Saturday, 31 March 2018

Ten Brian Eno ambient albums preferable to Ambient 1 Music for Airports

There's been a few articles around marking the 40th anniversary of Brian Eno's Ambient 1 Music for Airports, released in March 1978. Somehow though, I've never been a huge fan of this album. And whenever articles talk about ambient music it's kind of placed there like the first part of a science lesson that you have to understand in order to go on to the next bit. That's a pity because I worry that people might get turned off by it and not go much further. So here I'm going to set myself the challenge of listing ten Eno ambient albums that I prefer to Ambient 1.

These are listed in no particular order, include collaborations, and are broadly ambient albums. In each case I've listed a standout track. The Youtube playlist contains all the tracks.

Harold Budd / Brian Eno - Ambient 2 The Plateaux of Mirror

Budd played the piano while Eno provided the treatments. Budd's music was influenced by minimalism and John Cage but not afraid to sound 'pretty'. First Light is the standout - a gently evolving melody leading into Eno's synth waves. There's something eternally refreshing about it, I've been listening to it regularly for over 25 years. How would it sound to a first time listener? I think it would sound very lightweight, but let it sink in a few more times over a few days and you may be converted.

Laraaji - Ambient 3 Day of Radiance

Eno is not credited in the title but he does the producing. Laraaji on zither. Meditation #2 probably takes a few listens before you realise it's not a cheesy new age piece but just straight out serenity in soundwaves. In the mid-section it's all about the way the sound changes as it very slowly fades away to silence.

Harold Budd / Brian Eno - The Pearl

Deeply loved by many people, this album has quite a few tracks but is thematically consistent. It's hard to choose a favourite but try Against the Sky. Listen for the slow shimmering synths that come in towards the end.

Brian Eno - Thursday Afternoon

This hour-long track is not wildly different to 1-1 from Ambient 1. There's a continuous background synth shimmer like an Indian tampura and there's a fixed set of piano tones that play in some semi-random way. Should you be doing something more productive with an hour of your time, like trying to stop climate change? Probably. So do that from Friday to Wednesday and clear your mind with a listen on Thursday afternoon.

Brian Eno - Neroli

Also titled 'Thinking Music Park IV', this 1 hour piece connected with Eno's interest in perfumes. Very minimal bell-like sounds with long decays. Get in the zone and stay there.

[NB For brevity the Youtube playlist above contains the shortened versions of Thursday Afternoon and Neroli that appeared on the Brian Eno ‎– I: Instrumental box set. By all means delve into the full-length versions.]

Brian Eno - Shutov Assembly

This album has more of a digital feel to it. Ikebukuro has bell tones, a distant sound like a steam train, a sound like swooshing bird's wings, some other taps and tweets here and there. The sounds are only vaguely familiar and suggestive. If you knew what they were, it wouldn't be so interesting to listen to. This piece has variants used in a lot of Eno installation works.

Brian Eno - Another Green World

A fair bit of this album has vocals and is not quite ambient, but on balance the majority is. The tracks In Dark Trees and The Big Ship were used to great effect in the Adam Curtis documentary 'The Power of Nightmares'. A number of the track titles have watery titles suggesting a nautical theme. My favourite is Becalmed. It's a sad track where the synths provide the lead melody and the piano sounds are the background tint.

Jon Hassell - Power Spot

This only just qualifies as an Eno ambient album. Eno co-produced. In a way, the style could be called Fourth World, a genre with one practitioner: Jon Hassell. But let's call it a sub-genre of ambient just to make it fit. Hassell plays his unmistakeable and ethereal trumpet. The production is very crisp, what one might expect from the ECM label. Solaire has Eno on electric bass. Utterly unique music.

Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno ‎- Apollo

Another very popular album in the Eno discography, featuring Canadian producer and frequent collaborator Daniel Lanois. This music was used as the soundtrack to the documentary For All Mankind. Eno wanted to make music to accompany the Apollo lunar mission footage that focussed not on the engineering achievement but, as he wrote, "[the moods and] feelings that quite possibly no human had ever experienced before, thus expanding the vocabulary of human feeling just as those missions expanded the boundaries of our universe." - quite different from the aims of Music for Airports, released 5 years earlier.

Deep Blue Day was used briefly in the Trainspotting soundtrack, with Lanois on spaced-out pedal steel guitar. Eno thought the country and western sound suggested a feeling of weightless space.

