INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Sid Smith's Postcards From The Yellow Room FEBRUARY 6, 2006 - by Sid Smith
BRIAN ENO AND DAVID BYRNE: MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS
The Sound Of Surprise...
In an age where sampling is second nature we now take all and any kind of combination of musical styles and cultures in our global-savvy stride. Be it Tuvan and Tex Mex or Swahili with Spanish, our Western ears are no longer surprised if, during the course of a song, its references and origins slip the leash to stray into foreign climes.
That we think nothing of such crossovers these days is due in no small measure to this album first released in 1981. Before "world music" was coined and before Peter Gabriel's Real World there was My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.
Recorded in that remarkably fertile period somewhere between Talking Heads' Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, we know that Byrne and Eno weren't the first to tinker in this direction. Holger Czukay's beguiling Boat Woman Song from his 1969 album, Canaxis is often cited although Cage, Stockhausen and many others could also make a credible claim in the inspiration stakes.
There are of course precedents in Eno's own music; Kurt's Rejoinder in 1977 utilised Kurt Schwitter's Ur Sonata and John Adams' 1975 Obscure label Eno-produced release employed a religious radio phone-in on Christian Zeal and Activity.
Whatever its distinguished antecedents may have been, it was Byrne and Eno who were the first to achieve such a fluid and convincing synthesis that resonated so profoundly in marketplace of popular music.
Whatever its distinguished antecedents may have been, it was Byrne and Eno who were the first to achieve such a fluid and convincing synthesis that resonated so profoundly in marketplace.
Tagging eclectic excerpts from radio, phone-ins, religious ranting and Middle Eastern singers with an infectious hybrid-funk, Byrne and Eno created a genre that set musicians and producers the world over rushing to plunder radio and all kinds of exotic and esoteric sources to emulate the novel, and slightly dangerous spark that ignites when two distinctive cultures collide.
Supervising the remastering, David Byrne has restored the punchy dazzle of the original album, which after years of having to put up with an indifferent CD transfer is very welcome indeed. On pieces such as The Carrier, new voices leap out from the densely packed bazaar of sound as though in celebration of their greater clarity and new found freedom.
Also included are a clutch of bonus tracks taken from the original recording sessions that have been doing the bootleg rounds for many years. They make for an interesting comparison with the old tracklisting and reveal something of the choices available to Byrne and Eno as they scoured tapes and worked towards the final album. One song, Defiant has a jaunty comedic voice asking "Can I go with you?" over a pulsating, choppy backbeat and attendant riffs and sonic swoopery.
Fine as far as it goes but when compared to the track it would eventually become, The Jezebel Spirit, you realise just how acute Byrne and Eno's sense of the dramatic really is. Even now, the ludicrous telephone exorcism somehow retains its dread chill with those cavernous synth-brass splashes helping to sending shivers down the spine.
Also of note is the entrancing Number 8 Mix with its whirling beats and ethereal zither which demonstrates that they had plenty of ideas in reserve.
Twenty-five years on this landmark album still maintains the sound of surprise.