History of Electronic Music (Part 7)
Brian Eno's influence on contemporary electronic rock music plus his collaboration with Robert Fripp and Frippertronics.
Brian Eno was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on 15th May 1948. His influence on contemporary rock music has been enormous and often underestimated.
He attended Ipswich Art School for two years and Winchester Art School for three years. During his time at Ipswich he became interested in tape recorders and their potential as musical devices. Also during this period he began studying phonetics and cybernetics.
In 1967 together with a group of shifting membership called Merchant Taylor's Simultaneous Cabinet he performed works by Christian Wolff, Tom Philips and George Brecht. He also helped form the first rock group he was to be involved in with 'Maxwell Demon'.
Moving to London in 1969 he began working with friends (mostly ex-art students) who had an interest in the future of contemporary culture. Eventually joining the Scratch Orchestra formed in 1968 by Cornelius Cardew (b. 1936) he began a career which was to elevate the position of the 'non musician' in rock. John Cage had already suggested "that everyone might be a musician, everyone a composer". Brian Eno was to make this notion more general, and socially significant.
In January 1971 he joined Roxy Music, whose contribution to electronic music has already been mentioned (E&MM June 1982). He recorded two albums with Roxy before leaving in July 1973. That year heralded the release of 'No Pussyfooting'1, a collaboration with Robert Fripp who had been left high and dry by the then recent disintegration of King Crimson III.
The album featured Eno's hypnotic synthesiser tones and Fripp's heavily treated guitar. Eno had introduced Fripp to a system of recording which used two Revoxes to form a signal loop and layer sounds. This process had been used by Terry Riley and certain other avant-garde performers. It was to be further exploited by Fripp, and accordingly labelled 'Frippertronics'.
'No Pussyfooting' and 'Discreet Music'2 are masterly examples of rock avant-gardism. Whilst not really 'rock' in any but the loosest terms they were produced by a rock sensibility and aimed at a rock audience. Eno had undoubtedly been influenced by much of his early dabblings with the avant-garde, particularly the quiescent, dappled, textural shiftings that arose from American composer La Monte Young's music. Eno produced an environmental or ambient 'Musak', much of it quiet, gentle and rather unusual in the world of 'rock music'.
Robert Fripp's continuing involvement with Frippertronics fall into two categories, applied and pure.
Applied Frippertronics is used as an alternative to traditional arrangements or orchestration and was first used on record for Daryl Hall's 'Sacred Songs' album released in 1977. Pure Frippertronics is where Frippertronics are used alone, and this again falls into two categories: ambient, much like Brian Eno's work often as ignorable as listenable, and imperative Frippertronics, where the music demands attention to validate its procession.
Robert Fripp's conception of Frippertronics is interesting as it is a fairly isolated attempt to provide human contact in the performance place. Fripp left King Crimson for a number of reasons, one being the largely decreasing possibility of any real contact between audience and performers. Frippertronics counters this by limiting the audience to between 10 and 250, also enabling a feedback to develop between Fripp and his listeners.
By 1975 Brian Eno had started his own label, 'Obscure Records', introducing the rock world to the music of (amongst others), Christopher Hobbs, Gavin Bryars, Michael Nyman and members of the Scratch Orchestra. Eno also produced albums for Portsmouth Sinfonia and Simon Jeffes Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
Apart from his ambient music series of albums, Eno recorded several, more conventional rock albums. The first being entitled 'Here come the Warm Jets'3. The album featured various members of Roxy Music and King Crimson, including Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Robert Fripp.
It reveals a fascination with the relationship between lead and backing, as well as an unusual use of melody. The electronically treated guitars of Fripp and Manzanera are devastating and they are countered by Eno's mesmerising vocal style, producing a totally original vehicle for Eno's surreal unsentimental irony.
'Here come the Warm Jets' was followed by 1975 by 'Another Green World'4. By then Eno had become aware of setting each piece within its own particular landscape and allowing the mood of that landscape to determine the activity that could occur within. Taking advantage of the fact that he could create his own psycho-acoustic space by the use of echo, delay etc., he became interested in exaggerating and inventing rather than replicating space and in particular the various techniques of time distortion. These techniques culminated in his latest record Ambient 4/'0n Land' (see review).
Eno's methods of putting songs together were also novel, as long as you began with a swinging, driving rhythm, you could put all manner of weird sounding, electronic topping afterwards, e.g. 'The Paw Paw Negro Blow Torch' on 'Here come the Warm Jets'. The pieces on 'Another Green World' had been based on tentative, playful rhythms, and 'Before and After Science'5 which was to follow played with soundscapes rather than dance tunes. It paved the way for his collaboration with David Bowie on 'Low' and introduced Roedelius and Moebius A.K.A. 'Cluster' with whom he was later to record several albums.
