on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2020 30 Nov

Faraway places, coming close

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments



Rantum Beach, Autumn 2020. Well, it‘s cold here, winter is comin‘, my big black coat does a good job, the lonesome beach chair, too.


If someone would approach me to write a book for 33 1/3 on a Brian Eno album, three would spring to mind at first. „On Land“ would be an obvious option, but, on the same level of interest, „Taking Tiger Mountain (By Stategy)“ and „Music for Films“ would be a labour of love. And this is not from the point of you of „iconic“ or „canonization“, but from the sheer pleasure of living with certain albums. I have lived with „Music for Films“ since it was released, and that album has never lost my interest. Why so?


My three questions for Brian (about the new compilation, and the old „classic“, for my Christmas radio show titled „horizons of sound“), turned out to be a kind of collection of thoughts, sidesteps, short film reviews, memories – so, in the end, I deliberately tried to stop writing to keep the stuff, well, a bit shorter at least … as an artist who loves to keep things minimal, my „epic approach“ might appear to him as an overdose in regards to a standard question catalogue. So again, why do I change into a storyteller mode when „Music for Films“ is on my mind?


Quite often in conversations, Brian speaks about wanting to make a music about places / worlds where he would like  to live / be. This is a recurring thought, but one that leaves a lot of space to think about the nature of those places of yearning, or fantasy. I think, since its release I have listened to that record about 1.000 times. In the background, fully immersed. And I rarely have visual, or „cinematic“, fantasies. Okay, during the track „Events in dense fog“ I can imagine, well, events in dense fog (when thinking of the title). No mystery jungles do appear otherwise, no distant hills, no underwater worlds. I do much more connect with a certain (uncertain) range of emotions (not classified, never of clear meaning).


When the wonderful Richard Williams once upon a time wrote a review on the album in the „Melody Maker“, calling it „Modern Mood Music“, he made comparisons to miniatures (program music / piano pieces) by Claude Debussy – if I don‘t remember it wrong, one track like „Aragon“ made him think of the Frenchman‘s „The Sunken Cathedral“.


For sure, Eno didn‘t listen to any Debussy albums during the making of „Music for Films“. So, such sidesteps occur when artists from different times may dream about faraway places. It‘s common ground, part of the human DNA. As someone who never believed in a priority position of classical music, I was, at some time, looking for that Debussy stuff. Surely great music, but it didn‘t stay with me.


With their flair of „gifts of the moment“, with their melange of acoustic and electronic instruments, with their „anti-perfection spirit“, with their vague suggestions of „cinematic value“, I can just say: though it would be a one on/off experience of curiosity, I would never want to live with a virtuoso version of „Music for Films“ by The Arditti String Quartet or even Bang On A Can (though they did a touching version of Music for Airports, Laurie Anderson even called it „heartwrenching“ in regards to opem up a melancholic sphere in a piece of so-called „functional music“).


I love the fleeting, fugitive experiences of losing myself in the original, the old album with the monochromatic cover. (The new compilation is similarly addictive.) The tracks of his first album for imaginary films – every one of them – seem to vanish, nearly, in the moment of their first taking shape (blossoming). Like apparitions. That‘s why I often don‘t wanna miss a moment. Holding time. They are simply – said simply – too beautiful. And they make me, too, dream of places I wanna be, with the slight difference, those places are, most of the time, the rooms (spaces) exactly, where I am when the music plays.  Here. Now.


In my mind at least, for now. Rantum Beach, Sylt. The lonesome beach chair. My long black coat. And, secret revealed, a psychedelic scarf around my neck, blue, red, orange, violet. Faraway places, coming close.


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  1. Jochen:

    Das ist ein sehr schönes Foto.

    Die Dünensilhouette erinnert mich (mal wieder) an Salvadore Dali …

  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    And still footsteps on the ground.

  3. Ian McC.:

    Brilliant – I especially enjoyed the bit about Debussy. The Sunken Cathedral is one of his better ones. I think he was born too soon – his melodicism would have worked well (potentially better) within the context/strictures of electronic percussion, sequencing and so on. Is Debussy classical? It’s debatable. He’s a leaf on the vine of musical time.

    I look forward to your 33 1/3rd book. For On Land, I hope. It’s the least „musical“ of the ambient series in the traditional (idiotic?) sense. It’s not the Eno record I listen to the most (I still play all or part of Plateaux and The Pearl every single day) but it stands apart. Weird in a non-pejorative sense. I think maybe music-making is a bit like mining. Sometimes somebody hits a seam of something new and unusual. Maybe it’s mastery of the tools, maybe it’s about finding the right piece of land to drill into. Probably both.

  4. Michael Engelbrecht:

    The Budd / Eno albums, every day!? Makes my times living with Music For Films look quite normal, Ian. And I do not plan to write one of these 33 1/3 books (except they‘ll make a nice offer) – and, anyways, to write a book about the album with the grey cover would be strangely easy-going.

    MFF (I think) comes out of impros, certain ungraspable moments – there is no epic story behind its creation, in contrast to „On Land“ which is so much connected with Eno’s years in New York (though from the point of view of the music, one million miles away).

    33 1/3 : Brian Eno‘s Music for Films – that would be a text floating through everyday life, moments of excellence, a meditation on hearing, and – in spite of certain sections, possibly, of a conversation with Brian – a kind of personal story, a story, too, of distant horizons coming close.

    My fun part in this mini essay on Music for Films (and Film Music 1976-2020) is the end, with the „psychedelic scarf“. It‘s real, and the most „cinematic“ moment in the text. (The listener as the one who adds colour.)

    I think Brian‘s answer will arrive at the end of the week.

    And Steve Tibbetts will send me some thoughts on two ECM albums he fell in love with this year, LONTANO (Lechner / Couturier), and PROMONTOIRE (Benjamin Moussay solo piano). So he will be part of those two lng nights, too. At least that‘s the plan.

    By the way, Manfred Eicher once chose the title for Eleni Karaindrou‘s MUSIC FOR FILMS as a homage to Eno‘s album.

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