BRIAN ENO HAS been busy since signing with Warp, and the potential of getting heard by a younger audience (Warp, after all, nurtured the next generation of Eno-influenced electronic acts like Aphex Twin and Autechre in the ‘90s) seems to have spurred him on: first, there was his collaboration with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, Small Craft On A Milk Sea (2010), then his collaboration with poet Rick Holland on Drums Between The Bells (2011), and now, a ‘solo’ album called Lux.
Eno supposedly invented ambient music in the 1970s with works like Discreet Music and Music For Airports, and Lux is squarely in the ambient tradition, which will no doubt excite committed fans, although it’s hard to imagine them staying awake through the 75-minute disc once they get home, press ‘play’ and get comfy on the couch. Honestly, it seems to go on forever, and its four tracks (supposedly broken up into 12 sequences) all make for lovely background if you’re looking for something to disguise the ambient (ha!) noise from the heat pump, but what they don’t do is engage the listener in active listening.
Originally composed for an exhibition in Italy, Lux, apart from minor variations and textural details, is all much of a piece. Rather than the austere nothingness of the ‘70s ambient works it’s being compared to, there’s a lushness about the soft, impressionistic tones that’s closer to his collaboration with pianist Harold Budd, or even that forgotten ‘80s concept album, Thursday Afternoon. It’s undeniably lovely, and perpetually unresolved, a moment poised, then suspended in time. There is something appealing about the stasis that results: maybe it’s that with every heartbeat time is moving on, where this creates the sense of the impossible, to press pause on that beating continuum/conundrum.
But, why bother? There’s plenty of ambient music sitting in sale bins – it’s usually called ‘new age’, and is full of cheesy ‘80s synthesisers. It’s true that Lux is a more sophisticated, aesthetically complex musical construct than some new age relaxation tape, and for hi-fi nerds such as myself, it throws out some wonderful sound design. If you stay awake long enough, your ears will hear how the piano notes dance between speakers, sometimes fusing, sometimes gently moving around and about the sound field. It’s also not quite ‘happy’ enough for genuine new age hippies, because there are dissonant elements and what sounds a lot like Frippertronics (looped/sustained Robert Fripp guitar) running through a few sections.
There’s a hovering beauty about Lux that’s quite attractive, but I still don’t really see the point. Eno is at his best when his intelligence meets collaborators with musical ambition (Fripp) or compositional abilities (the wonderful Drawn From Life album with Peter J. Schwalm).
It’s preferable to valium, I guess. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3
Music = 5