INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Bangkok Post JANUARY 15, 2017 - by Chanun Poomsawai
A TRANQUIL TRIP TO AN INNER WORLD
The celebrated ambient pioneer continues to push the boundary with a sublime, immersive single-track soundscape that plays with the idea of generative music
It's interesting how something seemingly benign like ambient music can sometimes be a divisive genre - not unlike, say, black metal or Christian rock. Some regard it as boring and often go so far as to reduce it to wallpaper/elevator music while others find anxiety-alleviating solace in its atmospheric, unobtrusive qualities. When English musician, producer and composer Brian Eno released his seminal Ambient 1: Music For Airports back in the late '70s, he had his own precise idea of what ambient music should be: "Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
This then creates a conundrum. How do you make music that's both ignorable and interesting? The equilibrium between the two is not easy to achieve and, in lesser hands, ambient music could potentially be nothing but forgettable monotony. With his long-running series of ambient records, Eno has always strived to reach this balance. His latest offering Reflection, a follow-up to last year's The Ship, is his most experimental and ambitious yet.
The album consists of just one track that runs uninterrupted for fifty-four minutes. What's more, apart from being released on conventional formats like CD, vinyl and streaming platforms, he also came up with iOS and Apple TV versions which would allow the music to expand, evolve and transcend the confines of space and time, hence creating a sound that "would unfold differently all the time - 'like sitting by a river': it's always the same river, but it's always changing." This concept of ever-shifting compositions is referred to as generative music, a technique Eno has been working on since the release of 1996's output, Generative Music 1.
Reflection opens with a set of blooming chimes. The notes are held, generating a lingering, rippling spectral effect. Spacey, eerie keys drift in and out of the composition seemingly at their own will. As the piece progresses, rhythmic and synth patterns take turns making their presence felt and heard. Strange frequencies - some barely noticeable, some loud enough to the point of crackling - swell out of nowhere, occasionally activating something akin to a bird twitter in the distance. As the music glides into its final minutes, a siren whistles. The reverberating bells return to the forefront only to eventually retreat back into silence, leaving no trace of its existence.
For fans of Eno's previous ambient works such as Music For Airports and The Plateaux Of Mirror, Reflection should feel reassuringly familiar in its meditative mood and texture. For the uninitiated, however, sitting through an ambient track for close to an hour might not exactly rank on top of their priority list. If you happen to fall in this category, we'd like to urge you to invest in this body of work. Lock away your phone and allow your mind the space it deserves because, in the age of constant distractions and mounting modern anxieties, a work like this proves to be essential and more relevant than ever.