 17th solo studio album. This is a record I’ve had on repeat over many years, but never eludes my psyche, with it’s vocal impressions, stops and starts and magically elusive atmospheres. Here, paired with Kites (I, II and III), the quiet and mellow mids are drunken and bright. The notes are tentative with an air of subliminal unconsciousness. These stand out due to the artist’s use of added dizzy synths and other experimental sound effects.
Next on disc five Needle Click kicks off this nine track compilation of individual pieces, and here with a more funky vibe, think the classic Talking Head’s Bahamanian feel of Remain In Light (Sire, 1980). The stilted percussion brings yet another, less introspective side, into the overall picture here. This is also evident on the short but effective beats implanted on Vanadium. This particular set is likely going to appeal to the more commercial devotees of his work, and those who like to get lost is his more new age side as heard on the light harmonies of Hopeful Timean Intersect. Of course this is coming from the man who brought us early 70’s glam rock and who not only produced the aforementioned record also worked with everyone from Devo to the B-52’s to U2 and David Bowie – not to mention the entire “no wave” movement. A man to reckon with.
To give you a flavor of what you may experience on this collection, someone captured an exhibition tour through some of his ‘light paintings’ here:
And for the startling conclusion, I truly believe they saved the most experimental and best for last. On the final disc just four tracks are featured, but they give us a fine glimpse into the future. Unnoticed Planet with its taffy-like cadence, brings back a blend of non-traditional ambient with a sci-fi soundtrack sensibility. Liquidambar uses a distant cymbal drone and a smouldering bold bass bellows that hits you at the central core with its resonance. Sour Evening (Complex Heaven 3) takes flight with a glowing hover that leads into the flux and din of a temple visit (both cranial and place of worship) on the previously noted Surbahar Sleeping Music. Rightly titled, this is a scope of meditation, within an escaping cauldron of synths and strings. A visionary eighteen minute conclusion that will have you completely rapt within it’s shadowy layers. This collection is a sheer masterpiece.