The Observer FEBRUARY 23, 1986 - by Anthony Denselov


Brian Eno continues gleefully to patrol the lonesome outer boundaries of contemporary music. In Europe and America his prolific projects are greeted with an almost reverential awe. In more cynical Britain he is still best remembered for his comparatively earthbound production work with David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2 and for being the flashily-dressed co-founder of Roxy Music in the early '70s. Yet Eno, now thirty-seven years old, is confident that the British will finally accept him and he is excited about his recent 'revolutionary' musical discoveries. He has even returned to live here after a lengthy spell in New York.

His latest project, Thursday Afternoon, came out on compact disc only. Recorded nearly two years ago in Canada as a video soundtrack, it is sixty-one minutes of uninterrupted, electronic-based introspection. There are few major melodic changes or conclusions in Eno's music these days. Thursday Afternoon is an intriguing work, an apparently straightforward, repetitive piece born from labyrinthine methodology.

Eno describes it as an unfolding display of unique sonic clusters. Different notes occur at different regular intervals so that listening to a cross section at any given point is different from listening at any other. The same principle applies to a constant underlying drone, except here the intervals are longer and the drone consists of several unstable elements that change in both timbre and volume. "Changes in the music are slow," concedes Eno, "and many of the changes will never be consciously registered. You might not notice it changing, but you will notice it not being boring."

To aid his descriptions, Eno constantly scribbles down graphs, diagrams and drawings. He compares the structure of his music to a slice of the earth's atmosphere, 'layers of geology, geography, landscape, atmosphere and seasons, all changing at different rates,' then to a tropical forest at night, alive with the noise of animals.

The use of compact disc for all this not only offers a technical quality capable of handling long passages of quiet music free from interference but also furthers Eno's aim of creating "endless pieces of music" - or at least music that listeners can choose when to stop and return to.

In Frankfurt recently he composed music for a large hall that could have lasted sixty-eight weeks. The music followed the same internal structure as Thursday Afternoon but was mirrored by auto-reverse cassette players all set to different time sequences. It was an extraordinary success, claims Eno, and resulted in some truly unexpected clusters of sound, ranging from moments of true calm to gigantic hiatus. When the music stopped, the building again became cold and empty with an unpleasant reverberation.

Eno's cure for the poor acoustics at Frankfurt was to record the air-conditioning and incorporate that noise into his music. With his stated interest in the new aspects of range and texture offered by new developments in electronic music, he also comes up with some bizarre instrumentation for Thursday Afternoon.

Along with synthesizers, electric guitar, bass and heavily treated vocals and keyboards, comes the sound of Car Park in G. He fed a long plastic tube from the studio to a adjoining gravel car park, cut the tube so that it would resonate at G, implanted a microphone and recorded it as part of the underlying drone.

"All my music is directed towards the same aim-to remake for myself the earliest experiences I had when music was a mysterious and powerful force," says the quietly spoken and now quietly dressed Eno.

In the past Eno has experimented wildly with different styles of music, but he now feels that he is stabilising around this latest approach to what he calls "ambient" music. For this he acknowledges the influence of Indian classical music with its concern for textural intensity and its disregard for ingredients considered essential in Western music.

Eno also believes that his music has a strong relationship with painting and cites a long list of artists among his influences, including Kitaj, Mondrian, Kandinsky and Matisse. "It doesn't all have to have to be songs or be like Mozart. In fact I applauded in the cinema during Amadeus when Mozart is accused of using 'too many notes'."

"I like the idea of my music being treated like sound pictures. You don't sit and stare at paintings for three minutes, you can turn your back. Painters are not insulted by lack of attention, why should composers be?"