INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Q OCTOBER 2017 - by Andrew Perry
Brian Eno is pop's Mr Outside-The-Box. After grafting synth weirdness onto Roxy Music, he soon single-handedly overhauled art-rock, before inventing "ambient" as sonic wallpaper for airports and other public places. Andrew Perry charts his breathtaking arc from pop, to the avant-garde and back again.
THE POSTMODERN GLAM RACKET
HERE COME THE WARM JETS - Fresh out of Roxy Music after a falling out of love with the rock star life (and Bryan Ferry), Eno pitched into the world of improvisation, collaborating with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on 1973's (No Pussyfooting). However, he soon returned to the pop song format for this solo debut, where he deployed avant-garde methodologies to reinvent glam. He would dance in front of that day's selection of musicians, and their job was to interpret his movements in music. Eno himself would mouth along in nonsensical syllables, then translate these into words. Far from a recipe for disaster, this wacko process put Here Come The Warm Jets into the Top 30, and it remains an oddball, era classic.
Listen To: Needles In The Camel's Eye
THE OBLIQUE MASTERPIECE
TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN (BY STRATEGY) - Within ten months, Eno was back with an even stronger collection of songs, devised by yet more arbitrary means. In the studio, he and visual artist Peter Schmidt created the legendary Oblique Strategies deck of cards, whose random instructions his four-piece combo (including Phil Manzanera and Robert Wyatt) would have to follow. Writing his lyrics by the same sounds-into-words process he'd employed on Here Come The Warm Jets, Eno inadvertently dreamt up several future band names, the best known being A Certain Ratio (see The True Wheel). Another song, Third Uncle, was a key evolutionary step between Krautrockers Neu! and punk rock two years later. This remains the pinnacle of Eno's art-rock years.
Listen To: Third Uncle
AMBIENT IS BORN...
AMBIENT 1: MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS - After a car accident in the mid-'70s left him bedridden, Eno began mulling over perceptions of music. One day during his recovery, he crawled back from his record player, only to find on lying down again that he'd not turned the volume up sufficiently. He later revealed that, "This presented a new way of hearing music - as part of the ambience of the environment." Nodding to French composer Erik Satie's concept of "furniture music", Eno duly toyed with synth abstraction on 1975's Discreet Music (a favourite of David Bowie's), but reached his eureka moment with Ambient 1. Its entwining tape loops and synths were tailored to be aired continuously, as a soothing aural backdrop in a busy airport terminal.
Listen To: 1/1
...AND PEOPLE ARE BORN TO AMBIENT
NEROLI - Eno's initial Ambient series ran to four instalments, but he would pursue the genre virtually to the exclusion of all else for two or three decades, often alongside repeat offenders such as Robert Fripp and Harold Budd. By the early '90s, his influence had reached critical mass, after two of his protégés, Youth (from Killing Joke, sometime signatories to his label, EG) and The Orb's Dr Alex Paterson (an A&R man at EG) began cross-pollinating ambient with house to make a blissful, post-ecstasy chill-out sound. Eno responded by sculpting some of his most beautiful ambient pieces, including this fifty-seven-minute, single-track album. In his liner notes, Eno explained its premise as "to reward attention, but not so strictly as to demand it", and Neroli has been used in hospital birthing wards.
Listen To: Neroli: Thinking Music, Part IV
REGAINING HIS VOICE
THE SHIP - Eno was working on a sound installation in Stockholm, when, in his words, "I discovered I could now sing a low C, which happened to be the root note of the piece - getting older does have a few fringe benefits." The result was The Ship, the haunting twenty-one-minute opener on his nineteenth solo LP, which evolved into his most vocally inclined record since the '70s. The Ship mirrors the immersiveness of his installation work - but it's capped off with a lovely cover of The Velvet Underground's I'm Set Free. Lyrics were created by feeding pre-existing writings (a lifeboat survivor recalls the Titanic sinking, bottom-of-email disclaimers, etc.) into a Markov text generator, and picking juicy sentences from what emerged. Eno's pursuit of beauty in the random only intensifies with age
Listen To: The Ship
ENO BOX 1: INSTRUMENTAL - When the CD boom led to the proliferation of single-artist box-sets in the early '90s, Eno came up with a fittingly unique way of anthologising his work, entailing not one, but two boxes, divvied up into vocal and instrumental tracks. Where the former more or less collects his first few solo records in full, the latter serves up a more far-reaching and utterly indispensable sampling of his voice-free recordings. These include the odd notable collaborative piece with key figures such as Cluster, Fripp and Bowie, as well as soundtrack contributions and edits of longer pieces. Add in a healthy selection from Discreet Music and the Music For Films series, and this three-disc bonanza charts the blossoming of Eno's abstract impulses in his first twenty years with rare definitiveness.
Listen To: Dover Beach