Lux capacity to go back to the future
When Brian Eno releases an album it’s usually something of an artistic event, and worth taking notice of – and his latest, Lux, is no exception. He’s taken a leap forward with his generative, ambient music while drawing on his formidable musical knowledge to create something that sounds of and out of its time.
Eno is, of course, a musical innovator’s innovator. He was in Talking Heads (sort of); he was in Roxy Music. He made the Berlin Trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger with David Bowie. He’s probably most famous in these parts for producing U2’s The Joshua Tree, but he’s also worked with Paul Simon, Grace Jones, Devo and Depeche Mode. And he also came up with Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards with cryptic remarks designed to force musicians to work in different ways or break out of their familiar habits.
Suffice to say that Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle is a thinking musician’s musician – a sort of musical Stephen Hawking, with one foot in the abstract and another firmly rooted in pop. No wonder he gets on so well with David Byrne.
One of his greatest contributions to music though is his development of ambient music, which he pioneered with Music for Airports in 1978, creating huge, shimmering soundscapes that hung in the air with intent – beautifully made records, but you really have to concentrate to enjoy the details.
Another area Eno has pioneered is generative music, an idea that you create music by building machines that you interact with, but it is the machines themselves that are to some extent randomly generating the sounds. To this end, he has designed several smartphone apps – Bloom, Trope and Scape. These are preloaded with soundpads and effects and drones, and as you touch the screen and drag your finger around it, it creates a kind of luminescent, ethereal soundscape that you can easily lose an afternoon or 12, too.
It is from this type of thinking that Lux comes from. This is a four-track album in 12 parts, but deciphering where one part dissolves and another begins is barely possible. It was original created as part of an installation in the Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria in Turin, Italy, and has also been broadcast in certain pockets of a Japanese airport – music to miss your flight to, if you will.
Album? Check. Large palace? Check. Stereo system? Oh.
To mark the album’s release, last Saturday Eno broadcast the tracks live on his website and asked listeners to upload their own photographs on the theme of light during that time. The plan is to take these and create a user-generated accompaniment to the music. Neat, tricksy, artistic – and very, very Eno.
But is the album any good? In short, it’s very good indeed. This is rich, swooning stuff from Eno. There’s a definite luminescent quality to the music – the notes don’t so much sound as toll or open out like enormous artificial bells. Each piece unfolds gently and subtley and a decent set of headphones or a good stereo system will crack open the rich seam and the vast detail in the mix.
It’s little wonder this music began life in an art gallery – it feels like it needs a large room or space to house it in. It might be instrumental, and it might be ambient but this was created at an ambitious level, and it’s certainly not music to be put on in the background over dinner.
Those who know Eno’s apps will feel a jolt of familiarity when the tracks first roll their glacial tones out of the speaker system, but there is so much more power and depth here. Eno has produced a pure breed, exotic animal that will be incredibly difficult to pin down, even with repeated listenings. Lose an afternoon to it, concentrate on it, give it the space and time to develop and open up – and if that doesn’t work out, than you can always go back to Talking Heads.