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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.

 

Dear Micha

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…

XXB

London, Dec. 18th

 

2017 5 Feb

The Sisters of Reflection

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Hannah, Irial, Darla, Anya. Sisters. Generative Music, vier mal 15 Minuten und 13 Sekunden. Etwas wärmer als Reflection, organischer. Irgendwo zwischen solemnen und serenen Stratosphären. Ein elektronischer Mitternachtsraga …

Hätte vielleicht auch Daughters heißen können; kleine wunderbare Geschöpfe, die aus sich immer wieder neue Räume generieren. Aber halt: war ich da nicht schon einmal? Kommt mir die Ecke, diese Seitenstraße, dieses Fenster, dieser Horizont nicht bekannt vor? Ich versuche mich zu erinnern, aber alles, was aus der Tiefe meines Basalhirns aufsteigt, bleibt fragmentarisch. Wie ein Traum. Der Blick aus einem Fenster in New York, eine badende Frau, unendlich langsam oszillierende Farbflächen, so dass ich den Übergang nicht spüre. Den Übergang zu dieser fraglosen Gegenwärtigkeit, die gerade die leiseste Musik Brian Eno’s für mich immer ausgemacht hat.

Eine Zugabe. Zur hochpreisigen App, weil die brexikalen Kursschwankungen den Preis getrieben haben. Deshalb. Jetzt haben alle ein gutes Gefühl. Die Atmosphäre ist rein. Subtilationen …

 

Gestern war ein trüber Tag. Nach meinem Spaziergang „über den Berg“ (ich wohne nicht am Alpenrand oder im Mittelgebirge, also war die Angelegenheit in einer knappen Stunde erledigt) machte ich mir eine grosse Tasse Assamtee, verdunkelte mein Musikzimmer, und hörte in der Folge zwei Platten, die jeweils von einem Künstler allein eingespielt wurden. Eine Kerze vertrieb das Restgrau, das durch Vorhangsspalten huschte. Das eine Album heisst „REFLECTION“, das andere „MY FOOLISH HEART“. Zuerst Ralph Towner, dann Brian Eno. In der Pause bereitete ich mir eine weitere Tasse Tee zu, diesmal grünen. Obwohl Towners Sologitarrenmusik die Aufmerksamkeit des Hörers unmittelbarer einfordert als „Reflection“, kann man sich dabei auch, mit geschärftem Bewusstsein, tief entspannen. Und es gäbe einiges zu sagen zum siebten puren Soloalbum des amerikanischen Musikers. Man merkt gar nicht, wie konzentriert die Kompositionen sind, es erscheint behändiger, schwebender, als das auf enorme Reduktion bedachte Solowerk „Timeline“, das Peter Ruedi einst, und völlig zurecht, zu einer seiner sachlichen Lobeshymnen animierte. Gedanken(splitter) zum „närrischen Herzen“ kamen kurz zu Bewusstsein, tauchten ab – in der stillen Freude unkommentierten Hörens. Später, bei Enos neuer CD, huschten alte Gedanken vorbei, solcher Art, und etwas abgerundeter (achten Sie auf die Abweichungen von Bekanntem, alte Hüte sitzen besser schräg): die Rezeption der Ambient Music von DISCREET MUSIC bis REFLECTION folgt einem Muster; des einen Langeweile ist des andern Erfüllung. Selten wird wahrgenommen, wie weit all diese „doors of perception“ von einander entfernt sind, der Handschrift des Komponisten oder „Algorithmikers“ zum Trotz. Eine Welt liegt zwischen dem lo-fi von DISCREET MUSIC und dem high-end von REFLECTION. Das eine Zufallsentdeckung, das andere Resultat langen Hörens und Verwandelns. Ich habe mich in diesen Räumen noch nie gelangweilt, aber das Wort Erfüllung trifft es auch nicht. Zu edel. Transzendenz kommt näher heran, ist für mich aber nichts Spirituelles, es ist das, was hinter den Türen auftaucht, wenn man Gewohnheiten, Kreisläufe durchbricht. A dark room. The silence of a candle. Stop making sense. „Do you realize?“. Was ist mein Lieblingssong – ever? „Sunny Afternoon“, von den Kinks. Hier könnte es spannend werden, bei den, nicht auf Aphorismen bedachten, Randnotizen. Was da so von ferne alles hereinschneit, beim Hören zweier wundervoller Platten, bis das eine und andere, stets fragmentierte, Sammelsurium, nach kurzem Quer- und Rumtreiben, entgleitet und forttrudelt!

