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I built myself a metal shakuhachi. You will have to wait a bit, dear reader, for the return of this instrument. What am I doing just now, aside from listening, on various levels, to Brian Eno’s new piece of Thinking Music? Well, thinking, and stretching the now – ordering a Jack London novel, daydreaming about my next travel to the Northwestern Highlands. A grey day today. I’m not experienced in synaesthesia, but the slowly rolling tones of „Reflection“ add an unspeakable colour (of the mind) that makes the grey catchy in a non-catchy way. Drifting. Returning. There’s, from time to time, a whistling, a kind of whistling, but, probably, it’s no real or treated whistling. What kind of landscape does this music breathe?

Mhm. An early-morning-Emil-Nolde-coast-vibe. A memory of myself standing on the cliffs of Dunnet Head at the beginning of 2016. No colours exploding on this new album of, say it with a smile, „Modern Mood Music“: once upon a time, the great British music writer Richard Williams just used this expression as headline for his Melody Maker review of Brian Eno’s „Music for Films“, Weather Report’s „Mr. Gone“ and Jan Garbarek’s „Places“ (one of the best Garbarek albums, by the way). Nice reframing for the old use of „mood music“ from Muzak to Martin Denny’s Martini-Rosso-Exotica.

Wait a minute, „Reflection“ just draws me in again. Later on I will look for my exotic birds, darken the room, light an African candle (they are called „Swaazi“), put „The Jungle Book“ on the screen – bongos in the bush of ghosts. I divert. The Nolde-coast metaphor is just an imagination, nothing to be taken too seriously. I remember, an orange grove in Morocco inspired one of Eno’s other thinking pieces, „Neroli“. The place, the smell, the heat, it all might have added up to or informed some free floating tones, an unheard vibration – unfolding within another long stretch of the now.

London in summertime (long ago), a paper and pencil-shop, I’m looking for some postcards, suddenly I see a smart and beautiful looking woman, immediately ready to having a word with her, such as „Would you lead me through the streets of London?“ I’m just thinking of a somehow more prosaic first phrase, when I hear my name being called from the back of the shop: „Michael.“ It’s Brian, his old studio has been just around the corner, and we have an appointment for an interview on „Neroli“ later in the morning. So, within seconds, one of my favourite musicians and a dream girl in the same room, I was a bit confused, I explained (no kidding, but with all brevity required!) the complex situation to Brian, he apologized for interrupting me, I say, nevermind, how could you know, turned around again, she was gone. Like an apparition.

When you listen to „Reflection“, apparitions, memories, ideas, pictures, feelings, thinking (sideways), it all may come up, along with some really „deep listening“ (the term coined by the late composer Pauline Oliveiros, who really had a knack for the long lasting drones and uncompromised moods) engaging the left and the right field of your brain. Free floating trance. „I want to be the wandering sailor / We’re silhouettes by the light of the moon / I sit playing solitaire by the window…“ 

The old impact of asynchronism and generative processes in music: you always hear something different, though the components stay the same, or, nearly the same. Steve Reich was the pioneer, with „It’s Gonna Rain“, and some other tape pieces. Brian Eno, always keen on cybernetics, later created „Music for Airports“, and other Ambient classics, with this working method (as small part of the game of creating).

Now „Reflection“ draws me in again, a kind of relaxed magnetism. Sometimes the composition is flooding my living space, sometimes I’m writing at other places, with the music in mind. That’s a difference, cause your memory is never shooting pictures of a track without some mild distortion or nostalgic timbre. Memory is a remix. In the windmills of your mind, certain motives swirl around, prevail, endure, vanish.

The term „old school ambient music“ might arise with first reviews, and, to be honest, this kind of labeling surely deserves a „kick-in-the-ass-treatment“. Compare, f.e., „Neroli“, „Thursday Afternoon“, „Discreet Music“ or „Lux“ – all these musics open up quite (understatement!) different fields of moods and rooms and surroundings (another question is, in a review full of diversions, it’s Thinking Music, isn’t it, why don’t Eno’s ambient works get some well-deserved 5:1-remixes, to make them even more immersive, „Reflection“, at least, will get its generative App for your computer).

So, returning to my kick-in-the-ass-treatment, a term like „old school ambient music“ narrows the focus and totally ignores the diversity, let me be more precise, the extreme diversity of all these slowly evolving compositions. For someone who is more on the „Metallica“ side of sounds, or the „real-music-is-handmade-and-sweating“-approach, this all may be boring stuff, for someone who can at least imagine that thrill-seeker’s paradise might be compatible with the „adagio“ unfolding and exploring of the never everlasting now, every single ambient record might by a seductive invitation into the unknown.

„I built myself a metal shakuhachi.“ What a weird sentence to pop up while listening? Is there anything that sounds like a metal shakuhachi on „Reflection“? Nope, or: dunno. Maybe it’s a metaphor for the music, another label (but ungraspable): „Metal Shakuhachi Music“ – though there’s no metal vibe and no Japanese bamboo flute artifact. But even more so there’s a melting  of the electronic/systemic and the soulful/organic. Left with uncertainties can be a gift – like not being trapped in old school knowledge can be a gift. Just, well, surrender. It even works on old, new vinyl.


