Posts Tagged ‘daniel lanois’

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Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land

July 1, 2008

Returning to the artist which the series started out with, Ambient 4 falls into the hands of Brian Eno alone. As the name suggests, On Land clearly seeks to recreate emotions and characteristics of particular geographical locations. In doing this, Eno crafts simple but evocative synthesizer melodies and accompanies them with natural soundscapes. The end result is the most dense and consistently fascinating member of the Ambient family.

In making Ambient 1, it seemed as if Eno was concerned primarily with the mindset of the listener and the practical uses of ambient music to relax and comfort the mind. It seems as if within Ambient 2 and 3’s less practical, more emotional performances, Eno now has the desire to make his music more visceral, realistic, close to the human condition.

He succeeds in this on six of the eight tracks here, and the other two were clearly intended for a different goal. One song can be used as an example to represent the rest. Track six, Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills), is a combination of a synthesizer part and a barrage of natural touchups. The basis of the song is a low, wavering inner tone that seems to teeter back and forth between two notes, which is accompanied on rare occasion by a subtle, gliding, guitar part, a thump of a low bass, or what sounds like a nebulous vocal part in the higher tones of the background. These more traditional instruments are supported by recordings and extremely realistic electronic representations of birds, frogs, wind and water. The result is a piece that is so subtle in melody and so supersaturated in texture and detail that one could simply sit and listen to it on loop for an hour and not get tired of it, in the same way that people might go out and sit in their yard at night and listen to nature.

However, Leeks Hills is only one of eight songs on the album, and most of them are just as pleasing and detailed. Lantern Marsh is just as comfortable with itself as Leeks Hills, and makes use of the sound of distant, clattering chains. Both of these songs are arguably the most relaxing, save perhaps A Clearing, which is the only outwardly major toned piece on the album. The Lost Day has more tension than any other song on the album. The opening Lizard Point is also an accomplishment, its changing dynamics almost ceaseless throughout the song. These songs can be listened to loudly or softly, with the listener either carefully paying attention and examining details or letting the music create a subtle atmosphere. Most of the album follows the Music For Airports logic that good ambient music should be simultaneously listenable and ignorable. During times of great stress, one might find comfort and safety in the pieces, and in times of great optimism, one might be disturbed.

Disturbing is the goal half the time, though. Ambient 4 is often cited as the premier dark ambient album, and it is not unlikely that Eno invented yet another genre here. One song in particular aims to disturb more than others. Shadow is a shocker of a song, not necessarily fitting in any way with the rest of the album. It is purely a scare tactic, but it works. John Hassell takes the spotlight with a strongly manipulated trumpet sound that one has a hard time believing did not in fact come from a set of human vocal chords. The trumpet is played over springloaded dissonant bass tones under cricket sounds, and it would make any remotely normal person soil themselves if they played it while sitting alone in the dark outside. It’s just that disturbing. Impressive, yes. But it doesn’t fit in. Also somewhat out of place but not inappreciable is Tal Coat, less of an ambient soundscape and more of a medium for sonic experimentation. It does, however, vaguely resemble what some poisonous miasma from a bog might sound like on a foggy day. Maybe the existence of that previous sentence justifies the song.

Also particularly poignant is the final piece, Dunwich Beach Autumn 1960. It is perhaps the thesis for the album. There is a particular place, at a particular time, where someone is there feeling something, and here it is, in sound. The ending is completely memorable. It cuts off suddenly, like many of the other songs on the album do, and if you are listening to the album on a CD player or computer where silence follows the final track of an album, you will be floored by the destruction through silence of the environment that is meticulously created and reinforced in Dunwich Beach. Part of what makes Brian Eno’s ambient music so beautiful is that the music can almost be treated like visual art. What is there is seen, and viewed from afar with joy in the same way that one might view a painting over and over again time after time. The more you listen to these songs, the more they become yours. Ambient 4: On Land is undoubtedly the most advanced album in the Ambient Series and a perfect ending statement.

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Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks

February 5, 2007

Apollo

Space travel has never really interested me, for numerous reasons including how boring it must be to just go out into outer space and sit in a space station or something. If I want to see the stars or nebulaes or whatever, I’ll just go out in the middle of Montana or something and lie on the ground and watch the stars. Going on a shuttle and out of our earths atmosphere doesn’t really get you any closer to the stars that you dream of. The fact that Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks gets past these realities make it just as essential as some of Eno’s other popular pieces. The problem is that one needs to treat it in the right light and let it take you away.

