Brian Eno’s back catalogue is currently the subject of a complete overhaul by Virgin, who are remastering and re-releasing his seminal ambient output from the 1970s and 1980s. The latest batch of four features the music written for films, with this one a new compilation of tracks from the director’s edition of the first Music For Films, plus the entire tracklisting of Music For Films 2.
The handsome packaging masks a crucial error. The track Approaching Taidu appears twice, once in place of Climate Study towards the end of the album. Not only does this appear on promotional copies but it seems the duplication made it into the shops. It’s an extraordinarily basic mistake, coming off the back of a similar error that chopped two bars from a track on Another Green World last year, and it renders the album useless for Eno completists, at least until the problem is rectified – I would strongly advise you to wait a few months before purchasing.
With that out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on and reappraise Eno’s extraordinary work. Listening to music of this kind can take two forms – first, ambient music to accompany everyday tasks, or second, ambient music in which to immerse yourself fully. Choosing the latter option leads to a heightened awareness of the sounds around you, reflecting the circumstances in which Eno came by this method of composition. In my case this meant a ticking clock, traffic outside and birdsong, blurring the boundaries somewhat.
More Music For Films has twenty one tracks, with most fiercely concentrated for barely longer than one or two minutes. This can lead to a feeling of disjointedness as conflicting moods assert themselves, often seemingly without resolution. Occasionally the moods conflict within a track, as with Fuseli’s juxtaposition of a cool keyboard background and an uncomfortably coarse, string like sound upfront.
These nuggets are often intensely moving. The haunting tremolo melody of Melancholy Waltz is indisputably English in origin, while Roman Twilight is probably the closest thing to a song structure here, its meandering accompaniment the setting for a melody that could well be of vocal origin.
A sense of foreboding is often present in Eno’s film music, and this is no exception. Drift Study is thick with inner city atmosphere and not at all reassuring, while Shell builds considerable tension through a chord that never quite resolves. Approaching Taidu, the duplicated track, combines atmosphere and melody but again has something uneasy about it.
Of course there are those who dismiss this style of music as inconsequential and irrelevant, bur such is the intensity of Eno’s writing that he takes a justifiable stand alongside leading composers of the time, both pop and classical – there aren’t many artists around today that could make such a bold claim.