Mojo MAY 2001 - by Andy Gill


Brian Eno & J. Peter Schwalm: Drawn From Life

Eno's first album since 1997's The Drop, a collaboration with German DJ/percussionist J. Peter Schwalm.

Some things are just pictures, murmurs Laurie Anderson on the track Like Pictures - though the observation could easily serve as the overall rationale for Drawn From Life, an album which eschews narrative progression in favour of sustained mood. That's nothing new for Eno, of course, though the preponderance of string arrangements brings a more organic, played quality to these pieces than is usually the case with what we loosely refer to as ambient music. Night Traffic is typical of the album's method and sound: soft keyboard chords settle like snowfall over a gauze of strings and subtle, shifting percussion, while electronic piano twinkles speculatively like Joe Zawinul or Miles, minus the intrusive chops.

The relaxed formality allows the tracks to drift like stately royal barges floating slowly downriver, and the entropic mood is strengthened (if that's not a contradiction in terms) by the placement of two lengthy pauses towards the album's end. Such vocals as there are, meanwhile, are deliberately drained of meaning - either electronically, like the treated voice in Rising Dust, or playfully, like the chatter of Eno's children on Bloom - existing instead as vague, shadowy presences half-glimpsed through the mists of Eno & Schwalm's crepuscular textures.

Brian Eno Talks To Andy Gill

Who is J. Peter Schwalm?

He's a German guy in his late twenties, who trained at the conservatory but grew up listening to '70s Miles Davis: he was a drummer, then he became a hip-hop DJ. A friend in Frankfurt suggested I listen to his album Macrodelia, made under the name Slopshot.

Besides Laurie Anderson, who else guests?

Leo Abrahams played guitar on a couple of tracks, and Holger Czukay played on that little introductory section to Like Pictures. The strings are by Nell catchpole - she's the albums orchestral presence. Nearly all the strings are real strings, though sometimes we've slowed them down or processed them in some way. What I like about strings is the way string players play them - it's not just to do with the string sounds, it's to do with that human way of playing.

What determined the album's sustained mood?

We kept thinking of this type of music that had a combination of an almost casual rhythmic quality - not as nailed-down as modern rhythms often are - and yet sounded quite formal and stately in a sense, too.quot;

There are two pauses at the end of Bloom and Two Voices.

We had that piece, Two Voices, which we both wanted to include but which didn't seem to fit in the main suite of pieces, it upset that sustained mood you mentioned. So I said, Why don't we leave a big gap and then put it at the end? We enjoyed the effect so much that we did it again for the instrumental version of Bloom.