Ambient master plays to the gallery.
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.
AWASH WITH GLISTENING SHARDS AND HALFFORMED MELODIES.
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.