Brian Eno - Ambient 4

This album has a mysterious, foreboding sound that contrasts with the prettier sound of the Harold Budd collaborations. More favoured by professional critics as an early example of dark ambient, these pieces evoke real or even imagined landscapes. Treated field recordings of frogs, birds, insects and other non-musical sounds add to the atmosphere. Find a lonely windswept beach, and listen to 'Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960'. Or close your eyes and just imagine one, this music will take you there.


Ok, so there I honestly managed to get to ten albums. I would probably put Ambient 1 Music for Airports next. The first track on side 1, titled 1-1, consists of tape loops of piano and other sounds of varying lengths that fall in and out of sync with each other.

From here, there are about another dozen Eno ambient albums that you could go on and listen to. There are plenty of wonderful tracks to discover. Some standout individual tracks include Prophecy Theme, from the Dune soundtrack, Ho Renomo, from Cluster & Eno, Spider And I, from Before And After Science, Always Returning II, from Music for Films Vol 2, which is a very slow version of Always Returning from Apollo, and finally Tension Block, co-written by Daniel Lanois, which can be found on Music for Films Vol 3.

As a side note, some of Eno's less widely released material produced for various exhibitions is about to get a new release in May 2018 with the 6 CD Music For Installations box set. The list I have compiled above stops at the 1993 Neroli release but this box set covers a lot of the best material he's created since then, and some previously unreleased work. It should be a treat.

Looking back, I think that by calling Ambient 1 'music for airports', Eno set up an unfortunate association for the fledgling genre. Eno was a previously famous musician for Roxy Music but wanting to move in a less commercial direction. Maybe the title was partly a provocation, partly an attempt to find a way to get paid. I don't know that Music for Airports was ever played in an airport, other than many years later in a commemorative performance by the Bang on a Can group. Some say that Neroli was played in maternity wards. I suggest that this is just an artistic statement similar to the opening title of the Cohen brothers film 'Fargo' where they claim that it is a true story. It's just part of the mythology of the music - imagine if it was played in an airport.

For this listener, ambient was not 'as ignorable as it is interesting' as was Eno's stated goal. It was a trojan horse for a new way of listening. From Ambient 2 onwards, Eno's music surrounded and profoundly moved a generation of listeners, spinning off new interpretations, particularly through electronic dance via The Orb, Aphex Twin, Detroit electro and beyond. There were many pale imitators too. In the way that David Attenborough and Carl Sagan made specialised knowledge in scientific fields comprehensible to a wide audience, Brian Eno took the ideas of 20th century avant-garde art music and did the same. The possibilities of what music could be and the 'vocabulary of human feeling' was surely expanded as a result.

Andrew Chuter

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Books 2015-2017

From late 2014 onwards I got increasingly drawn into the campaign to stop the WestConnex toll road project in Sydney. Unfortunately my regular book reading has suffered as it has soaked up nearly all of my spare time. But actually I've probably spent more time reading as a result, it's just that it has been mostly in the form of newspaper and online articles, not books. I've also written a number of articles and given speeches. From mid-2015 I have written thousands of facebook posts for No WestConnex: Public Transport, about 99% of those are mine. Most of them are only a paragraph or so, but it has improved my writing and ability to absorb and summarise material quickly.

So here's a list of the rather small number of books I've read over the last 3 years.

Beating the Big End of Town (How a community defeated the East West toll road) - Anthony Main

This Changes Everything - Naomi Klein

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

Red Hot (The Life and Times of Nick Origlass) - Hall Greenland

Adolf Hitler : My Part in His Downfall - Spike Milligan

Phoenix - Resurrection (Vol. 5) - Osamu Tezuka

As my kids gradually got older, I also read a number of 'proper' books to them:
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room - Lemony Snicket
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator - Roald Dahl
The Magic Pudding - Norman Lindsay
The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Scottie in Gumnut Land - May Gibbs

Monday, 22 December 2014

books 2014

Phoenix - Yamato/Space (Vol. 3) - Osamu Tezuka

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino

Setting Up a Tropical Aquarium - Stuart Thraves

The Better Angels of Our Nature (A History of Violence and Humanity) - Steven Pinker

A First Course in Linear Algebra (2nd edition) - David Easdown

Tell Me No Lies (Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs) - Edited by John Pilger

Sin City (The Hard Goodbye) - Frank Miller

Blue Planet (A Natural History of the Oceans) - Andrew Byatt, Alastair Fothergill, Martha Holmes

Phoenix - Karma (Vol. 4) - Osamu Tezuka


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

books 2013

The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome - Chris Scarre

The Book of Genesis Illustrated - Robert Crumb

Bring on the Apocalypse (six arguments for global justice) - George Monbiot

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

American Splendor & More American Splendor (The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar) - Harvey Pekar