I say that because it is extremely easy to listen to Brian Eno and just think about whatever the title tells you. It’s easy to imagine an airport during Music For Airports, and a plateau in The Plateaux of Mirrors. It is simmilarly easy for one to imagine the moon or outer space when listening to Apollo, and by outer space I mean the real outer space, and how truly boring it is. If you are floating in outer space, you are kind of close to weightless so that is pretty cool. But you are also lonely, probably close to death, bored out of your mind, and worried. What Apollo does is sort of transcend any images we can already recognize as reality, and in that sense it is the true victory of Eno’s ambient catalogue. It is evocative of outer space, but not an outer space we know. Picture if looking out into the night sky was more interesting, and everything in the universe was a tad closer together, and there were more nebulaes and planets and moons and shooting stars and such to see in the night sky; a more colorful night. And now don’t restrict yourself necessarily to floating out in the middle of space. You can if you want, but you could also be watching from earth too. And you don’t have to be all deep about looking out into space, and you don’t have to think about whether or not we are alone or if there is a meaning to life. Are you relaxed yet?

This is not my favorite Eno album, and it does have it’s problems. The cover art sucks, for one thing. Of all the things to put on an album that shouldn’t be associated with the moon… How silly. The moon, while beautiful in it’s own way, is desolate, grey, lonely, and in the middle of nowhere. Once again, this album is not the night sky you know. Other problems I have are with a few individual songs. One of those is The Secret Place, and while it was a good enough idea, it’s not a priceless track like the rest. It has important ideas and details like the other songs, but not ideas that meld extremely well. The drums are discreet and cool, and the almost ocean-like synthesizers make sense in the context of an underwater setting, but it’s not an enjoyable listen, as being in a dark underwater expanse is NOT FUN. Or maybe just not for me. At least in outer space I can turn my head and not see a giant sea monster swallow me up. In the ocean you don’t know what the hell is going on. But the songs follower Matta sort of does the same thing better, more like feeling like you are on a quiet eerie dock, all dressed up with whale sounds and deep echoes. And what a comparison that is; the depths of space to a deep ocean! To have the universe be filled withouter space animals would be interesting. Just picture whales in the sky, just for a moment. Eno’s goal with ambient music was always to create an environment without images or words in conjunction with the listeners imagination. On all of the songs here he does the job well. But quite simply, some songs are more enjoyable than others to listen to, as effective as most of them are.

This is actually probably the most structured and melodic of all of Eno’s ambient works. Not that every song is structured, because about half the album is complex chord tones and discreet atmospheres. But there are few tracks that could actually be considered songs, much in the wake of Another Green World’s instrumentals. Right about when the album hits Silver Morning it starts getting very accessible and song based, up until the last song Stars which is sort of a combination. Silver Morning is actually more of a big relaxing almost southern American guitar solo, all dressed up in down home slides. That sort of twang carries through the pseudo lullaby Deep Blue Day, and it almost contradicts itself. It has a chugalong pace and a relaxing centerpiece melody, but the synthesizers are too vast to truly be relaxing or sleep-inducing. The effect isn’t by any means failed or anything, but are very interesting, almost too interesting to be discreet like ambient music should be and conversely too non-intrusive to hold ones ear for too long. Consequently this music is very much an album you want to give a full listen and understand fully, but it really takes a while, because this is by no means the epitomy of ambient music. It has more feeling, that much is for sure. It just doesn’t hit all the right qualifications.

The moodier pieces are probably the better ones though. Always Returning is sort of a combination of melody and atmosphere. It has a repeating synth line that gets closer to a flat out lullaby, and it is tired and flexible enough to represent a number of things to the listener, including a weary city and it’s weary people at very late hours. One clear winner is An Ending (Ascent) in all of it’s shifting beauty and subtlety. Another is Under Stars II, but it’s less of a touching piece and more of a mellow outing.

This is really not an album that my words can do justice to. And I don’t mean to say that with an air of pretentiousness that this album is ingenious or perfect. It’s not. It’s not even my favorite of Eno’s ambient pieces. But it is very good for those who chose to understand it in their own ways. And for gods sake don’t think about the goddam moon when you listen to this, unless you really want to. I reiterate; Eno’s music was never meant to paint a specific picture so much as a tangible feeling that the listener can latch on to subconciously. You aren’t supposed to listen to this album feverishly pointing out to yourself what you do and don’t like, because it is supposed to be in the background. Like every ambient album, there will be songs you do and don’t like, that work and don’t work, and that is fine. Ambient music doesn’t work at it’s best on an album basis, like other music does, if you would even call this music. But for all intents and purposes, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is Ambient V, and it should be treated in the same way as all of Eno’s other ambient albums.