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Brian Eno Discreet Music album cover
3.47 | 134 ratings | 12 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1975

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Discreet Music (31:34)
- Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel :
2. I - Fullness of Wind (9:55)
3. II - French Catalogues (5:19)
4. III - Brutal Ardour (8:13)

Total Time: 55:01

Line-up / Musicians

- Brian Eno / synthesizer, FX & tapes (1), producer

- The Cockpit Ensemble (2-4)
- Gavin Bryars / arranger & conductor (2-4)

Releases information

Artwork: John Bonis

LP Obscure ‎- obscure no. 3 (1975, UK)

CD EG ‎- EGCD 23 (1987, US) New cover art
CD Virgin ‎- ENOCD 5 (2004, UK) Remastered by Simon Heyworth

Thanks to proglucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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BRIAN ENO Discreet Music ratings distribution

(134 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
Good, but non-essential (34%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

BRIAN ENO Discreet Music reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Matti
3 stars This must be one of the most 'experimental' and at the same time one of the most serene albums in Archives. I put passages of Eno's own notes here to tell what's it about: "Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part." 31-minute title track is the first way: "If there is any score for the piece, it must be the operational diagram of the particular apparatus I used for its production. The key configuration here is the long delay echo system (...) Having set up this apparatus, my degree of participation (...) was limited to A) providing an input - in this case, two simple and mutually compatible melodic lines of different duration stored on a digital recall system - and B) occasionally altering the timbre of the synthesizer's output by means of a graphic equalizer."

The other way is exemplified in 3 variations of Pachelbel's Canon (performed by The Cockpit Ensemble/ Gavin Bryars). Each performer is given a varied set of instructions how to handle a small section of the score, and the result is on the hands of mathematics. For example, each player's tempo is decreased in various rates, or each player has a sequence of different length, and the original relationships break down.

Sounds more like science than music, huh? But all the music in this CD is surprisingly pleasant, no cacophony. Pachelbel variations are like slowed down baroque mixed with modern chamber music, but even if they're not "composed" in a common sense, they work nicely. 'Discreet Music' is ambient in its essence. It is here where Eno describes how he found a new way of hearing music, lying hurt on a bed without being able to turn the stereo's volume up. The sounds of the environment added colour. "It is for this reason I suggest listening to the piece at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility."

How can one rate this experiment? I'm not so sure if this is a moment of pure ingenuity in the history of music. To make music technically with the least possible participation is hardly something to win audience's admiration. If the result sounded irritating, I would call it emperor's new clothes, but as this music can be both ignored and enjoyed in ameditative way, I rate it in the middle.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars With time this minimalistic album has grown one of my greatest favourites, containing the most romantically beautiful ambient music I have yet heard. The A-side of the vinyl is built from delicate whispers of flute mellotrons and soothing synth tones, creating calm area of sound, where the sensation of time disappears. The randomness of loop effects used give interesting extra value to this flow of tones; Though this is more calculated and automated, the endresult sounds much more human and plesant than the organic soothing improvisation fro example from the King Crimson's "Moonchild" explorations. The B-side has three variations of Johann Pachelbel's Canon on D Major with chamber orchestra, whose adaptations have been enhanced with some additional synths. The random approach to these scores are interesting, as due simplicity of the scales the variations provide tonally pleasant sounds, which I would describe "surrealistic classical music". "Fullness of Wind" reduces speed constantly, and disappears to hazy void of beautifulness like "Im Abendrot" of Richard Strauss. The two other pieces have the notes duration interval broken down, and shimmer transcendental sweetness like a masterful abstract painting. If you like beautiful and classical music, I would recommend to allure yourslef with the charms of this wonderful album.
Review by thellama73
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a lovely album of extremely beauty and simplicity. Here, Brian Eno unleashes his concept of ambient music on the world for the first time, with great results. "Discreet Music" is basically a very slow moving loop, gradually manipulated with filters and EQ over its running time. It is meant to be played at very low volumes and to hang in the background of the room like wallpaper. While this way of listening is very effective, it can also reward closer inspection. The second half of the album is comprised of experimental variations of Pachelbel's Canon, which result in surreal, dreamlike mutations of a familiar theme. I must also point out to Ricochet that the canon was not written by Bach, but rather by (big surprise) Pachelbel.