Heute erscheint offiziell das neue Album REFLECTION von Brian Eno. (Ian is entranced, and maybe he will write another story on the album starring our beloved DJ from another age, Mireia Moreorless). Ich habe es schon einige Zeit auf dem Computer, aber nun das erste Mal die CD über die grosse Stereoanlage laufen lassen. Ich hatte eine grosse Tasse grünen Tee zubereitet, und liess die Musik in all ihren Feinheiten auf mich wirken. Es sind ja verschiedene „Soundschleifen“ aktiv, die sich aber stärker wandeln als auf Klassikern wie DISCREET MUSIC oder MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS. Jeder „Tonspur“ ist eine (digital gespeicherte) Anweisung zugeteilt, wie sie sich zu entfalten habe. So ist schon mal für beträchtliche Variationsbreite der einzelnen „Inputs“ gesorgt. Die Überlappungen sorgen also für unendliche Vielfalt im Zuge sich nie identisch wiederholender Wiederholungen. Das Tolle ist, dass diese Beschreibungen absolut ernüchternd sind, die Musik aber eher das Gegenteil davon, sinnlich, traumartig, ein Fluss. Nur die Oberflächenstruktur suggeriert generative Systeme, Kybernetik, Künstlichkeit. In der Tiefe, die hier kein metaphysischer Begriff ist, sondern den Sprung in den Fluss avisiert, das gute alte Loslassen, herrscht Staunen, Verwunderung, Trance. „But if an algorithm composed this music, is Brian Eno the author of it?“, Kitty Empire asks in her review, and I like to answer: „Yes, Kitty, he’s the author! You know why? It’s his handwriting! And: the music has no story, but soul.“ Und, erst beim Hören auf der grossen Anlage, kommt das Element der puren Überraschung hinzu. Oft scheint sich die Musik dem Nichts zu nähern, es gibt vollendet klingende Verschwindeklänge, und aus dem sanften Sog des Nichts kommt dann plötzlich ein fast lauter glockenheller Ton, der etwas Aufrüttelndes hat, aufreissendem Licht und einer Marimba nicht unähnlich. Man darf also durchaus, bei REFLECTION, einer übrigens klanglich absolut highendigen Aufnahme, Kristalle in Drei D, Landschaften vorüberziehen sehen, man darf die Musik persönlich nehmen. Ja, und ich tauche derzeit, beim Hören des Albums, in einen alten Gedichtband von Jürgen Becker ein, den ich aus dem Speicher runtergeholt habe, kehre immer zu den Klängen, den Worten zurück, dem Raum dazwischen. Besorgen Sie sich einfach mal ein schmales Lyrikbändchen von Herrn Becker, nach dem Zufallsprinzip, und halten Sie die Zeit an, wenn die Musik läuft. Kinderleicht, geht von allein, und immer eine Illusion.

 

01 Brian Eno (204)
02 David Bowie (163)
03 Hamasyan / Henriksen / Aarset / Bang  (161)
04 Bon Iver (127)
05 Leonard Cohen (81)
06 Lucinda Williams (75)
07 Jon Balke (74)
08 Nick Cave (65)
09 Radiohead (52)
10 Paul Simon (52) 
11 Daniel Lanois (47)
12 Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith (44)

 

For Love Can Turn Us Still (FLOTUS) – the wonderful new album of Lambchop is on par with their classics – the subtle electronic innovations intensify their palette instead of reaching for a bigger audience. The album of December. The album for the subversive christmas tree. The album for friends of Frank O’Hara poems. The album for people who love albums they can listen to forever. In one way, and this is no joke, it even supasses SGT. PEPPER. Not one weak track! Or will anybody tell me that „Good Morning Good Morning“ is not rather crappy?!

