Stream Brian Eno’s “Magnificently Peaceful” New Album Reflection: A Thoughtful Way to Start 2017


Cre­ative Com­mons image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

“The con­sen­sus among most of my friends seems to be that 2016 was a ter­ri­ble year, and the begin­ning of a long decline into some­thing we don’t even want to imag­ine.” Per­haps you find your­self, here at the dawn of 2017, think­ing the very same thing. But Bri­an Eno, who wrote those words in a new year’s Face­book mes­sage to his fans, won­ders if 2016 marked “the end — not the begin­ning — of a long decline.” Amid all the sound and fury, he’s also noticed “a qui­eter but equal­ly pow­er­ful stir­ring: peo­ple are rethink­ing what democ­ra­cy means, what soci­ety means and what we need to do to make them work again.”

If share and reac­tion counts are any indi­ca­tion, Eno’s assess­ment of the cur­rent human sit­u­a­tion has res­onat­ed with peo­ple, many of whom must sim­ply feel relieved to hear that at least one of their favorite musi­cal lumi­nar­ies has made it into 2017 unscathed.

Not only has he sur­vived, he’s put out a brand new album called Reflec­tion which, in an essay on his web site, he calls “the lat­est work in a long series” that includes 1975’s Dis­creet Music, 1985’s Thurs­day After­noon, 1993’s Neroli, 2012’s Lux, and “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.”

Eno refers, broad­ly speak­ing, to the sort of music now known as “ambi­ent,” though “I don’t think I under­stand what that term stands for any­more.” He more accu­rate­ly describes this thread of his work as “gen­er­a­tive music,” which means music where the pieces “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.” The album ver­sion of Reflec­tion, which you can stream on Spo­ti­fy (after down­load­ing Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware here) or pur­chase on Ama­zon or iTunes, rep­re­sents just one “record­ing of one of those unfold­ings.”

Reflec­tion’s sin­gle track, writes the Guardian’s Kit­ty Empire, “unfurls very grad­u­al­ly over 54 min­utes (and one sec­ond), its thrums and oscil­la­tions rever­ber­at­ing at a pace you might call glacial if the glac­i­ers weren’t all melt­ing in such a hur­ry. At sev­en min­utes in, the tones gath­er momen­tum. At 21 min­utes, there’s some­thing like the twit­ter of an elec­tron­ic bird. It gets going again at the 47-minute mark, when the bell-like nuances once again turn up a notch. The over­all effect is deeply, mag­nif­i­cent­ly peace­ful, med­i­ta­tive, even; ambi­ent cer­tain­ly monop­o­lis­es cer­tain sec­tions of the the­saurus. Naysay­ers may liken ambi­ent music to watch­ing paint dry, but this is paint dry­ing on a Mark Rothko can­vas.”

Just as a Rothko can­vas pro­vides a visu­al envi­ron­ment con­ducive to thought, so an ambi­ent Eno album pro­vides a son­ic one. “Reflec­tion is so called because I find it makes me think back. It makes me think things over,” Eno writes on his notes on the album. “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.” This goes just as much, pre­sum­ably, for the the app ver­sion, which pro­vides the gen­er­a­tive sys­tem for a dif­fer­ent Reflec­tion lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence each time. We need the kind of space it cre­ates more than ever, now that, as Eno put it in his opti­mistic New Year’s dis­patch, “peo­ple are think­ing hard, and, most impor­tant­ly, think­ing out loud, togeth­er.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Cre­ates a List of His 13 Favorite Records: From Gospel to Afrobeat, Shoegaze to Bul­gar­i­an Folk

Bri­an Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Down­load His 2015 John Peel Lec­ture

The Genius of Bri­an Eno On Dis­play in 80 Minute Q&A: Talks Art, iPad Apps, ABBA, & More

Bri­an Eno Once Com­posed Music for Win­dows 95; Now He Lets You Cre­ate Music with an iPad App

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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