This is great music for thinking, reading and dreaming, but Eno would develop this style to perfection on his next ambient release, Music for Airports.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Sound evolving on its own.

"Discreet Music" is a 30 minute ambient piece recorded by Eno on one day in September of 1975, charting the path for many of his better loved minimalist pieces that would soon follow. He admits in the liner notes for this album that he is as much audience as creator, setting some simple sounds into motion and just watching what happens as the sounds are manipulated and looped by his hardware. It was not his intention to create music so much as to allow sound to happen and see what transpired. In his words he wanted "to ignore the tendency to play the artist by dabbling and interfering." He carefully explains and diagrams the processes for those who are interested in the mechanics of such things. I confess, I am not to any huge degree. I really only care about the result and how it makes me feel. Eno also states the music is to be played at extremely low volume and that the whole point is that this should fade into the background like musical wallpaper. The "Three Variations on the Canon in D major" offer manipulations to the performances of a small chamber ensemble and are interesting, slightly more "musical" if you will, but still not fully engaging. It doesn't work as well for me as the title track but is worth hearing.

For me the album is a modest success. It is good background sound just as Eno intended it to be, it is the beauty of simplicity. I think most ambient sound fans will appreciate the album although I did find it elicited some pretty good one liners both for and against: Web reviewer Awake600 noted "Life's too short to be listening to what sounds suspiciously like a snippet of a slightly below average quality, two-minute Another Green World instrumental, only set to play fifteen times on repeat." On the flip side of the coin and to end on a more positive note, web reviewer rainshine87 was glowing: "It's one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard, and never fails to put me into a state of absolute peace and joy. I'd like to listen to it whilst I die, as strange as that may sound." No, that doesn't sound strange after one has allowed "Discreet Music" to wash over them..though I remain somewhere in the middle of those two sentiments.

Review by tarkus1980
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.

Review by EatThatPhonebook
2 stars Bleak, cold atmospheres and dramatic, slow orchestral moments mainly take part of this fourth effort by genius Brian Eno. Unfortunately, the album isn't as good as it should have been.

"Discreet Music" can be easily considered the most important and first Ambient album ever, making in this way Brian Eno a precursor of the genre. Completely different from the previous albums, this one goes in atmospheres that the artist was yet to explore. Everything here is electronic, there are no other instruments. Even the orchestral pieces are computer made. Minimalism becomes the main influence, and so very few notes are played, and the ones that are played repeat themselves in specific patterns during the songs, with slight modifications every time. This huge step towards the unknown was made by Eno not really in studio, but when he was in the hospital, paralyzed. A friend of his gave him a classical music record to keep him company, but the record player in the room was so bad that the music had to be at a very low volume, giving it the exclusive use of creating an atmosphere, and not destined to be listened to carefully. "Musique d'ameublement" Erik Satie called it, forty years before this release, when he too was experimenting with classical music.

"Discreet Music" is an at times (like in the title track) beautiful portrait of cold, deserted lands illuminated by a pale, dusky sun. Or at least, that's what I like to imagine it, since not all the album is like this; In fact, exclusively the title track can give you this wonderful fantasy. The other three songs of the album are all orchestral, and all of them are Variations on the Canon in D Major, all very similar to each other. These songs, in my opinion, ruin the album, and do not deserve to be in the same album as "Discreet Music", frankly one of the best Brian Eno songs ever. These three songs are all delicate, gentle, but very sad sounding. Their main problem is that it goes too far; there are almost all too long and repetitive, and they would have been breathtaking tracks if the artist had shortened them.

Anyway, the album maintains good levels, and there is definitely a nice and harmonious equilibrium. 3.5 stars seem sufficient.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars As far as I am concerned, this is the first Eno album that deserves the electronic umbrella.

So far, the music played by this guy was rather dull and with very little inspiration although he was surrounded by a myriad of great artists. But this wouldn't prevent the releases of quite average albums.