Going back in time: some of you may have a decent memory about the second Jethro Tull album, the one with the stand-up cover. STAND UP now got THE ELEVATED EDITION, with lots of footage, films and, excellence as usual, Steven Wilson‘ stereo and surround remixes. Even Ian Anderson’s Bach-Bourée can still create a shiver in this new ambience. And the elevated edition is a book, too, full of stunning episodes. 1968, 1969 revisited. Brian Whistler’s tales of the SACD of Weather Report’s TALE SPINNIN‘ would be perfect, too, here (I got it, I heard it, I love it – a rediscovery!), but the comments there have an extra-value, so we leave it in the blog diary for its own good.

And a small change in our third column of monthly appraisals: the term „philosophica“ can from now turn into „psychologica“, „artistica“, „graphica“ etc., dependant on the object of desire. Anybody who has something in mind? Mail your proposal of a review to manafonistas@gmx! The first idea is often the best and will be taken! That is, by the way, the address of the real Manafonista headquarter, 500 miles away from my living place. Otherwise (a quiet bravo for my understatement, please!) my enthusiastic review of the wonderful #42 of MONO.KULTUR incl. the adventurous, spellbinding talk with thrill-seeking SOPHIE CALLE, mastress of Houdini-esque ego-dissolution, will find its place there. (A day later: oh, wonderful, from the backyard of the MHQ, someone went enthusiastic about a book that has a very special, vague, nearly ungraspable topic: MOOD.)

 
 
 

 
 
 

The MANA THRILL PRIZE FACTORY 2016 is offering a fine collection of new thrillers and crime novels beyond mainstream, and Stephen Dobyn’s eccentric, funny, dark, hilarious „IS FAT BOB DEAD YET?“ is such a wonderful book with a beating heart, in spite of all its obliqueness. A thriller that evokes Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake at their best, but adds several layers of absurdity and a narrative voice that suggests metafiction meets a Greek chorus meets Jane Austen …

In our BINGEWATCH TRANCE DECEMBER corner, two series of 2016 take center stage: as different as they are, these legal dramas offer rather dark tales: GOLIATH (season 1), a fresh take on the old John-Grisham school (it’s not written by Grisham though) with fabulous Billy Bob Thornton, and THE NIGHT OF (one season only!), mirroring the neo-realistic grittiness of the „noir“- underworlds of „The Wire“ or „True Detective“, in this case with fabulous John Turturro.

 

P.S. January 2017 will be the month of promising new works by Brian Eno (purely ambient this time, and, nevertheless, another landscape, another thinking space for sure), Tinariwen, The Necks (on Mego now), Ralph Towner (guitar solo, recorded in Lugano,  release date: February (!) 3rd), and „the fearless freaks“ (watch the documentary!) of The Flaming Lips.

 

„Reflection is the latest work in a long series. It started (as far as record releases are concerned) with Discreet Music in 1975 ( – or did it start with the first Fripp and Eno album in 1973? Or did it start with the first original piece of music I ever made, at Ipswich Art School in 1965 – recordings of a metal lampshade slowed down to half and quarter speed, all overlaid?)

Anyway, it’s the music that I later called ‘Ambient’. I don’t think I understand what that term stands for anymore – it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows – but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.

The pedigree of this piece includes Thursday Afternoon, Neroli (whose subtitle is Thinking Music IV) and LUX. I’ve made a lot of thinking music, but most of it I’ve kept for myself. Now I notice that people are using some of those earlier records in the way that I use them – as provocative spaces for thinking – so I feel more inclined to make them public.

Pieces like this have another name: they’re GENERATIVE. By that I mean they make themselves. My job as a composer is to set in place a group of sounds and phrases, and then some rules which decide what happens to them. I then set the whole system playing and see what it does, adjusting the sounds and the phrases and the rules until I get something I’m happy with. Because those rules are probabilistic ( – often taking the form ‘perform operation x, y percent of the time’) the piece unfolds differently every time it is activated. What you have here is a recording of one of those unfoldings.

Reflection is so called because I find it makes me think back. It makes me think things over. It seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation. And external ones actually – people seem to enjoy it as the background to their conversations. When I make a piece like this most of my time is spent listening to it for long periods – sometimes several whole days – observing what it does to different situations, seeing how it makes me feel. I make my observations and then tweak the rules.

