May 27, 2005

Brian Eno "Music For Films/Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks/Thursday Afternoon/More Music For Films"

Legendary producer Brian Eno is a man who needs no introduction. Starting off as a keyboard player for Roxy Music, he left the band after a brief stint with the budding glam rockers, and that’s when his career became quite interesting. It’s impossible to briefly sum up Eno’s vast, fascinating (and often frustrating) career in one paragraph. The man is a living legend of experimental, rock and ambient music, plain and simple. Everything from punk to prog to New Age to Alternative rock to electronica, there’s been very few genres in the last 30 years that Eno’s not had a hand in creating, improving. His discography is extremely massive, too, and over the past few months Astralwerks has taken great care to revisit and remaster his greatest works.

1978's compilation Music for Films is one of Eno's first collections of fully ambient works, arriving months before he released his genre-defining Ambient 1: Music For Airports. As such, this collection often feels more akin to an artist's sketchbook than an actual album. Eno says as much in his liner notes, stating how these ideas were simply bits and pieces that he had developed for different sources. As such, the record has a very awkward feel; while these compositions are pretty, they sometimes feel incomplete, especially considering that many of these songs are barely two minutes long. Some of these are forgettable, and others are disappointingly brief. Why Eno didn’t try to make some sort of connection between the pieces at the time is a bit puzzling. “Sparrowfall” shows that continuality was possible. The song is offered in three individual sections; in section one, a simple melody is performed on piano, with slight washes of synthesizer behind the melody. The second section is the same melody, performed entirely on synths—and rather cheesy, dated sounding synths at best. The third section blends the piano melody with a synthesized orchestra accompaniment, and it’s a beautiful, haunting melody that results. It’s so gorgeous, though, that you don’t really notice that it’s only ninety seconds long. Music for Films is a good albeit rough, disjointed experiment that hinted at future greatness. (The same problems haunt the somewhat new compilation, More Music For Films, which entails most of 1983’s Music for Films 2, with additional tracks.)

1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks turned out to be one of Eno's dream projects. A documentary maker approached Eno to produce background music for film footage of the Apollo space mission. Eno states in the liner notes that he felt as if the original film broadcast of images from the Apollo missions suffered from a medium that failed to capture the grandness of outer space. Eno felt it necessary to try and capture the spirit of the mission; though he sees the documentary as the story of an adventure, he doesn't feel as if his compositions are "adventure music." Hiring Eno (assisted here by brother Roger and Daniel Lanois) to create the soundtrack proved an inspired choice; he’s capable of making soundtrack music that has a feel that sounds like something you would hear at your local IMAX theater. His compositions are never too self-indulgent or heavy; with Lanois providing pedal steel, the album doesn’t become too hazy or monotonous. That the record leaves you wanting to see the documentary shows should tell you how excellent Apollo is. (A DVD of the film would have been a nice touch for the reissue.)

1985's Thursday Afternoon is considered by many to be Eno's masterpiece; those who think differently do not disagree that this is one of Eno's better compositions. "Thursday Afternoon" is one hour-long track, and it's an experiment with the then-new compact disc. He was attempting to expand the dimensions of music by stretching the capabilities of the new technology by creating a single album-length track. The resulting track is very gorgeous; it's very quiet in places, very prominent in others, and all in all it feels not unlike standing on the street in a small English town on a hazy, cool Thursday afternoon. It flows in and out of audibility and listening to it is an experience that will leave you relaxed and calm. (Thursday Afternoon is also the soundtrack to a film by Christine Alicinio, and it’s rumored that the only way to properly watch the video is to turn the television on its side. Interesting.)

Brian Eno’s career cannot be summed up briefly, but these four reissues certainly help to give you an idea of what Eno’s mid-period career. They are, for the most part, quite essential for anyone interested in ambient music, or for those who simply want to experience beautiful, tranquil music.
--Joseph Kyle

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