Artinfo MAY 12, 2010 - by Marina Cashdan


I have a thoroughly warped relationship with - and understanding of - the British city of Brighton. It now exists in my minds eye as Eno-land, a patchwork of generative sounds and pictures, seaside views, cobblestone streets, San Francisco-like hills, and moon landings. Perhaps this isn't too tragic: after all, Brian Eno is one of Britain's most beloved artists. He was a founding member of Roxy Music and pioneer of generative music - a term coined by Eno that, nicking the definition from Wikipedia, refers to music that is "ever-different and changing, and that is created by a system," a genre sometimes called atmospheric music.

Eno's system began on the synthesizer, a musical instrument that in the 1970s, when he started his career as an experimental musician, didn't have the baggage of history. Now Eno has a complex system of tech-savvy equipment housed in fancy music studios, apparatus that he has made available via iPhone apps like Bloom and Trope. The sound artist, who graduated from the Winchester School of Art in the late 1960s, compares music making to painting, adding and scraping away layers to produce an ever-evolving soundscape. And this weekend, if not just a reason to visit Brighton for the first time, I was taken on a musical and historical time warp, all in the guise of the Brighton Festival, led by Eno himself.

I had the privilege of being part of the festival's kickoff event where Eno, who succeeds Anish Kapoor as guest artistic director of the festival provided a reinterpretation of his 1983 Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks album, a collaboration with his brother Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, set to the film it originally soundtracked, For All Mankind, by Al Reinert. The intimate Brighton Dome Concert Hall provided setting for the new work, entitled Apollo: This Is For All Mankind. Last year, for the fortieth anniversary of the moon landings, the Science Museum in London asked Eno to make a new arrangement of the score for a live performance alongside Reinert's film. He brought on South Korean composer Yun Lee to create an interpretation of the source material, which was performed Saturday by British ensemble Icebreaker and the pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole.

Reinert's documentary traces the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in a non-narrative style, piecing together hundreds of hours of footage provided by NASA into a visual pièce de résistance. Images of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong hopping along the barren and unearthly land as moon dust puffed out from under their feet was accentuated by the weightless and intimate tracks from Eno's Apollo, including An Ending (Ascent) and Under Stars, all translated through wind, string, and percussion instruments. Watching the film, I couldn't help but to feel a sense of pride for the U.S.A.'s accomplishment, one that Eno pointed out in his opening remarks was nothing more than a vanity project for JFK in the pre-Cold War whose-stick-is-bigger match. But then again, most of the best projects are self-reflexive, he added politely.

Expecting only a brief salutation from Eno after the show, the audience was jittery and wound up when he instead took a seat behind the keyboard, saying, "We're going to play another song." (Eno hasn't performed any of his solo works since 1974.) He played four songs from his back catalogue including Another Day from his most recent LP and two of his solo songs, Julie With... and By This River from Before And After Science.

This together with other festival-opening events - namely the chance to hear Malcolm Le Grice speak about his and Eno's 1970 experimental film Berlin Horse, and the holy experience at church-turned-gallery Fabrica for Eno's 77 Million Paintings, a generative visual-sound installation - made for a deeply memorable experience: "Music For Brighton".