INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Classic Pop JANUARY 2019 - by Ian Gittins
BRIAN ENO: DISCREET MUSIC / MUSIC FOR FILMS / AMBIENT 1: MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS / AMBIENT 4: ON LAND
A collection of experimental, conceptual, beautifully crafted electronic works which indirectly earned Brian Eno the title of 'pioneer of ambient music'
Brian Eno never claimed to have invented ambient music. Yet listening again to these four crucial albums from his hugely fertile 1975-'82 period, remastered at 45RPM on 2LP heavyweight vinyl, it's clear his fingerprints were all over it.
Although he was already influenced by the musique d'ameublement (furniture music) of Erik Satie, Eno tells a fascinating tale of his own portal into ambient. As he recuperated from an accident in hospital, listening to eighteenth century harp music at low volume, it merged with the sound of rain on his window: "This presented for me what was a new way of hearing music - as part of the ambience of the environment."
This epiphany inspired his 1975 Discreet Music album - or, rather, its first side, a thirty-one-minute meditative piece of the same name formed of two overlapping tape loops of serene electronica (Side Two, a series of variations on a Pachelbel score, was rather less essential).
Eno knew he was on to something, and Music For Films was a set of instrumental snatches to soundtrack imaginary movies. Their brevity makes it a rarity in his canon: only one was longer than four minutes, with many over within ninety seconds.
They were titbits, mere amuse-bouches next to Eno's masterwork, 1978's Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Irritated during an hours-long wait at Cologne airport by the banal muzak that passengers were subjected to, he sought to craft an idyllic alternative.
He succeeded. Music For Airports was sublime, beatific: its four tape-loop compositions hovered near to, or beyond, silence. In a sleevenote, Eno explained he had coined a phrase, 'Ambient music', for this new genre: "It is intended to induce calm and a space to think... it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
His focus had shifted by 1982's Ambient 4: On Land, on which he partly eschewed conventional instrumentation for nature and animal noises and other found sounds (he used the same methodology on his David Byrne collaboration, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts). It was thus a less reassuring, more unsettling work.
A diminished term, 'ambient music' is now applied to anything from New Age slop to tepid flotation-tank soundtracks. It has become the muzak that Brian Eno opposed... he must appreciate the irony.