Dear Micha

many thanks for that very interesting and inspired review. I really enjoyed reading it – and I hope other people can find some of the same depth in it that you’ve found. I deliberately downplay the musical qualities of these long ambient pieces because I prefer people to regard them as ‚functional‘ – and then to discover (if they want to, if they’re able to, if they need to) that they are really music. It’s a nice surprise for them then.. have a lovely christmas wherever you are. I shall be in Italy, probably sleeping. It’s been a busy year…


London, Dec. 18th


Gestern war ein trüber Tag. Nach meinem Spaziergang „über den Berg“ (ich wohne nicht am Alpenrand oder im Mittelgebirge, also war die Angelegenheit in einer knappen Stunde erledigt) machte ich mir eine grosse Tasse Assamtee, verdunkelte mein Musikzimmer, und hörte in der Folge zwei Platten, die jeweils von einem Künstler allein eingespielt wurden. Eine Kerze vertrieb das Restgrau, das durch Vorhangsspalten huschte. Das eine Album heisst „REFLECTION“, das andere „MY FOOLISH HEART“. Zuerst Ralph Towner, dann Brian Eno. In der Pause bereitete ich mir eine weitere Tasse Tee zu, diesmal grünen. Obwohl Towners Sologitarrenmusik die Aufmerksamkeit des Hörers unmittelbarer einfordert als „Reflection“, kann man sich dabei auch, mit geschärftem Bewusstsein, tief entspannen. Und es gäbe einiges zu sagen zum siebten puren Soloalbum des amerikanischen Musikers. Man merkt gar nicht, wie konzentriert die Kompositionen sind, es erscheint behändiger, schwebender, als das auf enorme Reduktion bedachte Solowerk „Timeline“, das Peter Ruedi einst, und völlig zurecht, zu einer seiner sachlichen Lobeshymnen animierte. Gedanken(splitter) zum „närrischen Herzen“ kamen kurz zu Bewusstsein, tauchten ab – in der stillen Freude unkommentierten Hörens. Später, bei Enos neuer CD, huschten alte Gedanken vorbei, solcher Art, und etwas abgerundeter (achten Sie auf die Abweichungen von Bekanntem, alte Hüte sitzen besser schräg): die Rezeption der Ambient Music von DISCREET MUSIC bis REFLECTION folgt einem Muster; des einen Langeweile ist des andern Erfüllung. Selten wird wahrgenommen, wie weit all diese „doors of perception“ von einander entfernt sind, der Handschrift des Komponisten oder „Algorithmikers“ zum Trotz. Eine Welt liegt zwischen dem lo-fi von DISCREET MUSIC und dem high-end von REFLECTION. Das eine Zufallsentdeckung, das andere Resultat langen Hörens und Verwandelns. Ich habe mich in diesen Räumen noch nie gelangweilt, aber das Wort Erfüllung trifft es auch nicht. Zu edel. Transzendenz kommt näher heran, ist für mich aber nichts Spirituelles, es ist das, was hinter den Türen auftaucht, wenn man Gewohnheiten, Kreisläufe durchbricht. A dark room. The silence of a candle. Stop making sense. „Do you realize?“. Was ist mein Lieblingssong – ever? „Sunny Afternoon“, von den Kinks. Hier könnte es spannend werden, bei den, nicht auf Aphorismen bedachten, Randnotizen. Was da so von ferne alles hereinschneit, beim Hören zweier wundervoller Platten, bis das eine und andere, stets fragmentierte, Sammelsurium, nach kurzem Quer- und Rumtreiben, entgleitet und forttrudelt!

