Thursday, January 22, 2009
Listening to the title track for the first time in a long while, I was struck how quasi-similar it is in structure to Terry Riley's "In C". Here, Eno creates a few very simple elements, sets of one, two or four notes and allows them to intermingle at intervals that are sometimes regular for a few iterations, more often irregular, the tonal values such that it doesn't matter much when they appear or how they overlap--it always sounds "good". He varies the timbre slightly over the course of the piece, but that's about it. Listening to it on old vinyl, one has the added enjoyment of multitudinous crackles, providing a fine, scratchy scrim over the smooth proceedings; helps the piece a lot, imho. His suggestion of playing the record at very low volume, enough that it occasionally falls out of the range of hearing, impressed me very much back then (and I followed those instructions sometimes) and stuck with me as a unique (in my experience at the time) and beautiful approach.
Once again, we have the case of names appearing on the back of the album who I wouldn't become familiar with for 10-15 years (this was recorded in 1975, I believe released the following year): La Monte Young, Henry Flynt, the Scratch Orchestra, George Brecht. Annoying, that.
Luckily for Eno, his "Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel" appeared a few years before that bit of music became irritatingly unavoidable in mass culture. He makes the excellent decision, given the potential science lab nature of his dissection of it into constituent parts, to have his conductor, Gavin Bryers, render the piece in hyper-Romantic, slowed down lushness, providing an erotic contrast.
It troubles me no end to have a record that numbers Phil Collins among the personnel occupying a space in my collection, but I've learned to live with it. Always been half and half on this one. On the one hand, Eno has sidled a bit closer to a fusiony kind of sound here (there's even a track titled "Zawinul Lava") and that contributes a certain coldness to many of the tracks. Then again, there are some seriously great little riffs here, ones that adhere to the neurons with extreme tenacity. Can't tell you how often "Sky Saw" and "Sombre Reptiles" have been hummed over the years. Always liked the back cover photo, too:
Just finished Graham Greene's "The Quiet American". It's no doubt been cited thousands of times before, but one can't help be struck by its prescience, not just for Viet Nam, but for the general US attitude in overseas murderous escapades, right up to today, that naive "innocence" and self-regard that inevitably results in people being killed. Great book.