Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brian Eno 10: On Land and Thursday Afternoon

Eno’s extracurricular production work was often presented as collaboration, so that it had been some time before he has something for the record rack with his own name on the spine. The third album in the Ambient series was credited solely to Laraaji, the taken pseudonym of a street musician specializing in zither and hammer dulcimer. Day Of Radiance. A more hypnotic album, it features those layered instruments in a continual cascade of shimmering notes and harmonics, pretty much left alone on side one, and more obviously treated by the man at the mixing board on side two.
Co-credited with avant-garde trumpet player Jon Hassell, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics was released around the same time, appeared to inaugurate another series a la the Ambient experiment. That didn’t exactly happen, but the album does present a heavily treated trumpet sounding nothing like the instrument we’d recognize, augmented by synthesizers and exotic percussion. While not exactly ambient, it still provides a similar backdrop to whatever you’re doing.

The fourth and apparently final Ambient volume was credited to Eno alone, though it was not a strictly “solo” project. On Land was recorded over a three-year period, during which he’d spent and increasing amount of time around people equally fascinated with tribal percussion and so-called “found sounds”. While many of the tracks are designed to evoke certain geographical areas, the overall effect isn’t exactly soothing. More along the lines of the short experiments on Music For Films, these pieces alternately create a mood of impending doom at worst, and sitting near a swamp listening to frogs farting at best. All after dark, of course. The last two tracks (“A Clearing” and “Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960”) finally approach something pretty. Peter Gabriel would put some of these ideas to better use on his own soundtrack work, but then Eno never claimed to be a musician.

A few years after On Land—and following another collaboration discussed elsewhere—a further volume in what could be considered the Ambient series emerged in the form of Thursday Afternoon. This was an hour-long piece of music intended to be the companion soundtrack to one of his video paintings: in this case, a study of a reclining nude, presented in such a way that your television screen needed to be turned on its side to appreciate it properly. As for the music, it includes some of the cricket sounds and bird noises of On Land, with a wandering piano on top of a synth base, never tense, hardly hinting at melody. And for that, it’s effective mood music.

Brian Eno Ambient 4: On Land (1982)—2
Brian Eno Thursday Afternoon (1985)—3

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