Am­bi­ent master plays to the gallery.

Prog - - The Musical Box - SID SMITH

It’s ev­i­dent from the il­lu­mi­nat­ing es­say in the 64-page book­let ac­com­pa­ny­ing this six-al­bum set that had Brian Eno not had a chance meet­ing with Andy Mackay on the Lon­don Un­der­ground, which pro­vided the in­vi­ta­tion to a then-nascent Roxy Mu­sic re­hearsal, he would have gone on to en­joy a pro­duc­tive ca­reer as an artist or lec­turer in academia, mak­ing oc­ca­sional dips into ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic.


Beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated, the book­let chron­i­cles sev­eral phases of his ex­tra­mu­ral ac­tiv­i­ties: 1960s art col­lege dilet­tante, ex­plor­ing video and the vis­tas of New York’s roof­s­capes dur­ing the 1980s, pro­ject­ing dig­i­tal paint­ings onto the sails of Syd­ney’s Opera House in 2009. The man who qui­etly be­gan rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing mu­sic with 1975’s Dis­creet Mu­sic and Another Green World also em­barked on a longer jour­ney from ob­scure un­der­dog to art-es­tab­lish­ment ac­cep­tance.

Non-intrusive and ephemeral, the re­flec­tive, con­so­nant na­ture of his mu­sic al­lows lis­ten­ers to be as pas­sive or as en­gaged as re­quired. His im­pec­ca­ble sound de­sign is awash with tiny, glis­ten­ing shards, dis­tant tolling bells, half-formed melodies dis­tended and caught in a shim­mer­ing heat haze.

Eno’s habit of re­cy­cling his palette of sound ef­fects means that much of the ma­te­rial as­sem­bled here has a fa­mil­iar­ity, at least in their sonic com­po­nents, if not in the ac­tual finished prod­uct. Thus we find frag­ments of The Shutov Assem­bly waft­ing within the siz­zling dis­tor­tions of 77 Mil­lion Paint­ings.

The grad­ual na­ture of Eno’s mu­sic is as much about hold­ing his nerve as it is about com­po­si­tional prow­ess. Fif­teen rel­a­tively static min­utes elapse be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of any sig­nif­i­cant shift in the sonic land­scape. Ac­com­pa­nied by vis­ual stim­u­la­tion, such mo­ments could be missed. Yet iso­lated from the kalei­do­scope of geo­met­ric shapes, the small in­ci­dent be­comes a ma­jor event. Even di­vorced from their in­tended set­tings, these pieces stand up in their own right.

The col­lec­tion of shorter tracks on disc five, orig­i­nally sold at gallery shops, lacks the flow of the other com­po­si­tions. Feel­ing some­what sketchy and out of con­text, such of­f­cuts sparkle ef­fi­ciently enough, though the pon­der­ous, churchy chords of De­light­ful Uni­verse (Seen From Above) seems over­in­flated by Eno’s usual pared-back aes­thet­ics.

Cov­er­ing 1986 through to the present, these six al­bums gather to­gether what is a sub­stan­tial body of work that in­cludes a smat­ter­ing of pre­vi­ously un­re­leased tracks and rar­i­ties. Twid­dling knobs in the ranks of Roxy Mu­sic and be­yond may have ini­tially dis­tracted him from pur­su­ing his orig­i­nal vo­ca­tion, but Eno’s al­ways en­joyed play­ing a long game when it comes to art and mu­sic.

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