Side one, which shares the album’s title, is a 30-minute mix of synthesizer loops he’d created for Robert Fripp to extemporize upon. The tones are fairly basic, simple flute sounds and low winds. The notes are few, alternating within the same key and pitch, going in and out of the overall mix to provide a pleasant accompaniment to any number of non-arduous activities. Because it’s so long, it often seems on the verge of fading away, only to return. It’s probably best experienced at home, with the windows open to hear birds singing and rain falling, as Eno’s inspiration for the piece happened to include.
Side two purports to present another approach to his self-generating thesis. Here he takes one of the most well-known, copied pieces of music in the history of written scores, and has a classic string ensemble disassemble it three different ways. We recognize the first notes of Pachelbel’s Canon from the start, only to have it slowly evolve into long, drawn-out extensions of the notes. The second section allows spurts of the melody to appear and sustain, while the third, by design, renders the score past the point of recognition.
Coming smack-dab amidst Eno’s “pop” albums, Discreet Music is alternatively distracting and challenging. Where side one has its merit, side two is collectively a matter of personal taste; if anything, it’s unique to hear Eno “music” played by acoustic, unamplified and untreated instruments. The album is best appreciated as part of his big picture, after all else has been absorbed.
Brian Eno Discreet Music (1975)—3