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Brian Eno’s Music for Anxious Times
Are you listening?
Eno was not the first to make music designed to maintain a subliminal, atmospheric presence while evading the foreground. By his account, medical circumstance led him to thinking about music as just one element in a larger environment. When he was immobilized after an automobile accident, a friend left music playing on a record player he couldn’t reach, at such low volume that it melded with all the other sounds in the room; Eno being Eno, he ended up listening with John Cage-like attentiveness. That gave him the idea for his quiet, ambient (although he hadn’t yet settled on the term) 1975 album, “Discreet Music.” Soon, Eno would stake out an ambient music genre that has since been populated by countless composers alongside him.
Excerpt from Lindsay Zoladz’ interview in the New York Times
What do you think is the role of an artist in times like these?
“Well, the question of course one always asks oneself is the role to just give it all up and do something useful with your time? [Laughs] Like campaign or become a political activist. So that is a continual question in my mind. But my response to that is to say that it’s not only the immediate future we have to think about, but also the long-term future and what we want that to be like. So I think what artists do is generally a contribution in the long-term rather than the short-term. There are short-term contributors as well, I’m not sure that I’m one of them.”
I never listened to Brian Eno’s music. To this day “Ambient” reminds me of Ambein, the drug that puts you to sleep. Music for me was ritualistic, ecstatic. I like space but it had to groove. But I did, and do like Symphonic music, and chamber music and Impressionist music as well as a lot of the ECM catalog. So I started listening.
Rather than sleep, his music gives me the sense of slowly awakening. It’s a very childlike emotion. Gentle wonder and unfolding mystery slowly open like a morning stroll in an unfamiliar yet welcoming wood. It is an investment in time. You have to be patient. Eno thinks about the moment but envisions his art for the long term.
Some of Eno’s music is darker including many of his collaborations but it still moves slowly and that’s the valuable thing here. Everything, every single we encounter and do, and deal with in our modern lives is rushed. Get to the point! Hurry up! I need it yesterday!
Well, no. I would encourage you to stop and listen. This is good morning music for meditation. A warm bath and a deep breath of balance is just the ambeint we need. Not to put us to sleep but to awaken.