In 1978, Brian Eno released Music For Films, the first instalment of his Music For Thinking project. It was a critical success and helped fully establish Eno as an architect of ambient soundscapes that, in the process, create vivid landscapes in one’s mind. Over the next two years, the equally acclaimed Ambient 1: Music For Airports, Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror and Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics followed and his transition from art rocker to avant-garde composer was complete.
Eno’s own output in recent years has been equally varied and experimental: 2003’s Bell Studies For The Clock Of Long Now uses algorithms to generate how the bells of the future may sound; 2010’s Small Craft On A Milk Sea heralds back towards the Ambient recordings with a mixture of vivid and sparse soundscapes created with support from Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams, while 2011’s Drums Between The Bells brings a successful fusion of ambience and the poetry of Rick Holland.
Now appropriately on Warp as the grandee figure alongside descendants Flying Lotus, Boards Of Canada and Autechre, Eno returns to his Music For Thinking project with an album that evokes images of space, creation, even mortality. Quite profound.
The 75-minute long Lux – subtitled as “the play of light” – consists of four movements, akin to Music For Airports. Indeed, on listening to the 19:21 long Lux 1, comparisons can be made with Music For Airports’ 1/1, with similarly gentle opening moments featuring sparkles of synth, the odd lonely piano note and strings underpinning it.
This pattern remains for most of the movement, initially producing something quite delicate. However, as it progresses, it subtly begins to emit something brighter as the volume of the synth gradually increases, as well as the pitch of the strings and the introduction of some slide guitar.
The transition into Lux 2 builds up the intensity of the light and soundscape, with slide guitar piercing the ears and the strings shimmering in the background. At this point, Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life comes to mind, particularly those remarkable special effects scenes produced by Douglas Trumbull, with the back end of the movement featuring cutting strings that provide an unnerving undertone to the purity of the piano. It all comes together to provide an alternate soundtrack to Trumbull and Malick’s representations of life’s opening moments, with the gentle clouds of pristine gas forming in the universe and the early bursts of light and colour arriving through chemical reactions. Music For Films.
From Lux 2, the light builds in Lux 3 to reach a gleaming height mid-way through its 19 minutes – light and life formed, with the glittering keyboard and peaceful strings forming a sort of measured and cautionary celebration. Yet once Lux 4 arrives, the panoramic soundscape gradually diminishes, the light slowly fading away. No rage, rage against the dying of the light here: a tranquil conclusion, one that we all wish for.
You get carried away. Eno’s Lux takes you on a journey that allows your imagination to run wild – a record that will create differing landscapes for everyone who listens to it. It is also a daunting record – when is an hour and a quarter of ambience not? – but a thoroughly rewarding one: a record that can soundtrack our own individual films, with us as principal actors. Lux stands alongside all of Eno’s best ambient work.