Soundblab JANUARY 10, 2017 - by Jon Burke


Given our current political climate - a hateful heatwave brought on by the seething nationalist vitriol sweeping the globe - serenity and calm seem to have disappeared from many people's lives. Therefore it is quite apropos on the first day of 2017, a year promising only more unrest, for Brian Eno to have dropped his latest ambient work, Reflection. Though there is no salve for what collectively ails us, there is a spirit present throughout Reflection which feels almost medicinal. This is an album designed to calm and to soothe; Eno seeks to dissuade the endless shouting matches and encourage instead open dialog.

I refuse to dance about architecture here and won't bore you with a thousand words about sonic fluidity, tonal dynamics, chimes and whistles or the complex ebb and flow of the undertone. Instead I will say that listening to Reflection has much more in common with taking a long, languid bath in a quiet room than it does with attending the symphony or pressing play on your favorite workout mix. The listener is required to work throughout this piece to simply accept what is happening and to actively quell the urge to unpack the experience. There is no hook. There is no rhythmic pattern to follow. There is only a tone growing louder and softer and a series of subtle sonic interventions under, over, around and in proximity to said tone. These interventions flow in and out of the piece in waves. Eno actually achieved this effect with a computer doing most of the work and the result is a unique musical genesis.

Eno explains Reflection's conceptual process on his website: "Pieces like this have another name: they're GENERATIVE. By that I mean they make themselves. My job as a composer is to set in place a group of sounds and phrases, and then some rules which decide what happens to them. I then set the whole system playing and see what it does, adjusting the sounds and the phrases and the rules until I get something I'm happy with. Because those rules are probabilistic (- often taking the form 'perform operation x, y percent of the time') the piece unfolds differently every time it is activated. What you have here is a recording of one of those unfoldings."

Ultimately Reflection is an attempt by Brian Eno to subtlety intervene with listeners. He refuses to do this by shouting, he shuns slogans and he avoids pitched emotional outbursts - instead encouraging thoughtful internal deliberation. By doing this Eno makes clear many political leaders are incapable of self-contemplation and further, regardless of one's political affiliation, those lacking the ability to quietly reflect are personally out of control. Reflection is fifty-four minutes of pure ambience and while certainly not his most interesting piece of music, nor his most conceptually challenging, Brian Eno uses the album to hold-up a mirror. How we choose to confront our reflection, to look or to look away, may well determine whether 2017 is as godawful as its predecessor.