INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Pitchfork SEPTEMBER 20, 2001 - by Mark Richardson
BRIAN ENO & J. PETER SCHWALM: DRAWN FROM LIFE
What fool would deny the importance of Brian Eno? Every artist who has experimented with sound in the last thirty years - from the Olivia Tremor Control to Public Enemy - owes the man a debt. He invented ambient music, demonstrated how to fuse Western pop with non-Western textures, and contributed key ideas to the discourse on sample-based music. Music scribes have turned his last name into an adjective, for Lester's sake.
For all Eno has achieved on his own, much of his finest work - especially since the mid-'70s - has been in collaboration. It's never hard to hear Eno's contributions when he works with others. It could even be said that his goal as a producer and collaborator is to find the inner Eno that lies inside all of us.
But being held in such high esteem means the bar is set high for what you produce, and Drawn From Life, Eno's collaboration with German composer/DJ J. Peter Schwalm, doesn't clear it. I should qualify my reservations; this is a nice record containing some interesting music, but I expect more when I listen to something with Eno's name on the cover. Quite a bit more.
Part of the problem with this record for me is how closely the songs stick to the ambient downtempo template - a template, it should be said, that Eno had a large hand in writing. Drawn From Life has the feel of a solid film score, with a tone that wanders between eerie and placid. Moody strings blend nicely with Eno's synthesizer treatments, and there are a few contributions from guests. It's impeccably recorded - pretty at some points and vaguely somber at others - but it never distinguishes itself.
The beats, in particular, just aren't compelling, in terms of rhythm or texture. Schwalm is trained as a drummer, but you'd never know it from this record. The familiar high-hats and rim taps on From This Moment and More Dust seem like hastily constructed loops meant as mere timekeepers, even though both include live drum work. And when Laurie Anderson's vocodered voice wanders into Like Pictures Part #2, Drawn From Life seems painfully close to the hackneyed trip-hop territory that Bowery Electric is mired in.
All is not lost, though. The highlight of Drawn From Life is definitely the string arrangements, which have a subtle intricacy that is at times staggering. On some tracks they work as just another element, adding slight color and shading to the surrounding electronics, while on tracks like Persis they're used for dramatic effect, with dark ostinatos meant to quicken the pulse.
As a whole, Drawn From Life generally blends in well enough to work as solid background music, which brings to mind Eno's thoughts on ambient and how it can be enjoyed with little awareness. The album doesn't seem designed for that purpose, though, and more to the point, it fails the test of the second part of Eno's famous phrase: even with close attention, the rewards are relatively minor.