INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Pitchfork FEBRUARY 4, 2008 - by Joshua Klein
FRIPP & ENO: BEYOND EVEN (1992-2006)
In 1975, Brian Eno released his epochal Discreet Music replete with an ambient music manifesto as well as a diagram making explicit the system he used - a sort of rudimentary analog phase machine - to create the record. If Discreet Music demonstrated the aural wallpaper aspect of the system of overlapping loops (legend has it hospitals regularly piped in the LP during childbirth), Eno's earlier experiments with guitarist Robert Fripp were somewhat less, well, discreet. In fact, in a lot of ways the equally epochal Fripp & Eno albums No Pussyfooting (1973) and Evening Star (1975) brought ambient music firmly to the foreground. Eno would run Fripp's guitar through his rudimentary synth system, looping the guitarist's increasingly abstract tones into a shimmering cloud of sound, over which Fripp would unspool one of his famed liquid solos in real time.
Of course, some thirty-five years later Fripp and Eno's advances have been boiled down to the banality of various effects pedals, bringing their technique into play with just the tap of a foot. Yet no other guitarist sounds like Robert Fripp, and an effects pedal is no substitute for Brian Eno. What Fripp and Eno always emphasized through their collaboration was the human element - how instincts and input can subtly alter and warp the parameters of a closed system.
Needless to say, Fripp and Eno - both collectively and respectively - are revered by their flock. Beyond Even (1992-2006) was originally released as The Cotswold Gnomes, a download-only collection released via Fripp's Discipline Global Music Live site winkingly subtitled Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius, and posted fan reviews run mostly along the lines of "this is the most amazing thing I've ever heard." Save one: "I must say, you've got some audacity to charge money for this rubbish," writes a lone dissenter, and he's got a point, though not exclusively based on the quality of the music.
The only difference between Beyond Even and The Cotswold Gnomes (other than the title) is that initial runs of the former come with a second disc, reprising the album in its entirety but as a single flowing piece rather than a collection of tracks. Repackaging a previous release with a new name but no new content is indeed a dubious proposition. For that matter, little effort has been made to document the origins of these outtakes, at least none beyond the new title's stated time span. Some tracks sound akin to Fripp and Eno's digital-era 2004 collaboration The Equatorial Stars (itself pretty but also pretty inessential). Others sound more in line with Eno's sometimes abrasive and fitfully funky "juju space-jazz" explorations (indeed, the span of the set stretches back to Eno's Nerve Net). But like Eno's own half-assed and aptly named Curiosities collections (compiled from old work tapes by an assistant), nothing here sounds like more than a minimum of effort went into its composition.
That it still sounds occasionally compelling is testament to Fripp and Eno's good taste and talents, and it's easy to appreciate the team's dedication to ambient menace over mere passive mood. In fact, some of the best tracks here, like Sneering Loop, The Idea Of Decline, and Cross Crisis In Lust Storm, hint at an aggressiveness neither artist has seemed terribly interested in pursuing as of late. But at the same time the two, even with nothing left to prove, remain capable of so much more than just the occasional chance studio meeting or one-off collaboration might evince. That the Beyond Even sop is just second helpings of leftovers to begin with only rubs it in even more.