INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Resident Advisor MAY 7, 2018 - by Joe Muggs
BRIAN ENO: MUSIC FOR INSTALLATIONS
It's slightly peculiar that Brian Eno's image these days is more as the great public intellectual of the music world than for his contemporary records. Thing is, for all his wry and avuncular delivery, his provocations aren't always that fully-formed. Trump is a useful shock to the system? Artists should avoid getting jobs? Pop music marked a cultural swing away from individualism? Really? The real problem is that the focus on this wisecracking conceptualism can distract from the fact that he still deserves to be appreciated as a musician first. On this box set of ambient music composed for his art pieces, he's at his best. There are twenty-four tracks here, ranging from three minutes to forty-four, all designed to play in the background while people view artworks. They are very much in the mode of Eno's idea of ambient music as high-class wallpaper. That really does mean high class: just like the real-life wallpaper that Eno designed, which sells for £50 a roll, or like expensive perfume, his ambient music has a way of making any space it's played in feel classier, more aesthetically pleasing.
It's easy to look down on music that serves this function, but that would be to ignore the real radicalism of what Eno has always done with his ambient records. Unlike the work of interior designers and perfumers, ambient music offers a democratic, affordable tool for transforming spaces. Music For Installations doesn't offer a single listening experience: these tracks make far more sense looped, either alone or in small groups, to create a particular, sustained mood. Whether it's the wistful, stare-at-the-horizon sustain on the electric piano notes of Five Light Paintings, or the subterranean hisses and rumbles of Liquidambar, each has a distinct mood with a distinct purpose.
Some tracks, like the sunlight-through-dust vibe of Kazakhstan, are general purpose, something you could happily leave on repeat all day whatever your mood. Others are more attention-grabbing. Take the shadowy mysteries of Surbahar Sleeping Music, or the ecstatic fizzing of All The Stars Were Out, which are unlikely to be what you'd pick for eating your breakfast to. But like a purple light or bitter incense, they create very particular, intense atmospheres. So, for all that one might think of ambient music as the ultimate in passive listening, these pieces ask you to make decisions about what mood you want to create, even how you want to live. This is where Eno's brilliance lies: in his natural understanding of sound as tool, as environment, as cognitive enhancer, and his ability to encode all of that in his own music.
TRACKLIST: [DISC 1] Music From Installations Kazakhstan / The Ritan Bells / Five Light Paintings / Flower Bells [DISC 2] 77 Million Paintings 77 Million Paintings [DISC 3] Lightness: Music For The Marble Palace Atmospheric Lightness / Chamber Lightness [DISC 4] I Dormienti / Kite Stories I Dormienti / Kites I / Kites II / Kites III [DISC 5] Making Space Needle Click / Light Legs / Flora And Fauna/Gleise 581d / New Moons / Vanadium / All The Stars Were Out / Hopeful Timean Intersect / World Without Wind / Delightful Universe (Seen From Above) [DISC 6] Music For Future Installations Unnoticed Planet / Liquidambar / Sour Evening (Complex Heaven 3) / Surbahar Sleeping Music