I built myself a metal shakuhachi. You will have to wait a bit, dear reader, for the return of this instrument. What am I doing just now, aside from listening, on various levels, to Brian Eno’s new piece of Thinking Music? Well, thinking, and stretching the now – ordering a Jack London novel, daydreaming about my next travel to the Northwestern Highlands. A grey day today. I’m not experienced in synaesthesia, but the slowly rolling tones of „Reflection“ add an unspeakable colour (of the mind) that makes the grey catchy in a non-catchy way. Drifting. Returning. There’s, from time to time, a whistling, a kind of whistling, but, probably, it’s no real or treated whistling. What kind of landscape does this music breathe?
Mhm. An early-morning-Emil-Nolde-coast-vibe. A memory of myself standing on the cliffs of Dunnet Head at the beginning of 2016. No colours exploding on this new album of, say it with a smile, „Modern Mood Music“: once upon a time, the great British music writer Richard Williams just used this expression as headline for his Melody Maker review of Brian Eno’s „Music for Films“, Weather Report’s „Mr. Gone“ and Jan Garbarek’s „Places“ (one of the best Garbarek albums, by the way). Nice reframing for the old use of „mood music“ from Muzak to Martin Denny’s Martini-Rosso-Exotica.
Wait a minute, „Reflection“ just draws me in again. Later on I will look for my exotic birds, darken the room, light an African candle (they are called „Swaazi“), put „The Jungle Book“ on the screen – bongos in the bush of ghosts. I divert. The Nolde-coast metaphor is just an imagination, nothing to be taken too seriously. I remember, an orange grove in Morocco inspired one of Eno’s other thinking pieces, „Neroli“. The place, the smell, the heat, it all might have added up to or informed some free floating tones, an unheard vibration – unfolding within another long stretch of the now.
London in summertime (long ago), a paper and pencil-shop, I’m looking for some postcards, suddenly I see a smart and beautiful looking woman, immediately ready to having a word with her, such as „Would you lead me through the streets of London?“ I’m just thinking of a somehow more prosaic first phrase, when I hear my name being called from the back of the shop: „Michael.“ It’s Brian, his old studio has been just around the corner, and we have an appointment for an interview on „Neroli“ later in the morning. So, within seconds, one of my favourite musicians and a dream girl in the same room, I was a bit confused, I explained (no kidding, but with all brevity required!) the complex situation to Brian, he apologized for interrupting me, I say, nevermind, how could you know, turned around again, she was gone. Like an apparition.
When you listen to „Reflection“, apparitions, memories, ideas, pictures, feelings, thinking (sideways), it all may come up, along with some really „deep listening“ (the term coined by the late composer Pauline Oliveiros, who really had a knack for the long lasting drones and uncompromised moods) engaging the left and the right field of your brain. Free floating trance. „I want to be the wandering sailor / We’re silhouettes by the light of the moon / I sit playing solitaire by the window…“
The old impact of asynchronism and generative processes in music: you always hear something different, though the components stay the same, or, nearly the same. Steve Reich was the pioneer, with „It’s Gonna Rain“, and some other tape pieces. Brian Eno, always keen on cybernetics, later created „Music for Airports“, and other Ambient classics, with this working method (as small part of the game of creating).
Now „Reflection“ draws me in again, a kind of relaxed magnetism. Sometimes the composition is flooding my living space, sometimes I’m writing at other places, with the music in mind. That’s a difference, cause your memory is never shooting pictures of a track without some mild distortion or nostalgic timbre. Memory is a remix. In the windmills of your mind, certain motives swirl around, prevail, endure, vanish.
The term „old school ambient music“ might arise with first reviews, and, to be honest, this kind of labeling surely deserves a „kick-in-the-ass-treatment“. Compare, f.e., „Neroli“, „Thursday Afternoon“, „Discreet Music“ or „Lux“ – all these musics open up quite (understatement!) different fields of moods and rooms and surroundings (another question is, in a review full of diversions, it’s Thinking Music, isn’t it, why don’t Eno’s ambient works get some well-deserved 5:1-remixes, to make them even more immersive, „Reflection“, at least, will get its generative App for your computer).
So, returning to my kick-in-the-ass-treatment, a term like „old school ambient music“ narrows the focus and totally ignores the diversity, let me be more precise, the extreme diversity of all these slowly evolving compositions. For someone who is more on the „Metallica“ side of sounds, or the „real-music-is-handmade-and-sweating“-approach, this all may be boring stuff, for someone who can at least imagine that thrill-seeker’s paradise might be compatible with the „adagio“ unfolding and exploring of the never everlasting now, every single ambient record might by a seductive invitation into the unknown.
„I built myself a metal shakuhachi.“ What a weird sentence to pop up while listening? Is there anything that sounds like a metal shakuhachi on „Reflection“? Nope, or: dunno. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the music, another label (but ungraspable): „Metal Shakuhachi Music“ – though there’s no metal vibe and no Japanese bamboo flute artifact. But even more so there’s a melting of the electronic/systemic and the soulful/organic. Left with uncertainties can be a gift – like not being trapped in old school knowledge can be a gift. Just, well, surrender. It even works on old, new vinyl.
many thanks for that very interesting and inspired review. I really enjoyed reading it – and I hope other people can find some of the same depth in it that you’ve found. I deliberately downplay the musical qualities of these long ambient pieces because I prefer people to regard them as ‚functional‘ – and then to discover (if they want to, if they’re able to, if they need to) that they are really music. It’s a nice surprise for them then.. have a lovely christmas wherever you are. I shall be in Italy, probably sleeping. It’s been a busy year…
London, Dec. 18th