The 405 NOVEMBER 19, 2018 - by Zoë Elaine


To celebrate this past Friday's reissue of four ambient classics from Brian Eno's vast discography, The 405 is proud to present a reflection on each album. Read on for words on one of his more unique curiosities.

"We're always one step behind him", goes the jovial 2010 MGMT single, Brian Eno, in describing its namesake subject. The band called their homage to the British artist a well-intentioned joke song. Eno himself was in on it, even when they parodied his Oblique Strategies cards, which were meant to foster creativity with short adages like "use an old idea"; VanWyngarden and Goldwasser included vulgar alternatives such as "go fuck yourself."

Brian Eno knows a unique level of fame. He has worked with innumerable other prolific musicians, having been close friends with characters such as David Bowie, Robert Fripp, and David Byrne. He has produced for the mega-famous like Coldplay and U2 as well as for artists like Owen Pallett and James Blake who have more niche audiences. The breadth of sound across his studio records is mind-numbing, especially when you consider just how much of it contributes to contemporary music. He even invented the term "generative music" several decades into his career which came to define not only his work, but the work of ambient artists everywhere. Indeed, Eno is the most influential musician alive today.

When it comes down to it, the Music For Films project is Eno's discreet opus. (Not to be confused with Discreet Music, which is also part of the re-releases.) The LP came out in 1978 and became the seventh solo record he'd put out in four years; an impressive fact by pop music's standards, but typical of the acclaimed producer. At about forty-one minutes long, it is not even close to his longest record, but it does feature more tracks than most of his other LPs. They are more like snippets than tracks, though, with the majority meditating on a no wave melody for a minute or two until a delicate fadeout.

Each clip is courageous. Including so many short tracks feels like watching trials for the hundred-meter relay; regardless of how good the song is, you get little time to enjoy it before it promptly moves onto the next idea. That is not necessarily a tragedy with atonal ambient musings, which by definition risk losing a listener's attention.

Eno focuses precisely around the titular theme, and the record does feel like a grab-bag of film score demos. He intended for this album to be a soundtrack for an "invisible" movie, elevating non-existent scenes with specific aural cues. Many critics and fans insist that the album tells its own story, but that it varies based on who is listening. The few tracks that are longer than snippets explore emotion more thoroughly; from there, stories emerge. Events In Dense Fog, for example, drifts slowly through spiritual breezes. Movements of the Sparrowfall trilogy are elegant - the melody intensifies in each subsequent callback, perhaps complementing a revelation on camera, were there one.

Music For Films came just after the release of Ambient 1: Music For Airports and was quickly followed up by Ambient 4: On Land, but it ended up taking on a life of its own. Volume 2 appeared in 1983, which overlapped a great deal with Apollo, released the same year. With the addition of extra material, it became known as the compilation, More Music For Films, featuring a tracklist twenty-one songs deep, all hovering again around two minutes each. Eno pushed everything a mile further this time around. The places where we are led are rowdier than before, and more industrial, yet they never lose their visible defiance.

Just a few years later, Eno began collaborating with Daniel Lanois, Laraaji, John Paul Jones, and four other musicians for Music For Films III. This would become the culminating, final installment of the series that continues to reach outward into all different directions. This time, the experiments can be attributed to the different hands that energize their persistent synthesizers.

There is a significance in the sheer quantity of individual tracks that went into the Music For Films series; after all, this is the only time in Eno's career when he has created a deliberate sequel to any of his work. The semantics are not worth arguing, but yes, for the record, More Music For Films was just a renamed collection of songs; however, the third installment was meant to be part of the series from its inception. Eno made related records like Another Green World and Another Day On Earth, and the explicit Ambient volumes one to four of course, but each of those titles riffed around its own concept. This was a distinct era.

Eno records frequently peer out from the bargain bin at many secondhand shops. Some titles are in surplus, while others are harder to come by. The 2018 re-releases will complete the Eno collections of die-hards and may also introduce more recent fans to some of his most important work. Pressed on 180 grams of wax and intended for play at half-speed, these LPs will also sound better than any other record in your collection. Since his catalog is constantly expanding, re-issues of his classic records are crucial: not only to audiophiles but to the history and future of music.