Because everything in the pieces is probabilistic and because the probabilities pile up it can take a very long time to get an idea of all the variations that might occur in the piece. One rule might say ‘raise 1 out of every 100 notes by 5 semitones’ and another might say ‘raise one out of every 50 notes by 7 semitones’. If those two instructions are operating on the same data stream, sometimes – very rarely – they will both operate on the same note…so something like 1 in every 5000 notes will be raised by 12 semitones. You won’t know which of those 5000 notes it’s going to be. Since there are a lot of these types of operations going on together, on different but parallel data streams, the end result is a complex and unpredictable web.

Perhaps you can divide artists into two categories: farmers and cowboys. The farmers settle a piece of land and cultivate it carefully, finding more and more value in it. The cowboys look for new places and are excited by the sheer fact of discovery, and the freedom of being somewhere that not many people have been before. I used to think I was temperamentally more cowboy than farmer… but the fact that the series to which this piece belongs has been running now for over 4 decades makes me think that there’s quite a big bit of farmer in me.“

 

2016 1 Nov

Brian Eno: The Ship – a review and a story

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PROLOGUE

 

A late summer’s night in the distant future. If there is still life, there will still be radio stations! In this case a rebuilt light tower on the lonesome crowded American West Coast, not far from San Diego. In her popular show „Off-Centre Adventures Thru Sound“, DJ Mireia Moreorless – intelligent of expression, high of heel, intoxicatingly nonchalant of superiority – takes the listener on a stroll through British music history between 1975 and 2020.

In the space of five hours, she plays a lot of classics. A short look at her playlist reveals, amongst other gems:

 

Talk Talk’s „Laughing Stock“
Scott Walker’s „Bish Bosch“
John Cale’s „Music For A New Society“
PJ Harvey’s „Let England Shake“
Robert Wyatt’s „Cuckooland“
Gavin Bryars‘ „The Sinking of the Titanic“
Portishead’s „Third“
Brian Eno’s „The Ship“

 

The Ship got its airplay in the middle of the night, people called that record still „spooky“ in 2135, especially „Fickle Sun (i)“. It was the first record she’d ever heard by Brian Eno; her grandfather played it one night, on a soundfile with Gustav Mahler on it. As well as The Dead Kennedys, Squarepusher, Nick Drake, John Lennon, Hamish Imlach, Ivor Cutler, Fugazi, Arvo Pärt, and some East India Youth tracks from his Mojo „album of the year 2020“.

 

SETTING OF THE SCENE

 

Ah … yes – the opening scene of „The Ship“. Gently does it. Nothing much happens, an oceanic view, „Music for Dead Harbours“, no humans involved, no figures in the landscape. Not yet. Things slowly unfold after minutes – the here and now will maintain the ineluctible quality of the long, faraway gone throughout.

Life – what’s left of it – slowly awakens. The Ship drifts further off, with Brian Eno’s deep voice, hitting the low C, announcing what’s going on, delivering a Sisyphus / Lazarus job giving its best to stand the test of stoicism. This is the rise and the fall and the wash and the fade. The ebb and the flow. Sooner or later other voices will gather around within earshot – via the ether, megahertz radio chatter: ghost voices, disembodied intonations reassuring themselves they are alive. Kicking.

All continuity fractures: a postmodern parody of a Greek choir. A crack-up, a falling apart, in comes „Fickle Sun (i)“, another poorly dimmed world …

 

„and so the dismal work is done‘
‚the empty eyes, the end begun‘
‚there’s no-one rowing anymore …
… abandoned far from any shore.“

 
 
 

 
 
 

The tone changes from the first moment on „Fickle Sun (i). A tour-de-force without parallel among Eno’s works. These 17 minutes observe everything turn to dust and rubble. If it isn’t an unconscious channeling, Eno’s full-bodied singing during the opening passage suggests some serious source studies of sea shanties and maritime tavern songs from Northumbria down to East Anglia. Songs from similarly desperate, earthier times.

Eno’s voice with all its treatments is a real treat. Here the passionately executed lines have their own colour and discrete shade and shape – at one point like distant cousins of The Unthanks – specialists in contemporary versions of ancient country and sea folk with its perennial cycles of love, hate and disaster.

