Reflecting on Eno’s Long History of Innovation​

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by Kyle Wall

​January 1 marked the release of Brian Eno’s Reflection, the music legend’s latest ambient soundscape, and as a longtime fan of his ambient work in particular, it felt like an appropriate way to turn the page on a surreal year. This time around, the album is a single 54-minute track, with Reflection chosen as the title because it “seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation.” It’s a beautiful piece of music that certainly lives up to its title and description.

Reflection also encourages curious listeners to download an app that morphs the music at different parts of the day, “like sitting by the river,” as Eno said, creating a literally endless work set to shifting blocks of colors. Perhaps that impressive length justifies its hefty $40 price tag.

(Screenshot from ‘Reflection’ app)

This is not Eno’s first foray into app-making, or generative works of music in general. In 2008, Eno introduced Bloom, an interactive and (for a nerd like me) wildly fun app that can produce and loop elaborate patterns as you touch the screen, ending up as equal parts musical invention and meditation. Bloom led to several other similar Eno apps, such as Trope and Scape, as well as a horde of copycats.

What I admire most about Eno is his endless desire to push into uncharted musical territories, not just satisfied with a new album or app, and not concerned in the least about album sales or hit singles. He’s had an ongoing obsession with sound installations at unusual locations, ranging from LaGuardia Airport to the most historic museums of Europe to a hospital waiting room. The latter took shape in the form of “77 Million Paintings for Montefiore,” which was installed at an East Sussex hospital in 2013. The same “generative music” system used in his apps took over a reception area with an ever-morphing soundscape, while a separate, unique album was recorded for its downstairs area for patients and visitors.

Of course, Eno’s mark on music and the world began in the 1970s – long before apps were a priority when he transitioned from an offstage synth scientist in Roxy Music to one of the world’s most influential solo artists, producers, and collaborators. Whether it was the ambient minimalism of Music For Airports, the ahead-of-its-time sampling of 1981’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne), the interspersion of world music rhythms on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, or the fascinating recording techniques for his “Berlin” trilogy with David Bowie, he has influenced basically every artist who has labeled themselves experimental, alternative, or electronic over the last four decades.

I first discovered him through his early and mid-70s solo rock work, most notably Here Come The Warm Jets and Another Green World – the album I’d recommend first to those generally unfamiliar with Eno, due to its wide range of styles, including noisy Robert Fripp-led guitar shredding to bizarre funk to soothing, ethereal ambience.

Whatever Eno does in the years ahead, I’m certain that he’ll continue thinking about as far outside the box as possible, on a level that most artists can’t even dream up – and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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