Experience a Video Painting of Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon That Has Soothed & Relaxed Millions of People

Bri­an Eno may not have invent­ed ambi­ent music, but he did give it a name. What bet­ter to call an album like his 1978 Music for Air­ports, whose slow­ly shift­ing pieces forego not just melody but all then-accept­ed meth­ods of com­po­si­tion and per­for­mance? The result, as its title sug­gests, is meant not to occu­py the inten­tion of the lis­ten­er but to col­or the atmos­phere of a space. This marked one evo­lu­tion­ary step for an idea Eno first essayed in 1975’s Dis­creet Music, issued on his own label Obscure Records in an era when much of the music peo­ple lis­tened to was any­thing but dis­creet. Record­ing tech­nol­o­gy first made ambi­ent music pos­si­ble; by the mid-1980s, video tech­nol­o­gy had devel­oped to the point that it could pos­sess a visu­al dimen­sion as well.

Just as Eno’s ambi­ent music was­n’t made for lis­ten­ing, Eno’s “video paint­ings,” as he called them, weren’t made for view­ing. 1981’s Mis­tak­en Mem­o­ries of Medieval Man­hat­tan, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, cap­tures the urban land­scape out­side from Eno’s New York win­dow — iron­i­cal­ly, with a por­trait ori­en­ta­tion, so that any TV dis­play­ing it had to be turned on its side.

Thurs­day After­noon, the next in the series, looks not to the built envi­ron­ment but that oth­er tra­di­tion­al sub­ject of paint­ing, the female form: specif­i­cal­ly that of Eno’s friend, pho­tog­ra­ph­er Chris­tine Ali­ci­no. Here video mak­ing pos­si­ble some­thing tru­ly new, with no artis­tic con­nec­tion to, as Eno put it, “Sting’s new rock video” or “bor­ing, grimy ‘Video Art.’ ”

But just like a Hol­ly­wood movie, Thurs­day After­noon had an epony­mous sound­track album. Released in 1985, it cut the 80-minute video paint­ing’s ambi­ent score down to an unbro­ken track of near­ly 61 min­utes, a length made pos­si­ble by the recent­ly intro­duced Com­pact Disc. “Played” on an acoustic piano and syn­the­siz­ers, the music shifts sub­tly in tex­ture through­out the hour, cre­at­ing a son­ic envi­ron­ment that many have found high­ly con­ge­nial for work­ing, think­ing, and relax­ing. I myself have lis­tened to it hun­dreds of times over the past twen­ty years, and in the form of a Youtube video paint­ing made by fan Jonathan Jol­ly, it’s racked up more than four mil­lion views. The col­or-treat­ed time-lapse footage of pass­ing clouds fits right in with the spir­it of the music, and it cer­tain­ly seems to do the trick for the video’s com­menters, grate­ful as they are for reduced anx­i­eties, recov­ered mem­o­ries, increased focus, and even altered con­scious­ness.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Decon­struct­ing Bri­an Eno’s Music for Air­ports: Explore the Tape Loops That Make Up His Ground­break­ing Ambi­ent Music

A Six-Hour Time-Stretched Ver­sion of Bri­an Eno’s Music For Air­ports: Med­i­tate, Relax, Study

Watch Bri­an Eno’s “Video Paint­ings,” Where 1980s TV Tech­nol­o­gy Meets Visu­al Art

Bri­an Eno Explains the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

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

The “True” Sto­ry Of How Bri­an Eno Invent­ed Ambi­ent Music

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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