Ahh, sea songs.

 

– Worse things happen at sea, Vladimir.

– That is true. But you do know where we are, Estragon, don’t you? Yes?

– No, I mean, well, … not really. Where are we?

– On the ocean, Estragon. Floating on the ocean. Can’t you hear the waves lapping lustily? Nor hear the seagulls squawk-squawking violent regret that no sardines shall be srown into ze sea?

– Yes, Vladimir. Well actually, no. I thought the racket was just louts! But the floor is rolling, and, well, we are standing on what looks like a fo’c’sle.

– Right.

– Right …

– Do you remember the Gospels?

– I remember the maps of the Holy Land.

 

A WIDESCREEN VOID

 

The sea is a recurring theme in Eno’s oeuvre: full of yearning in ‚Julie and I‘, rich in humour in ‚Backwater‘, vast and immense in ‚Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960‘. Languid, faintly heartbroken, green and luminous in ‚Becalmed‘. The element of surrender has always been the common thread, but until now this topic hasn’t been realised with such bleakness. A starless, bible-black frieze. A widescreen void.

This work suggests the everyday darkness of wartime. And the liminal space where every last breath is a long slowmotion leap onwards toward permanent relief from pain and trauma. And in this liminal space the cup is not broken but is so near to broken that neither ‚broken‘ nor ‚unbroken‘ fully applies. A juncture where language for now, has stopped working, its semantic flow interrupted.

Out of nowhere, in this album of constant losses and sudden appearances, an electric guitar suddenly howls painfully before decaying, at length, into oblivion. This old instrument is an unexpected guest here (especially with its history and associations. Goosebumps and shock value guaranteed. Christian Fennesz couldn’t have done it better here. Nor Edgard Varèse).

Then, into this overwhelming symphonic microcosmos comes the Scott Walker moment – fifty or more more hot shots of brass, da Daa DAAA. Highly effective in its apparent simplicity (and, yes, phonetic approximations are ridiculous when you’re trying to describe the way your breath is being taken away here). Think of it as an Ernst Jandl anti-war poem: ta Taaa TAAA. Again&again&again&AGAIN. Crescendo time. Shoot me to the end of night.

After this (the track’s climax – in fact the climax of the whole album) the song turns into a highly sensual study of decay, or, more precisely, a mourning: ‚All the boys are going down / Falling over to the ground‘. If a textbook ever covers the parallels between the works of Gustav Mahler and contemporary music between 1970 and 2020, then ‚Fickle Sun (i)‘ will have an entire chapter devoted to it.

 

ILLUSION OF CONTROL

 

Not that we know anything of Eno having a thing for the Austrian composer, but the point’s simple – while the likes of Wagner liked to pour on emotionalism and actorly heroics, Mahler lets all the pathos trickle away, the icebergs of grand musical gestures are always being melted down to the textures of wastelands – lost illusions of control.

So does Eno in the closing moments here. Single vocal lines linger. Mumblings of the dying (‚ … when I was a young soldier … ‚). But no-one’s seeing light on the other side, or angels pulsating in the corners of the frame. There’s something in the absence of dancing photons in the peripheral vision. Probably best not try to describe in detail what goes on in the final passage, where the echo chamber of voices takes over – cos it could easily sound like a lysergic acid-submerged moment out of a Philip K. Dick-novel.

Over the waterfall. That’s a simple way of putting it.

 

THE WEB HAD DIED YESTERDAY

 

„Fickle Sun (ii)“ is a Speaker’s Corner surrounded by a sea of turmoil, disturbance, entropy, weird beauty and unrelenting loss. After two long compositions dealing with the cost of hubris and the solitude of dying, when this track appears it’s like an aftershock. All quiet, but the ground still shakes, and the album’s central topics bounce around like semantic UFOs in the mind’s sky: „… The hour is thin / Trafalgar Square is calm / Birds and cold black dark / The final famine of a wicked sun …“ 

Spoken by actor Peter Serafinowicz in a voice that defies drama and distance, and accompanied by a delicate, minimal piano figure that knows where to hold breath, the piece sets the listener’s mind afloat and wondering – with all its verses, quotes and lines derived from the „Markov Chain Generator“: „And the web that died yesterday / I was a hard copy version / I turned my eyes directly to hate“

Using a mix of computer-generated chance operations and last refinements of a human being, this „man-machine“ is the perfect link between what came before, and what will come after. It’s a clearing of thoughts without leading those thoughts in a certain direction. Sharp and short as this track appears, it creates a properly surreal mental space: „Tired of what the world has yet brought forth / With the women wavin‘ at war“.

