Spectrum Culture JULY 13, 2011 - by Chris Middleman


The pairing of egghead musician/producer Brian Eno with a poet - in this case, Rick Holland - seems natural; certainly the same man who co-created the cerebral, pithy art-aid deck of cards called Oblique Strategies can appreciate the economy of lines filled with the loaded language of verse. Eno and Holland, whose biographical information is frustratingly labyrinthine in 2011 Googleworld, first met while collaborating on the Map-Making Project, an equally internet-invisible artistic endeavour taken on by lofty English art schools and established artists - the sort of thing I suppose independently solvent creators like to do in between producing U2 records. Does the idea of Eno and Holland collaborating on a Warp-released disc sound as fun to you yet as it did to me?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a poet; I've had my stuff published in several little online journals and in one big one. Whatever market-share there is to be made of the entertainment dollar these days, say in little-regarded roles such as sculptor, playwright or macrame-guru, divide it by about a thousand and you'll have what a poet could ever hope to possibly make from their efforts. The modern hive-mind has no place for silent contemplation in popular culture, so there is no place for poems. Such as this is, I really do appreciate that an artist of Eno's stature and influence would choose to work and give equal billing to a poet, but the resultant Drums Between The Bells will win over precious few newly minted adherents to appreciation of the craft.

Instead, and unfortunately, Between comes off as the sort of self-important art project that many perceive poetics to be. The record's sixteen tracks (fifteen, if you exclude the entirely silent Silence - yep) are basically Eno's backing tracks - a variety of ambient soundscapes or rhythmic interludes - over which Eno, Holland or a cast of other voice overs recite Holland's works. Harmless enough, right? Well, at their best, the bits comprising Drums Between The Bells come off like innocuous little MP3 files that might come with your new computer running Windows 7 for the purpose of helping you get the hang of Media Player (the somnambulant and kinda-pleasant Pour It Out). At its worst, Drums delivers a great number of unintentionally hilarious lines that are enough to put you off poetry altogether. In Glitch, a robotic voice iterates: "There is a glitch in the system / Outside the brainflow." Dreambirds houses a Marianne Faithfull-esque voice reading, " the age of diminishing life / Across the blank dioxide above us / Invent new colours that fly..." Surely, you get the idea.

It's not even that these poems are bad; it's their dramatic renditions that make them impossible to be taken seriously. In fact, after that last line I mention, the "flyyyyy" has Eno opening up a wash of synthesizer beeps and tweets as to fully drive the point home that it's birds we're talking about here. Generally speaking, though, Eno's music in this setting is best described as something to "chill out" too; this is a soundtrack to taking it easy, unwinding, letting the sounds change the hue or temperature of the room. This is, after all, the guy who invented ambient. Poetry, on the other hand, most often demands an attentive ear on the part of the listener (or eye for the reader). The economy of language one finds in a poem demands that every bit count. Let your mind be taken sideways by an ethereal piano chord and you've missed half a poem. I'm no Enologist, but Drums Between The Bells has to be among the most negligible of the man's work. That said, I wouldn't base my judgment of Rick Holland's words from this either.