"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Wire MAY 2001 - by Julian Cowley
BRIAN ENO & J. PETER SCHWALM: DRAWN FROM LIFE
The cavernous space that Miles Davis opened up with He Loved Him Madly, on the Get Up With It album, still exercises a seductive pull upon Brian Eno's imagination. For his first release in the twenty-first century he has pooled his enthusiasms with those of J. Peter Schwalm, and something of the quality of Davis's cathedral-in-sound ambience has been imported into their activity. No overt jazz content here, of course, except as fleeting allusion (cf Intenser), but an unusual sense of depth; pinpoints of sonic light set within incense-heavy atmospheres; sound forms receding through gradations of audibility to the spooky gloom of the outer reaches.
Eno and Schwalm are content to work with the constraint of the given, alighting like jackdaws upon both gems and shards of broken glass, which serve equally well to decorate their nest. They're both adept at the refined art of turning nothing new into something memorable. Schwalm's combinatorial skills prove a sympathetic and effective match for Eno's own studio mastery. Film soundtracks are an especially important resource for Drawn From Life, with Nell Catchpole's live strings evoking Jolly Mukherjee's sweeping Bollywood arrangements or Ennio Morricone's heat haze shimmer. Two pieces are actually entitled Like Pictures. On the first, Holger Czukay adds IBM dictaphone; the second has a characteristic voice-over from Laurie Anderson. Elsewhere, voice is used sparingly but tellingly. Lynn Gerlach's pronouncements on the irresistible, unearthly siren song Rising Dust are processed beyond deciphering, like a beguiling update of the synthesised recitation realised by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil (AKA Tonto's Expanding Head Band) on their early 1970s electronic classic Zero Time. On Intenser, Catchpole directly addresses the listener, but isn't allowed to dominate the music. The ear strays continually to the insistent percussion of Heiko Himmighoffen and Leo Abrahams' guitar. Children's voices grace Bloom without sentimentality - they're used simply as a warm and humanising sound source. This is the way Alvin Curran crafted materials in his collage pieces such as Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri (Light Flowers, Dark Flowers, 1975). Eno has more sophisticated technology at his disposal, of course, and in Schwalm he has a collaborator whose lightness of touch sustains buoyancy despite and record's sonorous depth.
It would be possible to spend hours drawing such parallels while speculating on the duo's listening habits, but that does not detract from the experience of hearing Drawn From Life, which straightaway sounds like a good record. With repeated plays it works an insidious charm, suggesting it's ready to occupy an appropriate space in your life.