 

ROLLING ON THE GROUND

 

The whole beast is a contemporary lamento of the highest order and ends with a jukebox-song you possibly can’t resist to get lost in. Sounds strange? It does. Brian Eno often looks for a resolution, a passage of release, on the final tracks of his works and has done so since HERE COME THE WARM JETS and TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN (BY STRATEGY).

Not being a rule he hasn’t broken from time to time (think of ANOTHER DAY’S ON EARTH’s frightening finale „Bonebomb“, a favourite track of David Bowie), Eno offers a state of momentary bliss with his version of the old Velvet Underground-track „I’m Set Free“. Bleak existenzialism of the original turns into a gospel-tinged, future „evergreen“, with swelling strings and singing of the stone melting kind.

After the long and immersive journey this masterpiece (yes, that it is!) has been inviting you to before (a hell of a ride, executed with passion, stoicism and sadness in equal parts, sonically adventurous throughout), one probably is easy prey for this hymn on its way to rock bottom or heaven’s saving grace, until the very last, dying note – not overhearing the undercurrent of melancolia:

 

„ … Now I’m set free /
I’m set free /
I’m set free to find a new illusion … „

 
 
 

 
 
 

EPILOGUE

 

The Feint Gunpowder Blue

 

The feint gunpowder blue of early morning light reflects in her pupils as DJ Mireia Moreorless breathes in deeply and exhales. She’s closing her marathon of British old time avant-greats with Robert Wyatt’s ‚Sea Song‘ and a twisted tale about a big wave by Ivor Cutler. These nights at the lighthouse radio station are her preferred mode of time travel – but now, under a postmodern California sky, she’s just happy to see her cyborg lover Kasumi waiting at the entrance area in a carmesin red Austin Mini Hydrogen. A soft kiss, and Kasumi lets herself smile broadly at the vision in the passenger seat.

 

Au Pont de Neuilly

 

Let’s pause for a short while here, since you may possibly want a bit more about Mireia. If she’s a type, she’s the woman you sometimes see on the Paris Metro. She doesn’t see you. She’s probably on her way to Pont de Neuilly via an interchange to Line 1. Idiots stare at her. But you don’t, and don’t need to, because her nonchalant superiority shoots like moonbeams in a billion directions, and those moonbeams even in peripheral vision are in themselves a cosmic blessing.

 

Time Itself Could Escape

 

The secret is simple – she never realised the world’s pedestal for her. Her dad was watchmaker who invented a tourbillon that could counter the effects of gravity so well that time itself could escape its strictures within the space-time continuum. Her mum was a nurse. To her, being a DJ is a humble occupation.

 

Bullets of Adulation

 

People fire bullets of adulation her way, all the time. And every single time, they miss. But one day, soon, she will meet her match. And life will move haltingly in the light, for a second, while in another hemisphere stars will fall across the sky in 1000s at random, speeding along brief vectors from their origin in a question mark to their destinies in dust and the nothingness that is nowhere and is endless.

 

Night Flights Over Los Angeles

 

She first met Kasumi in a supermarket in Carmel, sometime during a week-long early autumn surfing trip. It didn’t take long to register. They have so many interests in common – leftfield music, jukebox culture, exotic car travels, French cuisine, tantric sex, helicopter night flights over Los Angeles, ghosts, rivers, standing stones, Bakerloo Line moquette, Highland castles, Curly, Larry, Moe, Shemp, lucid dreams, tea, clouds, rain.

 

Slowcommotion Wilderness

 

The night’s programme of music has been immersive but there’s no suggestion of fatigue. Mireia’s senses are still in fifth gear. At home, in their tiny beach house, they make love to one another, today in their „slowcommotion wilderness“ mode that doesn’t involve much movement. Afterwards, Mireia falls asleep almost immediately, and when she wakes up four hours later, she remembers a dream with a wooden jukebox and her grandfaher telling her about when there had been a jukebox revival in the early 21st century.