Eno's work with Bowie comprised the 'Berlin Trilogy' of albums. 'Low'6 the first of these collaborations featured 'Warsawa' with its wash of synthesised chords and strange vocal chants, and 'Weeping Wall' with its Terry Riley/Steve Reich marimba patterns and synthesised melody. Proving once again Bowie's ability to absorb influences from outside 'rock' music and popularise them, the feel of much of side two of this album was undoubtedly 'electronic and experimental' in nature. The 'Heroes'7 album which followed was the more successful of the two, showing as it did Bowie's new found formal accuracy, and emotional directness. The trilogy's climatic LP 'Lodger' assimilated all of the Eno influenced strategies into a supple, fluid style.
Following his work with Bowie, Eno released 'Music for Films'8. It was comparable with instrumental pieces of his 'Another Green World' album and the instrumental collaborations of 'Low' and 'Heroes'. It stands between his songs and his experimental work (such as 'Discreet Music') and suggests each of them. It is interesting for its use of the facilities and freedoms offered by the contemporary recording studio, without lapsing into the quirky gimmickry that normally characterises this pursuit. It sought to make a happier liaison between electronic and natural instruments than is often achieved and in this it succeeded admirably, being amongst his finest work to date.
Eno's contribution to electronic music was the inevitable result of an awareness of the structuralist principles of composers like Young, Reich and Glass. It should be remembered how Brian Eno became something of a guru to the new breed of synthesiser bands. The Human League, for example, were inspired by his use of electronics and glamorous appearance in the early days of Roxy Music. His production work has had a marked effect on the popularity of the bands involved and for Eno's name to be associated with a band or performer ensured larger sales and widespread interest. He has produced or coproduced records for John Cale, Ultravox, Robert Wyatt, Nico and Phil Manzanera. (See Discography).
Eno has recently moved away from the use of synthesiser and has developed an interest in the use of found sound, tribal rhythms and African music. An album released in October 1980, 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts', featured the use of 'found' voices from either radio or records woven into the music. Although not a new concept, it was considered unique in rock music and as such found much critical acclaim.
Parallels can be drawn between Eno's work and that of the German band Tangerine Dream. Their leader, Edgar Froese, drew his inspiration from the works of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligetti and the electronic music of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Yannis Xenakis. Although often less interesting, the results are surprisingly similar to Eno's ambient music, being impressionistic and full of subtle electronic colour. Next month we will look at the German electronic music of Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Giogio Moroder amongst others.
The term landscape or more appropriately 'soundscape' is often used in music to indicate a setting or back-drop for something else to happen in front of. In 'On Land' however, everything that happens is part of the landscape. There is no longer a distinction between foreground and background.
The album is said to have been inspired by, amongst other things, Fellini's 'Amarcord' (I remember), a presumably unfaithful reconstruction of childhood memories. The record is in some ways an aural counterpart to it.
The pieces on the record take the listener to various places visited, if only in imagination by Eno. Lantern Marsh, for instance was only a few miles from where Eno grew up in East Anglia. His experience of it is derived from imagining where and what it might be like although he almost certainly visited it as a child.
The sonic elements in these pieces arose by listening to the world in a 'musical' way. The resulting record is somewhat like opening a window on the world listening with a powerful 'stethoscope' and at the same time having a record on very quietly in the room.
The synthesiser is used very sparingly on this album as Eno has found it "of rather limited usefulness". The instrumentation is often acoustic in nature, and sometimes he also uses non-instruments; for example, sticks, stones and pieces of chain. He has altered the sounds of rooks, frogs and insects within the mix.
Eno is quoted as saying that anything which was recorded on the tape must appear on the final mix (allowing himself the freedom to mutate or reduce it but not to destroy it) and that any piece of music that he worked on, if finally rejected, should be fed into another piece. Somewhat like a compost heap, turning waste into nourishment.
The result is I feel nourishing and worthwhile. Having said that it would not nourish a 'heavy rock' fan for very long and is of limited appeal. Those of you familiar with Eno's other ambient works will undoubtedly find this particular recording very pleasureable.
For those of you who wish to sample the delights of Eno's ambient music I suggest you start with 'On Land/Ambient 4'. EGED 20.
Feature by Derek Pierce
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