Eno’s you know: a win­dow on a re­mark­able mu­si­cal odyssey

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - bboyd@irish­times.com

One song has got to work pretty hard to link Jeremy Clark­son, Nick Clegg, the Apollo moon walk, an Olympic open­ing cer­e­mony, any num­ber of videogames, a fair few films, more TV ads than you count, Cold­play and the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

But when this par­tic­u­lar four min­utes and 18 sec­onds of mu­sic has been de­scribed as “a kind of mes­meric joy not a mil­lion miles away from the ef­fects pro­duced by mild doses of hal­lu­cino­gens” and “hav­ing an as­ton­ish­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal res­o­nance” and be­ing “the great­est, most mov­ing piece of mu­sic at all time”, well, all the heavy lift­ing has al­ready been done.

Brian Eno’s An End­ing (As­cent) has been put to work by TV’s Top Gear, a Lib­eral Demo­crat party po­lit­i­cal broad­cast and the Lon­don 2012 games. It’s also been used as walk-on mu­sic by Cold­play and is now cur­rently get­ting an­other out­ing, this time as the mu­sic for a cancer re­search TV ad ap­peal.

Eno wrote An End­ing (As­cent) in 1983 for the sound­track al­bum Apollo: At­mos­pheres and Sound­tracks. This was heard on a re­mark­able film called For All Mankind, which fea­tured pre­vi­ously un­seen Nasa footage of the Apollo as­tro­nauts on the moon. By rights, An End­ing (As­cent) should just be an­other am­bi­ent wash of sound, but what gives the track its sonic im­pact is how the run of chords in a mi­nor key dis­solve into each other. It breaks all the rules.

An End­ing (As­cent) is the most cul­tur­ally used piece of mu­sic in the mod­ern era, which sits nicely along­side the fact that Eno is also re­spon­si­ble for the most lis­tened to piece of mu­sic – ever. A piece for which he only re­ceived a flat fee of $35,000.

In 1995 Mi­crosoft hired Eno to com­pose a 3.25-sec­ond-long piece as its start-up sound on Win­dows. He re­mem­bers the brief ask­ing for “a piece of mu­sic that was in­spir­ing, uni­ver­sal, op­ti­mistic, fu­tur­is­tic, sen­ti­men­tal and emo­tional”. The ad­jec­tives con­tin­ued to pour out un­til the last line, which sim­ply read: “Oh, and it can only be 3 and quar­ter sec­onds long”.

As some­one who has had his mu­sic per­formed in art gal­leries, air­ports and mu­se­ums, who be­gan with glam-rock­ers Roxy Mu­sic be­fore in­vent­ing “am­bi­ent” mu­sic and go­ing on to turn (as pro­ducer) both U2 and Cold­play from mil­lion­selling to multi-mil­lion-sell­ing bands, Brian Eno is ar­guably the most im­por­tant and in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cal fig­ure of his gen­er­a­tion.

As it hap­pens, Eno re­leased a new al­bum last week. Some­day World, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Un­der­world’s Karl Hyde, at­tracted lit­tle fan­fare. Mainly be­cause it isn’t very good. [Though not ac­cord­ing to The Ticket’s re­view, which gave the al­bum four stars – Ed.]

Why all the re­view­ers have to go around the houses be­fore ar­riv­ing at this con­clu­sion is in­struc­tive. There’s plenty of gen­u­flect­ing to Eno’s supreme sta­tus and pos­i­tive-sound­ing noises be­fore all the but’s kick in. The con­clu­sions: “self-in­dul­gent”, “repet­i­tive” and “dis­ap­point­ingly lack­ing in di­rec­tion” are all cush­ioned by ref­er­ences to his sublime back cat­a­logue.

But it’s not the act’s back cat­a­logue that is un­der re­view for any new re­lease. Brian Eno re­leased a not very good al­bum last week. That should give hope to any mu­si­cian.

Brian Eno with Karl Hyde

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