Album Review of Reflection by Brian Eno.
Release Date: Jan 1, 2017
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Ambient, Avant-Garde
Transport yourself into an Enotopia with the ambient master’s latest release on Warp Records. Through the hour-long, other-worldly journey you can still hear the rattling from his previous journey with The Ship, the echoes that are still ruminating from Apollo, and the distant hue that will forever linger in existence thanks to Music For Airports. Reflection is the latest in Brian Eno's ambient series that has been running for over four decades; a series which no-one else has come close to emulating and comes to show that we are in the presence of one the greatest musical masterminds of our lifetime.
Brian Eno released Reflection, the latest in a series of ambient albums that started with 1975's Discreet Music, on Sunday, January 1, 2017. The title and conspicuous release date seem to suggest his intentions for the 54-minute recording. Reflection doesn't unfurl so much as ripple and resonate with a measured pace, keeping its pensive tenor constant.
In many ways, nothing has changed. Leading up to the release of Reflection, Brian Eno employed the analogy of cowboys and farmers: musical adventurers who constantly seek out new ground, and settlers, comfortable to revel in – and perfect – a certain idea. Eno himself, unsurprisingly, manages to rest as a paradox between the two realms. Throughout his career, the man has consistently chased experimentation, to list his triumphs is needless: you know the name.
Ambient music is a funny thing. As innocuous as it may seem on the surface, it can often be seen as an intrusion, an irritant. Muzak annoyed as many people as it mellowed, to the point where Ted Nugent tried to buy the company just to shutter it. When Brian Eno teamed with guitarist Robert Fripp (planting the seeds that would lead to his epochal Ambient series), the duo played a concert in Paris in May of 1975 that eschewed their Roxy Music and King Crimson fame and was subsequently met with catcalls, whistles, walkouts and a near-riot.
Reflecting is an act of selfishness done for the benefit of others. Why look back on the past with an intent to understand it if there isn’t a desire to use that uncovered truth to impact others more positively in the future? We reflect to understand, yet what’s learned in the process can only be savored by the grueling process of tracking how we got there. Because of that, reflection is a singular act, something only the person doing it can benefit from in full, but if used correctly, our reflections help the world at large.
In 2016, as he was preparing for the release of Reflection, Brian Eno admitted that he wasn't quite sure what the term "ambient music" even means anymore. It's been used to describe everything from atmospheric techno to tense, foreboding sound sculptures. For him, it's always referred to generative compositions, unrestricted by time constraints or rhythmic structures, and often left to chance.
Part of what's made Brian Eno the authority on ambient music is his conviction that the genre will never accommodate any such thing as authority. To Eno, ambient is a shifting document merely suggestive of time, place, and mood; matters of its design, ownership, and impact are ultimately less crucial than the room for interpretation it creates. On Reflection, Eno's seventh release in seven years, this underlying logic is repurposed for what Eno calls “generative music” (his word for “pieces that make themselves”), meaning that the album's single 54-minute track is merely one incarnation of an infinite musical system, a window into a massive soundscape of loops and lulls.
If 2016 was a rollercoaster of a year (or, as some would probably prefer to put it, an out of control car careering down a hill, past a sign marked ‘this way: seventh circle of Hell’), then you may appreciate a bit of reflection over the New Year. The aptly titled Reflection, the 19th solo album from Brian Eno, may well provide that. Over the course of his career, Eno has worn many hats: Bacofoil-costumed keyboardist for Roxy Music, key collaborator for names such as David Bowie, David Byrne, U2 and Coldplay, and tireless political activist.
If 2016 had you fleeing for a panic room or depopulated wilderness, this could be your perfect soundtrack: a chilly but mostly benign 54-minute piece of ambient music that gradually smothers your worried internal monologue. Bell-like tones fall jazzily on to a bedrock of sustained blurry chords like clusters of droplets, as electronic wind whistles and bass looms from the deep – all at a pace that makes La Monte Young sound like Major Lazer. Those with Apple devices can download an edition that algorithmically generates an ever-changing version from these elements, fulfilling Eno’s long-held desire for “endless music, music that would be there as long as you wanted it to be”.
“All is quiet on New Year’s Day,” U2 once sang. That was in 1983, before they became clients of Brian Eno – and, arguably, the last time anyone had any peace on the first day of the year. New Year’s Eve raves routinely spill over into the next evening. The ceaseless chirrup of social media precludes silence.
Let’s face it, 2016 was a diabolical year regarding some of the most prominent and groundbreaking musicians to have walked our planet, passing away long before their time. It goes without saying that music fans worldwide were happy to see the end of the year, but thankfully, Brian Eno remains with us. A man who collaborated with nearly every superstar of the 1970's and beyond, Eno has resurfaced in 2017 with an absolutely beautiful LP to blow the cobwebs well and truly away.
By design, Brian Eno’s latest collection of instrumental ambient music is a fluid entity. In addition to making the 54-minute, one-track Reflection available via the usual media (e.g., CD, vinyl, streaming platforms), the composer collaborated on iOS and Apple TV editions featuring an “endless and endlessly changing version of the piece of music.” There’s technically no definitive version of Reflection—it’s a composition that morphs and evolves depending on any number of emotional, environmental and temporal factors. In other words, Reflection is Eno’s latest (and perhaps most ambitious and immersive) attempt at generative music, a term he dreamed up to describe the results of a computer-aided compositional approach.
In 2006, Beck made an underrated mid career gem called The Information. Near the end, he discussed the concept of the consummate album with Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. They describe it as everything from an illuminated manuscript handwritten repeatedly by Monks to the superhuman exoskeleton spaceship of sound. It’s a hyperbolic conversation, but the best idea is that the record itself could grow, depending on your mood, depending on your age.