In the great scheme of things, I could be accused of perhaps making an entirely predictable choice in choosing this record. In light of this crisis, which is like being under house arrest by nature, it can tick so many of the boxes that you would suggest for the ultimate in isolationist music. I’ll stick with my gut reaction, even if I could have chosen one or two other albums that would equally have meant something in this context.
It’s no great secret, my love for this record. I still find myself reacting to its use of sublime texturing, even with the great familiarity I have of it. There’s music in your life that will never become redundant, feel dated or bore you. While other albums can lose their lustre from overfamiliarity, there’s not a single sound for me that doesn’t retain its allure, and like certain films that can be as rewarding with multiple viewings, this just always hits the spot.
Recorded just before Eno started his great love affair with the Yamaha DX7 – the instrument he embraced so wholeheartedly it dominated his work for years to follow – this album has organic warmth in spades. (Yes, I used the ‘o’ word.) Far from being ‘lo-fi’ in texture, it’s simply one of the greatest examples of EQ as an instrument and the much hallowed talk from the man himself as “the studio as an instrument”, which he took as an influence from and openly acknowledged Teo Macero’s work with Miles Davis [particularly on Get Up With It, as selected by Emil Nikolaisen].
Both are combined so perfectly, you soon realise that the textural depth it captures most likely has never really been equalled in its uniqueness. This isn’t a hi-fidelity record, either, it won’t match some of the crystalline acoustic realness of, say, the recordings of Mickey Hart.
But such a record that occupies its space so completely, while also transporting you elsewhere, hasn’t been made since. You may offer arguments on that point, that’s fair enough, but the chances of getting me to agree are slim indeed.
What is evident is that, whatever sound reproduction system you play this on, it always sounds magnificent. It is definitely the record I own that can actually adapt itself to your listening system perfectly. It sounds great on everything.
Even without enforced isolation, it’s my go to when batteries need to be recharged. You can play it at any time and it always fits the bill. Wintery weather with a chill factor, bare trees and barren fields – check. Hazy summer days, open windows and the outside ambient sounds always matching perfectly – check.
It wasn’t made in a couple of days or a few weeks. It apparently took three years until Eno was satisfied with the mixing, the sound design and feel. Released in 1982, it sounds as modern and fresh to this day as it did then. The warm buzzy sludges of analogue synth are merely the groundings or anchors to all of the tracks.
Each track takes flight (or burrows deeply) to the sounds of nature, concrete textures or simple instrumentation of electric instruments that are all treated to such an extent that they are completely unrecognisable.
The fingerprints of the Eventide Harmonizer are all over this record, but (for the time) used in such unorthodox ways that every sound becomes a blur or smear.
I’m not going to give a track-by-track breakdown here. The last track ‘Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960’ is pretty much the only piece that you could even say even resembles a musical nature. But it is a concept album in all honesty, and it should be listened to as a whole experience.
Part of this absolute beauty is the naming of the pieces – all are evocative of a time or place. Even the cover art takes on a greater relevance than any other of the Ambient series. An Ordnance Survey map has never seemed so mysterious.
I think it is fair to say, this isn’t really a music album at all. It may evoke a sense of music at times, but it really is one of the first and very best examples of true sound design. Not the digital clattering or bombastic smash of the cinema sound design we are so accustomed to these days, but for atmosphere and an earthbound cocoon you will rarely find such bang for your buck.
It begs to be listened to as an immersive experience, which really is as isolationist as you can get… and strangely, the quieter you play it back, the more it rewards.
I have had self-induced periods of isolation in the past, whatever is going on at this current time doesn’t present itself as a problem for me in that context. That’s not to challenge the seriousness of this situation at all, far from it. I can glean comfort from this record in so many ways, and have done multiple times. I’ve had periods where it was the only thing I wanted to listen to.
Perhaps I’m on the wrong page here… I could easily call this a record I’ll never tire of and perhaps even take to my grave any day of the week.