The Wire FEBRUARY 2010 - by Sam Davies


As Geeta Dayal puts it early in this book, Brian Eno's Another Green World is "a storied record nearly thirty-five years old, with the whole weight of history attached to it." What, then, can Dayal say about the record that is new? One way is to pack an improbable amount of research into such a limited word count: tracking down archival interviews with Eno, any books or films he may have been reading or watching at the time, and interviewing his collaborators.

All of which Dayal does, but really her answer is to focus on the process: her own as much as Eno's. So the book (after several more straightforward drafts were completed and discarded) is structured by Oblique Strategies, the set of elliptical instructions devised by Eno to be drawn at random when aesthetic impasse or blockage threatens. The result avoids two of the more prosaic patterns for this Continuum 33⅓ series: the stolid chronological trudge through the album's making or through its track-listing. Instead Dayal's focus leaps from angle to angle, digresses from its nominal subject to discuss cybernetics, Stanley Kubrick, Cornelius Cardew or Morse Peckham, and loops back on itself, accepting chance developments much as Eno decided to in setting up and tending his musical micro-ecologies.

In the middle of the book, for instance, a chapter seems to begin (reasonably enough) with a brief sketch of the pop music context in which Another Green World was made and released in 1975. This synchronic cross-section of musical history extends through the chapter until Dayal has reached its end, with barely a mention of the album itself. Yet despite this, the contours of Another Green World are paradoxically thrown into sharper relief by the chapter: the roll-call of Led Zeppelin, The Stylistics, The Bay City Rollers, Kraftwerk, King Tubby, Parliament, ABBA, The Ramones, Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder and more ends up outlining the album in negative for the reader.

In fact, Brian Eno's 1975 would be a more accurate title for the book, as Dayal tweaks away at so many connections in the web of Eno's thinking that she ends up making an implicit argument for the year as his annus mirabilis. The same year produced Evening Star with Robert Fripp, the Oblique Strategies cards and Discreet Music - which gets two chapters of its own, discussing its recording techniques and its significance as the seed for so much of his subsequent Ambient work (beyond the brief tone poems of Another Green World).

One problem Dayal can't solve is the book's brevity. As a study of Another Green World it's impressively holistic, hungry to catalogue every possible point of departure for thinking about the record; but at the same time these can often only be signposted in passing. Sections of cybernetics and Cardew in particular frustrate, as, like big ships in dark water, you sense there is a vast amount of information under the waterline, unavailable to the reader. But these frustrations aside, this is still the best short introduction to Eno's work and ethos going.