He is now fully in control of each element of this work and the result is quite good. I am not going to tell you that "Discreet Music" is a masterpiece, far from it. But at least the title track can be compared with the some great German counterparts (even if not totally on par).

The other three tracks are not really exciting to say the least. If "Fullness" and "French Catalogues" are pleasant but so similar that they should be considered as a one and only stuff, the last section "Brutal Ardour" is frankly disastrous. What else?

Three stars, but this is on the upper end really.

Review by colorofmoney91
3 stars Discreet Music is an album of the ambient variety in the catalog of Brian Eno's work, but it isn't nearly as boring as the music found on Music for Airports. Though this work is extremely similar to Music For Airports, this earlier work has a much fuller sound with more textures, even though it isn't all that obvious at first listen.

The 30 minute title-track is the most bland here, which is discouraging because of it being the longest track on the album. Though it is pleasant listening, nothing stands out and it doesn't really progress anywhere, but of course that is to be expected with ambient music.

The three-part suite, "Three Variations on the Canon in D Major", is more of the same. As the title suggests, this suite is based off of the Canon in D Major by J. Pachelbel. These variations are much better and sound more complete than the title track, and fill the soundscape with a uniquely classical feel. Unfortunately, across the three tracks that make up the suite, there really isn't much progression or interesting additions, experimental touches, etc. It doesn't really help much that the inspiration for this suite is based off of one of the baroque-period's most banal masterpieces.

This album, though not great, is much better and definitely more full in sound and texture than Music for Airports. If you're looking for more of the Ambient 1 type if music with added classical elements, then this is for you. If that isn't what you're looking for, maybe try looking at Eno's more popular works.

Review by Warthur
4 stars This incredibly placid and haunting album is Eno's first fully ambient work. The first side, Discreet Music, was intended as a backing track for Robert Fripp's Frippertronics performances, but on its own takes on a quality not unlike Tangerine Dream's Zeit. The second side consists of three increasingly chaotic variations on Pachelbel's Canon In D Major, the performers gradually getting more and more out of sync with one another with the result that the piece is transformed in unexpected and unpredictable ways into an entirely new work before collapsing into chaos at the close of the third part, Brutal Ardour. Simple experiments, yes, but in this simplicity Eno founded a new genre.
Review by admireArt
4 stars What a beating!

"Discreet Music",1975, consists of a long, slow-paced track and 3 variations of Pachelbel's Canon (performed by The Cockpit Ensemble/ Gavin Bryars). Music wise, for those who actually know the electronic music world, beforehand and are not expecting, "the gods know what" sonic experience, this album is a must in your PE collection.

Do not be misguided by unknowing reviewers, who seemed to be expecting Yes or Deep Purple (maybe even Black Sabbath) in this fourth Brian Eno's official release.

Focused instrumental experimentation deprived of the usual dry humor found in his previous releases, Discreet Music is groundbreaking in more than one way. For Brian Eno, himself it is the opening door to one of his, now very well established and personal, musical languages. To us listeners it changed the face, radically, of the until then known "Cosmic Electronics".

Discreet Music, its first track, consists of slow paced sections of scattered melody lines counterpointed by distant mirror, out of phase of the same, lines, constructing subtle symphonic like minimalist, transparent and fragile structures which are ephemeral as only music can be.

3 variations of Pachelbel's Canon (tracks 2,3 & 4), are a free flowing intersection of pasted tape loops of the pre-recorded material, processesed through different running speeds and representing the original form in a dream like, disrupting but amiable, alternate, out of phase version .

****4.5 PA stars.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Brian Eno is often thought of the thinking man of progressive music. Although many thinking men exist in the genre, Eno was the one who thought the hardest, particularly in both the abstract and the minimalist. The way he perceived music as a whole both in how it's psychologically defined and ho ... (read more)

Report this review (#1710182) | Posted by aglasshouse | Wednesday, April 12, 2017 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Oh, yes, I remember listening to this one in its entirety. Considering the fact that this album has only four tracks that are very repetitive, I can't really say much about it. What I can say is that I find it extremely difficult to listen to the half-hour-long title track in one sitting or standing ... (read more)

Report this review (#613894) | Posted by Dayvenkirq | Friday, January 20, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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