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Brian Eno - Discreet Music CD (album) cover


Brian Eno


Progressive Electronic

3.46 | 109 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars As with fellow luminaries Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa, a stay in the hospital ended up having a major impact on Brian's artistic approach. If you're not familiar with the story, I'll give you the short version; Brian was in the hospital when a friend stopped by and gave him a recording of some harp music. Brian put it on and waddled back to his bed, only to find that (a) the volume on his stereo was extremely low and (b) only one of the two speakers was working. While laying down, he noticed that he wasn't so much listening to the music as he was treating it as part of the "background ambience," and thus was the idea of "musical wallpaper" born.

The thing is, as you can see from the pretty low rating, I don't find this album very good, even though I'm fond of a lot of Eno's ambient work. The first side consists of the half-hour title track, in which the "music as wallpaper" idea is made manifest, but which doesn't do much to convince me that that's a great idea. You see, the other defining attribute of the track is that it's not so much written as it is simulated. Basically, Brian wrote out a couple of simple (not to mention quiet) melody snippets of differing lengths, set them up to loop repeatedly and simultaneously through a recording device, and limited himself to 'interfering' only by modifying the tones and textures of the snippets as they passed through the recording system. The end result is ... about what you'd expect. It is a piece without beginning and without end, one that has some beauty to it but also some serious discomfort (given that the two melody snippets inevitably clash in some places, at least as much as "clash" can be applied to two pieces that are so quiet), and one which can very arguably be disqualified as real music.

The thing is, I kinda like the general idea of what Brian did in setting up this piece, and I think it's pretty clever. The problem is that I see it as clever from a scientific point of view, not from a music point of view; it's a neat concept, but it's one that somebody without any talent or even interest in music could have come up with (the fact that it came from somebody with as strong of a talent in pop music as Eno simply makes him that much more fascinating). Brian's best ambient work had his soul embedded into it, even if it was distilled into a rather abstract form; by recording this track in such a mechanical way, the track is rendered soulless (even though the individual snippets are lovely in and of themselves), and that hurts a lot.

The second side gets away from the wallpaper of the first side, but it's also extremely "academic" in a twisted way, which may put off some people (it kinda does with me). The three tracks here are each variations on "Pachabel's Canon," which are each rendered almost unrecognizable by the tweaks Eno puts in. In the first track, Eno slows down each of the string parts in the piece, with the slowdown rate at a given moment for each instrument determined by how low the pitch of that instrument's part is. The second track matches sequences of notes from the piece with time signatures taken from other places, and the third gives to each instrument a repeated part that starts at the same time as the other parts but lasts for a differing amount of time from the others, meaning that there's an awful lot of clashing after a while. These tracks are ... interesting, but not particularly rousing in any way. One thing they're definitely not is pretty; these deconstructions are so severe that they're really discomforting to listen to, which is something given the source material.

So what's to be made of this album? Well, it's revolutionary as hell, and from a theoretical perspective it's certainly interesting ... but as much as I like to give credit to historically important albums that I don't necessarily enjoy tremendously, this just feels and sounds so awkwardly inhumane that I just can't give it more than grudging respect. It's worth a listen, but not too much more.

tarkus1980 | 2/5 |


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