Candide - Voltaire

The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book - Gord Hill

Penguin Soup for the Soul - Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Running for Fitness - Owen Barder

Running Anatomy - Joe Puleo, Dr Patrick Milroy

The Fatal Shore - Robert Hughes

The Life of Birds - David Attenborough

Parecomic (The Story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics) - Sean Michael Wilson, Carl Thompson

Shenzhen (A Travelogue from China) - Guy Delisle

Orientalism - Edward W. Said

Krishna's Dialogue on the Soul (Penguin 60's classics)


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

books 2012

Political Awakenings - Harry Kreisler

Phoenix - Dawn (Vol. 1) - Osamu Tezuka

Phoenix - Future (Vol. 2) - Osamu Tezuka

Rules for Radicals (A practical primer for realistic radicals) - Saul Alinsky

Inspired Children (How the leading minds of today raise their kids) - Dr Rosa McAlpine

Inside Jokes (Using humour to reverse-engineer the mind) - M. Hurley, D.C. Dennett, R.B. Adams Jr

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law (Ramallah Diaries) - Suad Amiry

Let Heroes Speak - Antarctic Explorers 1772-1922 - Michael H. Rosove

Inside WikiLeaks (My time with the world's most dangerous website) - Daniel Domscheit-Berg

The Private Life of Plants - David Attenborough

Bad News: Murdoch's Australian and the Shaping of the Nation (Quarterly Essay 43) - Robert Manne

Metropolis - Osamu Tezuka

Impressionism (Phaidon Art & Ideas series) - James Rubin

It Was The War Of The Trenches - Jacques Tardi

Mathematics of Choice (or How To Count Without Counting) - Ivan Niven

Open (An Autobiography) - Andre Agassi


Saturday, 31 March 2012

books 2011

Footnotes in Gaza - Joe Sacco

Another great effort by Joe Sacco. Joe is in a category all his own - graphic novelist/journalist. In the vein of his other great work, Palestine, this time Sacco returns to Gaza to research events around 1952 and the Sinai campaign when Israeli troops led by Moshe Dayan brutalized thousands of Arab Palestinians. The research and artwork is meticulous, and there are interesting interludes of present day destruction of Palestinian homes.

China (Cambridge Illustrated History) - Patricia Ebrey

After travelling briefly to China on a work trip in 2010, I decided I need to learn more about Chinese history.  This is a vast topic, so even a fair size book like this has to skip over things quickly, but I found it adequate for my purpose. The pictures are also interesting and stop it getting too dry.  There's another book in this series about the Islamic world that I hope to read soon.

The Outsider - Albert Camus

I found this interesting, but I'm not sure I fully appreciated some of the deeper meanings in it. I think I'll have to go back and read it again one day.  One thing that I thought it might be trying to say is to be detached from one's decisions. Just act as one thinks is best and accept the result without worry. Did I read this book because I feel like an outsider? Am I hoping to have greater confidence to act according to my conscience without regret? I didn't really identify with the protagonist, so I'm not sure it worked. Or maybe it did. This book might sit in the backburner of my mind for a while before I properly understand it.

Life in the Freezer (A Natural History of the Antarctic) - Alastair Fothergill

I'm continuing my efforts to watch and read all of David Attenborough's TV series and books.  This is not a major series in that there are only 6 episodes, but given the expense and difficulty of filming in Antarctica, maybe this can be understood.  The narration and presentation of the series was by Attenborough, but this book is written by Fothergill, who has produced a number of Attenborough's series. Both series and book are excellent and a great introduction to the natural history of Antarctica. Fascinating learning about crabeater seals, weddell seals, many varieties of penguins, squaws, extreme weather etc etc.

Buddha - Karen Armstrong

Armstrong is a great sympathetic writer about religion. Even as an atheist I enjoy her writing because I feel religion and spirituality are important aspects of humanity that need to be properly, objectively understood, in their cultural and historical dimensions. In this book she outlines the historical buddha's life as best possible. This is a difficult task as most Buddhist scriptures date many centuries after Buddha's lifetime.  Nevertheless it is these writings that form the core of Buddhist thought so it's probably irrelevant whether the stories are historically accurate. That's the story that Buddhists believe and that's what Armstrong is trying to relate here.