 

Coq au Vin

 

She opens her eyes, and sees Kasumi preparing coq au vin for the evening. After a short swim in the ocean, she moves through the living room and puts a vinyl record on their record player, an ancient „VPI Prime Forward iii“ designed by machines in Japan and manufactured by other machines in New Jersey in 2055. She puts on one of her evergreen albums from the era of last night’s journeys through old Britannia, Brian Eno’s „Oblique Collection of Antique Jukebox Adventures“, a big seller in 2019.

 

Irony of Fate

 

That guy who once coined the term ambient music, had his biggest commercial success (irony of fate) with a collection of heartwrenching, nevertheless strange versions of classic and bizarre pop songs. Eno once had an a capella group (just for the fun of singing), and one of the rules was never to publish any of the things they were doing in the comfortable space of his studio. But then, he gave it a second thought.

 

Django Rheinhardt

 

Who covers their covers in glory? Johnny Cash has done it (and brilliantly so in his last years), Bryan Ferry has done it, Patti Smith has done it, Cat Power has done it, Willie Nelson has done it. Kasumi won’t. She improvises lyrics to crackly bakelite Django Rheinhardt favourites like „Minor Swing“ and „The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise“, but only sings them unaccompanied, in the shower.

Eno listed songs he liked very much, and focussed on those where he was confident enough to add another unknown layer. And of course the final choice had to suit his way of (very British) singing with slim vocals, and no big paint brush.

 

801

 

Mireia looked on the tracklist while the first song was playing: a dark earcandy version of Ray Davies‘ „Rainy Day In June“ followed by a new version of The Beatles‘ „Tomorrow Never Knows“, Eno himself had once sung on Phil Manzanera’s „801 Live“. A really special collection, including two Everly Brothers classics, The New Vaudeville Band’s „Winchester Cathedral“, Scott Walker’s „It’s Raining Today“, Tom Waits‘ spoken-word piece „What’s He Building“, and The Doors‘ „People Are Strange“.

 

Denouement

 

When the Doors song finally appeared, Kasumi appeared. She put her arms around Mireia, and they both sang along with Eno’s singing:

 

„People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven, when you’re down
When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange, no-one remembers your name“

 

– written by Michael Engelbrecht and Ian McCartney

 
 

„Wow! Michael, this is the most brilliant review I’ve ever had. Thank you so much. I shall treasure this (- and of course send it to everybody! – I’ve already sent it to Peter Serafinowicz). It’s not only a great review in the normal sense, but it’s a ‘great’ review as in a great piece of writing. Fantastic idea, to write as though looking back from the future. Funny you should mention Ernst Jandl. He was a key figure in my life: I saw him at the Poetry Olympics in London in June 1965 – a barrel-chested, red-faced, stocky presence, unusual amongst all those slightly effete Americans like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. What he did that evening is the only thing I clearly remember – the rest of it has sort of merged together into a sort of general stew of 60’s beat poetry. Please give my regards and thanks to Ian. Brian“ (Eno’s reponse after the first of posting of the text, a week before its release. In November, everybody can experience „The Ship“ as an installation in Hamburg.)

Derzeit muss ich die Tage so durchplanen, wie zuletzt in meinem „goldenen Jahrzehnt“ im Radio, in den Neunzigern, als ich noch quer durch die alte Bundesrepublik düste, mit dicken Tonbändern im Gepäck für Michael Nauras „Klanglaboratorium“, oder einer Kiste Musik für „Radio Unfrisiert“ im Hessischen Rundfunk.

Die einzige Konstanten der kommenden Tage sind der Morgencappuccino bei Larry und die Begradigung meiner Steuerschluderei. Und dann, vier Tage lang, in Klausur, für eine „englische Vorlesung“ in abgedunkeltem Raum! Mein Aufnahmegerät für Interviews hat nach so vielen Jahren den Geist aufgegeben – ein Ersatz muss her, für ein, zwei Interviews beim Punktfestival.

