Brian Eno changed my life: 15 artists pick their favourite Brian Eno records

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The extraordinary influence of ambient master Brian Eno.

While very few contemporary musicians can stake a claim to the creation and communication of a genre, it is an accolade publicly bestowed on Brian Eno. Fela Kuti, one of Eno’s heroes, is another. And yet, while both now retrospectively stand as figureheads of ambient and afro-beat, theirs is a legacy built on subtle rather than seismic shifts in musical form.

And where Fela Kuti’s explosive take on highlife didn’t materialise in a vacuum, Brian Eno’s form-stretching electronics are as rooted in expansive prog and avant garde pop as they were in highly structured ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s this which shines to the fore in the quartet of new reissues honing in Brian Eno’s early albums, the 1974 debut Here Come The Warm Jets, his follow up on Island Records Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), 1975’s iconic Another Green World and Before and after Science originally released on Polydor in 1977.

Of course, pluralistic influence extends in the other direction too, so we asked fifteen artists from a swathe of musical backgrounds to articulate just what Eno meant to them, through a single track or album. Whether touching modern psych, club-ready techno, modern classical, or even one or two of Eno’s collaborators, these fifteen artists represent the breadth of application his approach to music has had.


Kara-Lis Coverdale

Brian Eno
Discreet Music
(Obscure / Island, 1975)

Listen / Buy

When I first came across Discreet Music, I was struck immediately by the elegance of its own poetic awareness. Each component of the work elucidates elements of its own ontology in thoughtfully artful but undeniably methodological ways. Most people tend to focus on ultimate end-function for this music; that is, how it should be listened to, but I find more interesting the way in which Eno makes transparent the musical system that encourages that behaviour of listening. In the liner notes, using prose laced with words like “technological,” “apparatus,” “system,” and “programmer,” Eno famously describes the story of a faulty channel of stereo and fixed-volume playback; a series of tech “misfortunes” that gave the idea of a more ambient listening posture. Makers know the hilarious and common narrative well, how creation can come from the cracks of accident. Eno’s sensitivity to technological condition, observing them then listening to them, is laid bare in this work in essential form, in a simplicity that is admiringly musically sympathetic.

The second part of the record is more romantically and canonically considered, with Gavin Bryars string arrangements of Pachelbel’s Canon in D (a drug store/wedding ceremony staple). Whenever I hear this, I’m reminded of the cyclical nature of the work – to me, the circle of fifths (which the Canon is built out of), serves as a metaphor for a sort of frequential circuitry here. The opaque repetitions and generative simplicity of the work is only reflective of the condition Eno articulates. An Ouroboros in a sense, the series eats itself, and the path becomes its own beginning…


Peder Mannerfelt

Brian Eno
Here Come The Warm Jets
(Island, 1973)

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I would like to argue that Brian Eno not only invented ambient music but also shoegaze with Here Come The Warm Jets. The album as a whole would probably not be considered amongst Brian Eno’s finest work. It’s a rather sketchy and half finished affair, with not enough lyrics to fill out the songs but instead riddled with lukewarm guitar noodlings from Robert Fripp. But, with the final track everything suddenly comes together and the connection is made to what bands like Ride, Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine created in the early nineties.

It’s all about that single melody repeated over the course of the whole song, played on what sounds like a whole range of different instruments. It’s a melody that I might catch myself humming whilst doing the dishes or fiddling about in the garden and from what I’ve heard, it is stuck with Mr. Eno as well. Apparently he can be heard whistling it so as to not scare his downstairs neighbours if he would happen to come home late at night.


Alex Paterson, The Orb

Brian Eno
Another Green World
(Island, 1975)

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Another Green World was written and recorded by Brian Eno with his ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards in 1975, with no songs taken into the studio. His album Taking Tiger Mountain was also written using this method. The musical credits are pretty wacky too, Eno made up names for guitar sounds such as ‘Wimshurst’ guitars and ‘Castanet’ guitars. He also made up the Leslie piano. On board are Robert Fripp, John Cale and Phil Collins amongst others. Another Green World is central to the beginnings of ambience and the ending of conventional songs by Brian Eno, crossing into a territory of never before explored ideas.

