Pitchfork MARCH 15, 2004 - by Chris Ott


No stranger to anagrams and etymological games, C.S.J. Bofop - or as he's more commonly known, Brian Eno - has a bad habit of taking himself too seriously. Whether for or against it, people like myself cherish Brain One's penchant for pomposity, because he embodies all manner of lazy clichés about lofty genius and reassures us that for all the digs about our parasitic, self-important medium, musicians can be as obnoxious as their critics.

Eno uses the aforementioned pseudonym, built from the letters subsequent to those in his name, whenever he deals with himself in the third person (which happens far too often). When producing for U2, he cheekily posed as Ben O'Rian. Though the vast majority of Eno's recordings are carefully rendered works of avant-garde genius - and so you know where I'm headed, Neroli is one - a substantial backlog of dashed-off half-thoughts and nerdy self-reflections pollute his biography. Nerve Net and The Drop are excusable as out-of-touch, latter-day gaffes, but a number of the early ambient pieces, especially Music For Films, are overtly bound to the mid-1970s Berlin synth explosion Eno observed while recording with David Bowie. He was neither the first nor the only substantive composer in ambient music's long history, but there's no arguing that Eno's finest works continue to dazzle in ways that much of Erik Satie's plunking, classicist "furniture music" cannot.

Whatever sonic inspiration he took from Germany was distilled by the latter half of the 1970s, while his obsessive mind fed in on itself during long, bed-ridden months following a serious auto accident. Unable to turn up his stereo, he was alarmed to discover how differently music behaved at extremely low volumes, competing with everyday sounds. Discreet Music (1975) and Music For Airports (1978) were his first ruminations on the experience, but by the mid 1980s, he'd taken things farther, proposing "holographic" music.

Heavily mathematical and entirely mapped out in advance, Eno's holographic pieces were essentially designed as moods - not mood pieces, mind you, but static emotional states. If you left the room where 1985's Thursday Afternoon was playing, it would still "feel" the same, with or without you. Eno was painting space, and though on paper it seems a laughable hangover from the days of Vangelis' Cosmos, within seconds of experiencing one of his evolving, long-form works (posthumously referred to as Thinking Music Vols. I-IV), you'll understand why some of his most successful contemporaries call him Brain One with utter sincerity.

The hidden side of Neroli appeals to a select class of music theory buffs, fascinated by the flattened second and seventh of this Phrygian modal, and an insistent hang on the scale's fifth. But ten years after its debut, Neroli's architecture is easily viewable in digital audio editors, where Eno's prodigal son Richard D. James has recently hidden less academic imagery.

As it should be, the music here is more important than any heady theoretical construct supporting it from behind the scenes. Its impact registers in more than the most obvious sense, altering the space you're in, your frame of mind. Memories crop up from the recesses, you feel relaxed, somehow eternal. Neroli conjures as immediate and physical a response as smelling the orange flower oil from which it took its name. Any effort at relaying the piece's incomparable combination of transparence and physiological power is a waste of words: Like the superior Thursday Afternoon before it, Neroli is atmosphere, like no other music we've yet known.