Nach den letzten 9 1/2 Wochen, einer Mischung aus Medizin- und Psychothriller (alles begann mit dem von Opium begleiteten „High“ nach dem Aufwachen aus einer Vollnarkose), frei nach dem fröhlichen Motto: „Schluss mit dem Eiertanz!“, darf, neben dem Auftritt beim Punktfestival, ein frühseptemberlicher Aufenthalt in einer sauerländischen Klosterklinik als echtes Highlight meditativer Unternehmungen gewertet werden. In der Schmallenberger Klinik wird an mir eine ASS-Deaktivierung durchgeführt, was erst mal nach Philip K. Dick klingt, und dann doch eine prosaische Angelegenheit mit potentiellen Nebenwirkungen der unlustigen Art ist.

 
 
 

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Wegen meiner so gut wie sicheren Allergie gegen Salicylsäure (vermuteter Hauptgrund für wiederkehrende Probleme in den Nebenhöhlen, die somatischen Reaktionen laufen, Tücke und Segen zugleich, im Verborgenen ab) werde ich auf sanft steigende Dosierungen von ASS eingestellt, in der Hoffnung, der Körper reagiert in Zukunft eher wohlwollend auf diesen Stoff, der viel verbreiteter in unseren Nahrungsmitteln und Getränken ist als die Gefahrenliste der weitaus populäreren Lactose-Allergie. In der Zeit, in der ich gezielt ausser Gefecht gesetzt bin, beneide ich Wolfram und Gregor, die  am 9. September in Stuttgart King Crimson live erleben könnten.

Im Sauerland sagt man früh abends den Füchsen gute Nacht, und da strenge Klosterschwestern mich kaum in Wallung bringen, habe ich einen exezellenten Pageturner im Gepäck (die ersten 60 Seiten getestet, wow!): „Regengötter“ von James Lee Burke, der in Deutschland ein hochverdientes Revival erlebt. Meine Thrillerspezialistin aus Düsseldorf ist gerade im Burke’schen Leserausch.

(Abschweifung: wer mehr an Sachliteratur interessiert ist, oder unserer monatlichen „Philosophica“-Rubrik, dem empfehle ich das bei Bloomsbury herausgekommene Buch „Oblique Music“, ein wahrlich multiperspektivisches Buch über Brian Eno. In einem der dort versammelten Essays werden auch die Manafonistas ausführlich zitiert, und im Quellenverzeichnis exakt verlinkt.)

 
 
 

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Und für den Notfall (die Notfälle treten im Leben zuweilen seltsam gedrängt auf) gibt es im tiefen Sauerland auch Akuteingriffe (bei schweren Asthmaanfällen oder anaphylaktischem Schock), sowie „Glut und Asche“ (kein Alternativplan für die Einäscherung, sondern der mit in die graue, von Kreuzen und Bibeln nur so wimmelnde, gespenstische Grossanlage geschmuggelte Nachfolgeroman der „Regengötter“).

Wenn das alles so halbwegs happyendig ausklingt, mit einer Jazzsendung am 23. September, dann schlage ich drei agnostische Kreuze, berausche mich spät abends (ganz dezent) mit „The Enchanted Path“ von Molly Dooker – zur unprätentiösen, neuen Zufallmusk von Peter Broderick, oder Glenn Jones‘ Gitarrenklängen -, und besteige in den Tagen danach, in Düsseldorf oder Frankfurt a.M., ein riesengrosses Flugzeug. Natürlich kann es auch ganz anders kommen.

Und deswegen lande ich schon mal vorab an dem einzigen Ort, der einem wirklich sicher ist, der Gegenwart, und sehe mir nun jenen Film (zum wiederholten Male) an, der meine ganz persönliche „Resilienz“ (das Modewort für Widerstandsfähigkeit) genauso kräftigt wie die erste Staffel von „Justified“ – das Movie namens „Frank“ handelt nicht zuletzt von der Suche nach unerhörten Klängen – nie nostalgisch wie der Brian Wilson-Film, lässt „Frank“ jenes Quantum Verstörung zu, das nicht so ganz selten (neben allem Enthusiasmus und „flow“) Teil des kreativen Prozesses ist.


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