INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Observer NOVEMBER 20, 2005 - by Paul Morley
WHAT'S WRONG WITH ADVERTISING?
Too many Eno fans are making a fuss over one of his ambient classics being used in a commercial, writes our man who now has his own album out.
There has been appalled on-line reaction to the use by Orange Telecommunications of Brian Eno's 1/1 from Music For Airports, which is to ambient music what Miles's Kind Of Blue is to jazz. Agitated bloggers consider the precious Airports music soiled for ever. They will no longer be able to listen to Eno's withdrawn, weightless masterpiece without thinking of the cynical workings of an ersatz existential mobile phone company, or the washing powder and nappy ads that come before and after. They worry that Eno's sublime conceptual approach to sentimental music has been turned into the tamed, soppy real thing, that the music, so deliciously homeless, has been given a terribly gaudy home.
Eno perfected his notion of an ambient music, a tempo-less, wordless, floating accumulation of moving repetition and static space, in 1976, in the thick of punk, while everyone around him was getting noisier and noisier and cranking up the revolting guitars. He invented, or gave a name to, ambient music at about the same time punk was being tagged. Thirty years on, punk stylings have drenched the mainstream, and ambient music, Eno's intellectual muzak, has also, more remarkably, leaked into everyday life.
The Eno blog-snobs resent that what they thought represented a dignified quietness far away from vulgar commercial interference has been turned into a mere jingle. There is horror that Eno has ruined the spectral beauty of his own music by selling it in such a way - his voluptuous Windows 95 start-up sound, a classic example of concentrated miniaturisation, equally well rewarded, is not deemed as despicable as the selling of the fragile, significant Airports. They're not satisfied even if he's donating his fee to charity. It's still shoddy, they moan, as if this is the post-modern equivalent of Dylan going electric, or going to Starbucks.
The ad features a gently suggestive neo-avant-garde dance, and some mumbo jumbo about ageing. It doesn't squash the music's subversive sonic tenderness. It temporarily re-frames it. You still get the feeling the music will be around centuries longer than Orange, ITV or people who use mobile phones.
The ambient Eno helped popularise was a profoundly pretty music derived from turn of the century impressionist classical music, early-'60s minimalism and the deadpan post-Stockhausen electronics of Can, Cluster and Tangerine Dream. It was a tantalising thought that Eno's dramatically undramatic music would eventually cross over from the fetishised margins of rock and join up with the rest of pop music.
When I am watching Coronation Street, 1/1 drifting into hearing during the break sounds astounding, not disappointing. It seems that the ambient experiment, begun over a hundred years ago by Erik Satie, with what he called 'furniture music', has finally reached its destination. It wasn't meant to quietly slip off the planet, even though it sounded as if it was, and was made, to an extent, not to be actually heard. It wasn't meant to disappear into the hearts and minds of an elite few. It was meant to belong in the world, as familiar as a chair, a table, a tree.
Years before the explosions of mechanical reproduction, Satie anticipated a world, which we see all around us now, signified by the give-away white lines of the iPod headphones, where music would constantly fill space and time. Eno, acting as a kind of translator of Satie's work from one language to another, has taken Satie's original, pure idea of a blank everyday sound right into the middle of The Bill. Music, for better or worse now, does furnish the commercial world, and it is appropriate that Eno, as a leading practitioner of the filtering of the abstract into the everyday, should be heard right in the thick of things.
I'm going to get a bit bloggy myself now, and, in the spirit of Eno and Orange, a bit pluggy. As well as writing about music, I also make it. Perhaps I feel guilty that as a critic I always have to rely on the creativity of others and feel I must take the kind of risks performers do. Not that I want to pick up a guitar and pretend I'm Jack White being Jimmy Page being Johnny Shines, but I'm quite happy to pick up a box of Eno's advice cards Oblique Strategies and see where the suggestions inside lead me.
A couple of years ago, I picked a card from the pack, and it said: Remember those quiet evenings. Suddenly I was in the studio with ex-Auteur James Banbury, forming a group called Infantjoy - after a Blake poem about the need everyone has for a name. We found ourselves making an album imagining new sonic spaces between those of Eno and Satie, and producing music intended to be perfect for those quiet evenings.
I've written a book (Words And Music) about how Satie led to John Cage led to Eno led - around a few houses and through a few nightclubs - to Kylie Minogue, and I've been writing material to go with the remastered re-releases of the Eno catalogue (available through the Astralwerks.com website). As with the book and the Eno essays, the Infantjoy album, Where The Night Goes, is an attempt to explain my fascination with how every radical music movement can trace its roots back to Satie, and how Eno tugged Satie's revolutionary ideas and thoughts about form and content into the heart of pop music and the ITV schedules.
(Internal memo: suddenly not that keen on the idea to get people who I have recently been less than enthusiastic about reviewing the album. Don't know why. Orange should get some copies though.)
• Where The Night Goes (SonyBMG) is also available on iTunes.