Monday, January 29, 2007

Silence and Surrender

Brian Eno (Ambient)
LP: Thursday Afternoon (1985)

I once spotted Brian Eno in an art supply store in San Francisco. At the time he was presenting one of his celebrated installations at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not wishing to impose, I left the great man to his affairs. Generally speaking I prefer not to meet my heroes for fear of either disappointment or - more likely - making a babbling fool of myself, but I must admit I’ve often rued missing my chance to engage for a moment with the wonderful Brian.

After recently immersing myself in the frenetic free-form jazz of Ornette Coleman, I wonder if it was understandable that I should turn for respite to Eno’s ambient recordings. They have long been reassuring companions, especially during times of restlessness.

Still and soothing, ambient music exists in a similar space to a painting, offering refuge from the hyper-stimulation of everyday life. Like wandering alone through a deserted art gallery, listeners are afforded the opportunity to surrender to the purity of the moment, to personally negotiate their own level of engagement with each piece.

There is a spiritual aspect to Eno’s music which recalls the quiet wisdom of modern Zen. Describing himself as an ‘evangelical atheist’, Eno questions organized religion, yet affirms that believers’ religious participation enriches their lives. In their humane, measured beauty, his ambient compositions are perhaps an aural corollary to secular spiritual experience.

My favorite ambient record - along with David Darling's marvelous Cello - is Eno’s 1985 masterpiece Thursday Afternoon, a continuous 61-minute piece which maintains its reflective mood throughout. This was in fact one of the first LPs recorded specifically for the CD medium, since only the digital realm could offer the clarity of tone which ambient music demands.

Minimalistic, haunting and deceptively simple, Thursday Afternoon provides serene accompaniment during private moments of calmness and contemplation.

Eno on the web: Check out - especially the celebrated Oblique Strategies!

Stream: Ambient bliss at FM SOMA's Drone Zone.


kazami said...

What incomparable genius!!!
Once in Barcelona,I attended a lecture by Laurie Anderson.
David Byrne was also around and sitting just behind me Eno himself...
Likewise,I didn't utter a word.
I have been a long time Eno fan,still unsurpassed in his vision of music.
His Ambient series is a classic.
I have a particularly soft spot for
"Apollo-Atmospheres&Soundtracks",especially for the amazingly beautiful "An Ending" (Ascent).
And,ambient aside,who can forget the sheer brilliance of recordings like "Here Come The Warm Jets"?

spaewaif said...

I love the title of your post:
silence and surrender

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Hi Kazami:

Indeed, Brian is an incomparable genius. And he's producing the new Coldplay LP too, which should make for some interesting results.

Too bad you didn't talk to Brian in Barcelona. Maybe you were gobsmacked, like me!

I also adore "Apollo-Atmospheres & Soundtracks". That's a big favorite, too. It's hard to know where to stop, he's been such an influential figure. He also comes across as a genuinely humane person in interviews.

kazami said...

Oh,Drone Zone is perfect when you are writing syllabi for three different universities!

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Oh I forgot to mention Drone Zone's tendency to induce REM! Perhaps not the ideal soundtrack to concerted intellectual endeavor. But I find it the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon nap!

kazami said...

Hmmm...I'm afraid I disagree here!
I sooner fall asleep to the boring sempiternal tones of most mainstream music and quite a lot of music disguised as "alternative".
Mind you,there are huge amounts of extremely bad ambient too but basically I get a tad annoyed when people equate "ambient" with music to sleep and relax,if you catch my drift...
I thought that was called "new age music" !

fanny and aleczander said...

All hail Brian. What about Vidna Obmana, Shiffi? Are you into him?

Cushion Meg said...

I enjoy your blog every time. The songs and music you introduce are so nice and beautiful, which are usually wonderful discoveries for me. Thank you! I love your comments about how your life is interlaced with music and how much you adore your favorites! What I like most is to recognize the near identical emotion in myself as what you wrote by listening the music!

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Kazami: I certainly agree that a lot of awful new age fluff is marketed as 'ambient' music, and yeh there is a lot of poor ambient music around. Come to think of it, most of the Cds that come out, like most books which are issued, too, are less than gripping!
Personally, I use ambient music for different reasons, as aural wallpaper, to relax, and also as a gorgeous, enticing way to (yaawn...) enter the land of nod! It's also fun to juxtapose media in weird ways - I had a friend in Manchester who used to watch 'Coronation Street' (UK soap opera) with the sound turned down, and listen to the edgy electro of Cabaret Voltaire at the same time!

Fanny and Alexander: Yes I am familar with Vidna Obmana. The only Lp of his I own is 'Crossing the Trail' - good, but I think not his best work.

Cushion Meg: Thanks so much for your comment. If these islands of ecstasy are new discoveries, I am delighted to be the one to send you on your journey. Certainly I am also grateful when friends offer me tickets to new musical pastures!

Cushion Meg said...

Thanks. Shiffi, you are really a poet…