Rich Dad's Conspiracy of the Rich (The 8 New Rules of Money) - Robert T Kiyosaki

This could well be the worst book I have ever read. It was lent to me by a well-meaning colleague and I would feel guilty returning it without reading it, so I read it by skimming about half. I suppose you would call this a self-help book, a genre I have never been interested in, and it's about how to get rich. Well, if getting rich really motivated me, then I guess I wouldn't have become a teacher. This book is repetitive and dull. Kiyosaki constantly refers to his other books either assuming you have read them, or to spruik you to buy them. He is always going on about his 'rich dad' and 'poor dad' (the title and subject of his original bestseller) but never explains who they were. The only part I found remotely interesting was the part about the history of money from the time of barter to when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard, but I already knew most of it and I could easily get a more informative version from 5 minutes of reading Wikipedia. He also shows his trademark diagrams many times, such as one that puts people into 4 categories. The only benefit the diagram has as far as I can see, is that it allows him to refer to employees as those in 'quadrant E'. He also rails against the education system, socialism, and Democrats for their high taxes, without specifically attacking Obama (probably because people who read books, even ones as bad as this, are more likely to admire him).

To summarise his main thesis, to get rich you need to borrow big and use the money to buy investment properties and shares. Also buy some gold and silver. The advice is so generic as to be useless. But my biggest beef is that the book claims to diagnose the main problem of society in that there is a conspiracy of the rich and powerful to keep the rest of us poor, but his only solution is for his readers to participate in that same conspiracy to get rich too. There's no attempt to outline an alternative vision for society. And in fact, given that he proposes that his readers become like him, and end up with 1500 investment properties which he boasts about, this would mean that for every Kiyosaki, there would need to be 1500 poor people stuck paying rent to the rich guy. So it ultimately amounts to hyper-capitalist inequality. But if you don't have the money to get started, just buy my board game, CASHFLOW, which is like monopoly on steroids. Awful.

The Life You Can Save - Peter Singer

Singer's latest book about the ethics of giving and donations. This is short and breezy for an ethics book. I agree with Singer that most of us in rich western countries have an ethical obligation to help the poor. It's just that I don't think asking people to donate on an individual basis will ever be enough to eliminate poverty.  In prisoner's dilemmas terms, it's too easy to defect. Far more significant in gathering large sums of money for charitable redistribution is this thing we have called government and progressive taxation. We just don't think of it as charity because it is compulsory. It has the benefit also of being democratic, at least in principle. The problem of course though is that it is not generous and progressive enough. How to fix it? Vote for someone or some party that will. And since no major parties are proposing anything near enough to fix the problem (e.g. neither Labor or Liberal in Australia propose any more than 1% of GDP as foreign aid), then that means voting further to the left, eg Greens, Socialists, or other groups supporting more revolutionary change.

The fact that these third parties don't come to power is unfortunate, sure, but if I support those parties through my democratically allowed means (voting, speaking out etc), then it's no longer my ethical problem, it's the ethical problem of the majority who don't support that level of change.

Super Cooperators (Evolution, altruism and human behaviour) - Martin Nowak

Nowak is a mathematical biologist working on problems around selfishness, cooperation and evolution. Thinkers mentioned in this book include Kropotkin(!), Russell, Hamilton, Haldane, E.O. Wilson, Pinker, Dawkins, Axelrod and Trivers. As an extension of Dawkin's gene centred theories, Nowak considers situations in nature and connected mathematical models where cooperation and altruism might arise naturally.

This is just a popular exposition, so there's not much mathematics in it really. For more mathematical background I would recommend Prisoner's Dilemma by Poundstone. Anyway, Nowak outlines precise conditions in a variety of contexts where cooperators succeed and defectors are kept at bay.  I get the impression this is really solid work and an important extension of the selfish gene concept. I'm not sure what Dawkins would make of it, but I guess that in the future it will become part of the standard view.

My speculation: if in some environmental niche, the conditions favor defectors more, and in a different niche conditions favor cooperators (perhaps of a different species), what will happen? Would the cooperators impinge on the defectors? Or would they be more likely to spread into new niches and hence spread more overall? Are cooperators able to extract more free energy from the environment than defectors on average and hence be more biologically successful?

Words from the Vietnam years: An Australian Experience - Alan Ashbolt

This book was loaned to me by a colleague and I enjoyed it.  Ashbolt is probably most famous as the producer of ABC's Four Corners (Australian public television current affairs) program in the 60's, in particular one episode partly critical of the RSL.  Ashbolt recounts his political awakening growing up in Australia.  There are amusing stories about public meetings in Gordon, on Sydney's North Shore, not an area terribly renowned for progressive politics and the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

2001: a remix

I'm gradually uploading pieces of my 2001: a remix project. Enjoy!