Heute erscheint offiziell das neue Album REFLECTION von Brian Eno. (Ian is entranced, and maybe he will write another story on the album starring our beloved DJ from another age, Mireia Moreorless). Ich habe es schon einige Zeit auf dem Computer, aber nun das erste Mal die CD über die grosse Stereoanlage laufen lassen. Ich hatte eine grosse Tasse grünen Tee zubereitet, und liess die Musik in all ihren Feinheiten auf mich wirken. Es sind ja verschiedene „Soundschleifen“ aktiv, die sich aber stärker wandeln als auf Klassikern wie DISCREET MUSIC oder MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS. Jeder „Tonspur“ ist eine (digital gespeicherte) Anweisung zugeteilt, wie sie sich zu entfalten habe. So ist schon mal für beträchtliche Variationsbreite der einzelnen „Inputs“ gesorgt. Die Überlappungen sorgen also für unendliche Vielfalt im Zuge sich nie identisch wiederholender Wiederholungen. Das Tolle ist, dass diese Beschreibungen absolut ernüchternd sind, die Musik aber eher das Gegenteil davon, sinnlich, traumartig, ein Fluss. Nur die Oberflächenstruktur suggeriert generative Systeme, Kybernetik, Künstlichkeit. In der Tiefe, die hier kein metaphysischer Begriff ist, sondern den Sprung in den Fluss avisiert, das gute alte Loslassen, herrscht Staunen, Verwunderung, Trance. „But if an algorithm composed this music, is Brian Eno the author of it?“, Kitty Empire asks in her review, and I like to answer: „Yes, Kitty, he’s the author! You know why? It’s his handwriting! And: the music has no story, but soul.“ Und, erst beim Hören auf der grossen Anlage, kommt das Element der puren Überraschung hinzu. Oft scheint sich die Musik dem Nichts zu nähern, es gibt vollendet klingende Verschwindeklänge, und aus dem sanften Sog des Nichts kommt dann plötzlich ein fast lauter glockenheller Ton, der etwas Aufrüttelndes hat, aufreissendem Licht und einer Marimba nicht unähnlich. Man darf also durchaus, bei REFLECTION, einer übrigens klanglich absolut highendigen Aufnahme, Kristalle in Drei D, Landschaften vorüberziehen sehen, man darf die Musik persönlich nehmen. Ja, und ich tauche derzeit, beim Hören des Albums, in einen alten Gedichtband von Jürgen Becker ein, den ich aus dem Speicher runtergeholt habe, kehre immer zu den Klängen, den Worten zurück, dem Raum dazwischen. Besorgen Sie sich einfach mal ein schmales Lyrikbändchen von Herrn Becker, nach dem Zufallsprinzip, und halten Sie die Zeit an, wenn die Musik läuft. Kinderleicht, geht von allein, und immer eine Illusion.

For Love Can Turn Us Still (FLOTUS) – the wonderful new album of Lambchop is on par with their classics – the subtle electronic innovations intensify their palette instead of reaching for a bigger audience. The album of December. The album for the subversive christmas tree. The album for friends of Frank O’Hara poems. The album for people who love albums they can listen to forever. In one way, and this is no joke, it even supasses SGT. PEPPER. Not one weak track! Or will anybody tell me that „Good Morning Good Morning“ is not rather crappy?!

Going back in time: some of you may have a decent memory about the second Jethro Tull album, the one with the stand-up cover. STAND UP now got THE ELEVATED EDITION, with lots of footage, films and, excellence as usual, Steven Wilson‘ stereo and surround remixes. Even Ian Anderson’s Bach-Bourée can still create a shiver in this new ambience. And the elevated edition is a book, too, full of stunning episodes. 1968, 1969 revisited. Brian Whistler’s tales of the SACD of Weather Report’s TALE SPINNIN‘ would be perfect, too, here (I got it, I heard it, I love it – a rediscovery!), but the comments there have an extra-value, so we leave it in the blog diary for its own good.

And a small change in our third column of monthly appraisals: the term „philosophica“ can from now turn into „psychologica“, „artistica“, „graphica“ etc., dependant on the object of desire. Anybody who has something in mind? Mail your proposal of a review to manafonistas@gmx! The first idea is often the best and will be taken! That is, by the way, the address of the real Manafonista headquarter, 500 miles away from my living place. Otherwise (a quiet bravo for my understatement, please!) my enthusiastic review of the wonderful #42 of MONO.KULTUR incl. the adventurous, spellbinding talk with thrill-seeking SOPHIE CALLE, mastress of Houdini-esque ego-dissolution, will find its place there. (A day later: oh, wonderful, from the backyard of the MHQ, someone went enthusiastic about a book that has a very special, vague, nearly ungraspable topic: MOOD.)



The MANA THRILL PRIZE FACTORY 2016 is offering a fine collection of new thrillers and crime novels beyond mainstream, and Stephen Dobyn’s eccentric, funny, dark, hilarious „IS FAT BOB DEAD YET?“ is such a wonderful book with a beating heart, in spite of all its obliqueness. A thriller that evokes Elmore Leonard and Donald E. Westlake at their best, but adds several layers of absurdity and a narrative voice that suggests metafiction meets a Greek chorus meets Jane Austen …

In our BINGEWATCH TRANCE DECEMBER corner, two series of 2016 take center stage: as different as they are, these legal dramas offer rather dark tales: GOLIATH (season 1), a fresh take on the old John-Grisham school (it’s not written by Grisham though) with fabulous Billy Bob Thornton, and THE NIGHT OF (one season only!), mirroring the neo-realistic grittiness of the „noir“- underworlds of „The Wire“ or „True Detective“, in this case with fabulous John Turturro.


P.S. January 2017 will be the month of promising new works by Brian Eno (purely ambient this time, and, nevertheless, another landscape, another thinking space for sure), Tinariwen, The Necks (on Mego now), Ralph Towner (guitar solo, recorded in Lugano,  release date: February (!) 3rd), and „the fearless freaks“ (watch the documentary!) of The Flaming Lips.


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