Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno: Finding Shore – music for lovestruck androids
Tom Rogerson and Brian Eno
Finding Shore could soundtrack an android love story. There are shades of Kraftwerk’s robotic grooves, Vangelis’s legendary retro-futuristic Blade Runner soundtrack and a century of sci-fi cinema to this cohesive coming-together of improvisational pianist Tom Rogerson and producer Brian Eno.
Pressing play takes you into the consciousness of a sentient cyborg. The majesty of the keys encapsulate human emotions; the rhythm and coil of the sparkling, neoteric electronica illustrate the artificial soul. Listen track by track to this lyric-free, ambient exploration and piece together your own plot points.
No track better crystallises this newly formed partnership than the single Motion in Field – the epic sweep of Rogerson’s piano matched with the synthetic pulse of twitchy, quavering Moog synths. Finding Shore’s best moments ring with the same pristine beauty. The Gabbard might be named after a type of small, seagoing ship, but the warm chords and weird beats and blips conjure images of a futuristic cityscape entering the horizon.
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This is the audio equivalent of minimalist interior design. There’s a chrome-plated, stainless steel allure to the low-key orchestration. It’s an album for those that find beauty in machinery; it’s music for those who still look at slickly designed cogs and gears with a childlike wonder.
Let’s go back to the start of the story: Rogerson, best known as the founder of experimental electro-rock group Three Trapped Tigers, struck up a relationship with Eno – no introduction necessary, of course – after meeting the producer one night after a gig. The pair share roots in Woodbridge, Suffolk, a small town some 13km inland from the eastern English coast, best known for its military test sites, estuary mud and heathland, a so-called 1980 UFO sighting, and the site of the ancient Sutton Hoo ship burial, a find of outstanding art-historical and archaeological significance.
Sharp cyber vibes
Despite the sharp cyber vibes, Rogerson has claimed conversations he had with Eno about the Suffolk landscape ended up embedded in Finding Shore’s DNA (they’re certainly reflected in the topography-themed album artwork). The record’s calmness, though, feels more like a serene lake than the wild North Sea.
For casual Eno fans, there’s nothing here like his art pop or glam rock numbers that pepper 1970s-themed playlists. But Finding Shore does carry more form than the ethereal, dreamlike Reflection, his most recent solo outing that featured just one atmospheric 65-minute track. A master at wringing out the best in other artists, Eno lasered in on moments in Rogerson’s classically flavoured improvisational play worth mining before hammering them into song-length, easy-to-absorb sketches. One of the standout tracks, An Iken Loop, for example, stemmed from a 45-minute improvisational piece from Rogerson, which Eno ruthlessly chopped right down, building the number around a 30-second loop of light-as-air piano chords.
Like Eno’s ambient odysseys, there’s little focus on melody here, with tones and textures at the forefront of Finding Shore. The pristine minimalism of On-Ness – which features a piano and nothing else – echoes and reverbs as though recorded in a sterilised aircraft hanger. The unorthodox vibrations of Eastern Stack sound like a piece of ivory rattling around the hollow chest of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. It’s one of the record’s moments of great tension.
Elsewhere, the mechanical stomp of March Away finds a twisted kind of splendour in the harshest industrial zone. While the icy piano keys of closer Rest could make laptop orchestra conductors like Thom Yorke weak at the knees.
With a focus on low-key minimalism, some tracks do just pass you by, and there is unwelcome evidence that Rogerson used to pay his bills by working as a lounge pianist. At its most aloof, Finding Shore can feel a little like a plain piano recital and is bound to test the patience of some listeners. It’s never offensive on the ears, but the album doesn’t always command the attention, as some tracks fail to elevate themselves above “sounds kinda nice, I guess” status.
Take Rogerson’s hushed playing on Quoit Blue, for instance, which is accompanied by electronics that feel as delicate as a butterfly in your palm. There are times when I wish Eno would just go into his vast toy chest and break out the pavement-shaking 808 drum machines or blaze a fiery guitar riff. Or for Rogerson to go into his phone contact list and recruit Three Trapped Tigers drummer Adam Betts to unleash the kinetic percussion that underpinned the band’s sometimes schizophrenic math rock, just to keep things moving. But these muscular moments never come.
Still, there are plenty of moments of grandeur in the duo’s futurist grooves. Finding Shore is like a classic science fiction film: there’s a depth and humanity beneath the shimmering gizmos. Rogerson is the writer, Eno is the director. Both are auteurs of great sound and vision.