Hear Albums from Brian Eno’s 1970s Label, Obscure Records

Eno Discreet Music

Giv­en his celebri­ty sta­tus in the realms of both music and visu­al art, I don’t know that we can real­ly call any­thing Bri­an Eno does obscure. But at one point, he did call his own efforts obscure — or at least those efforts required to estab­lish and run the label Obscure Records, which he did between 1975 and 1978. In that short peri­od, Obscure Records man­aged to put out ten albums, from Gavin Bryars’ The Sink­ing of the Titan­ic (cat­a­log no. 1) to Michael Nyman’s Decay Music (no. 6) to Harold Bud­d’s Pavil­ion of Dreams (no. 10), all of which we might broad­ly cat­e­go­rize as “con­tem­po­rary clas­si­cal music,” with a strong bent toward new com­po­si­tion­al tech­niques and what we’d now call ambi­ent tex­tures.

“The label pro­vid­ed a venue for exper­i­men­tal music,” says Ubuwe­b’s Obscure Records page, “and its asso­ci­a­tion with Eno gave increased pub­lic expo­sure to its com­posers and musi­cians.” There, you freely can lis­ten to all ten Obscure releas­es — which, I sup­pose, effec­tive­ly makes them obscure no more — although they don’t include the famous­ly detailed orig­i­nal lin­er notes “ana­lyz­ing the com­po­si­tions and pro­vid­ing a biog­ra­phy of the com­pos­er.”

Though he most­ly act­ed as pro­duc­er on Obscure record­ings, Eno also used the label to put out his sem­i­nal 1975 solo album Dis­creet Music (no. 3),  which con­tains a com­po­si­tion made using the then unheard-of tech­nique of run­ning sev­er­al tape loops simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and let­ting the sound record­ed on them run grad­u­al­ly out of sync. Obscure’s fifth release, Jan Steele and John Cage’s 1976 Voic­es and Instru­ments, fea­tures “The Won­der­ful Wid­ow Of Eigh­teen Springs,” pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture as inter­pret­ed by Joey Ramone.

This may seem col­or­ful enough for any label’s life­time, but Eno did have an eleventh Obscure record planned. It ulti­mate­ly made more sense, how­ev­er, to found an entire­ly new oper­a­tion to put out this work, a cer­tain Music for Air­ports. It came out as the flag­ship release from Eno’s Ambi­ent Records — and the rest, my friends, is pop­u­lar-exper­i­men­tal music his­to­ry.

Albums from Obscure Records can be sam­pled over at UBU.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie & Bri­an Eno’s Col­lab­o­ra­tion on “Warsza­wa” Reimag­ined in Com­ic Ani­ma­tion

Jump Start Your Cre­ative Process with Bri­an Eno’s “Oblique Strate­gies”

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

How David Byrne and Bri­an Eno Make Music Togeth­er: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Hear Joey Ramone Sing a Piece by John Cage Adapt­ed from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Aaron says:

    At least some of these albums are com­mer­cial­ly avail­able. Is Ubuweb dis­trib­ut­ing this mate­r­i­al with the right­sh­old­er’s per­mis­sion, or is it essen­tial­ly boot­leg­ging?

  • Richard Henderson says:

    Your descrip­tion of ‘Dis­creet Music’ (Obscure 3) does­n’t quite fit the bill. “…using the then unheard-of tech­nique of run­ning sev­er­al tape loops simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and let­ting the sound record­ed on them run grad­u­al­ly out of sync.” This cer­tain­ly applies to the vocal and instru­men­tal parts com­pris­ing Eno’s ‘Music For Air­ports,’ released at the end of the ’70s. ‘Dis­creet Music’ was the prod­uct of brief phras­es played back by an ear­ly form of sequencer, these phas­es then being repeat­ed at extend­ed inter­vals via tape echo. As to the “then-unheard of” com­po­nent — let­ting loops run out of sync with one anoth­er – this tech­nique under­pinned ear­li­er, land­mark works in Steve Reich’s canon (‘It’s Gonna Rain’ and ‘Come Out’) which Eno has often cit­ed as inspi­ra­tion for his own work.

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