My favourite tunes from this album include ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ and ‘Little fishes’, along with ‘I’ll Come Running to Tie Your Shoes’. It is a great album to lose oneself in. The title tune is genius and Eno is on Farfisa organ on this track (it is also the Arena theme tune). This album was definitely ahead of the pack for 1975, it was an album that bent time and space – artificial and yet artful. Eno balanced the album so that song craft and electronic music combined to blow your mind. After all, everything merges with the night…


Thomas Fehlmann, The Orb

Brian Eno
Another Green World
(Island, 1975)

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This is the ultimate fusion album for me. Fusion is the moment of magic where worlds collide and taboos are broken, refreshing perspectives by destroying cliches such as pop, avant-garde, poetry, art, jazz, glam, minimalism, disco, while also predating electronica and the home recording aesthetic. Fusion seamlessly compresses incompatible genres into something new. Another Green World did it all. No big news these days but such was forbidden in the ’70s.

Eagerly awaiting its release, I was taught a lesson which gave me the comfort and confidence to follow my then growing belief that bouncing off between opposite poles is the way to go to make my art – charging up on contrast. The more controversial the potential connections may be, the more fun. Just as a little hint… Phil Collins is playing drums on this.


Jane Weaver

Brian Eno
Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
(EG, 1983)

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I’ve got a big soft spot for this album. Originally written as a soundscape for a documentary about The Apollo moon missions, it is a really magical record which makes me feel instantly calm. When my kids were really little and I couldn’t get them to settle I would put this album on and within a few tracks they would all of a sudden appear mesmerised by the sounds and then just be soothed… Maybe it has womb like noises, who knows? It has these soothing qualities but it is not a chummy new age thing, it’s quite dark and unusual in places. It also doesn’t offend me that it switches from being predominantly electronic and then introduces country guitar playing towards the latter of the record because it all seems to blend together – it’s a bit odd but in a good way. I love the sleeve art as well, it looks strong and serious.


Laraaji

Brian Eno
‘Backwater’ from Before & After Science
(Polydor, 1977)

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It was fun listening to the 1977 album Before and After Science by Brian Eno. I particularly like the second track ‘Backwater’, which invites you to dance with its uplifting spirit and lyrical content.

The musical arrangement is upbeat and playful which reminds me of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.

Sun Gong and Bring On The Sun by Laraaji are out this Summer.


Nathan Fake

Fripp & Eno
Evening Star
(Island, 1975)

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I think this was pretty much the first Eno production I knowingly heard. A friend played it to me around 2002 or 2003, along with Ambient 1. The opening track ‘Wind On Water’ really blew my mind – thick, powerful major-chord guitar drones and tumbling glissandi of guitar and synthesisers were indistinguishable from one another.

It was the first time I’d experienced ambient music being intense and exhilarating, whilst also hypnotic and transcendental. Also the 28 minute ‘An Index of Metals’ in all its tense, dark, metallic glory really stuck with me too. It was the perfect introduction to that dense but incredibly spacious and airy production style of Eno’s that I would go on to explore and be inspired by.


Forest Swords

Brian Eno & Harmonia ’76
‘Atmosphere’ from Tracks & Traces (reissue)
(Groenland, 2009)

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I first heard this on an internet radio station a few years ago but never caught what it was – it was only recently that I rediscovered it during a few lost hours on YouTube. It is taken from Eno’s collaborative record with the krautrock band Harmonia but this track only saw the light of day on a recent reissue.

It is essentially a loop that moves and undulates over the course of three minutes. In the first half, Eno smears a kind of flange/phase effect over it before taking it away during the final section, letting the music come to the surface and breathe.


Matt Black (Coldcut)

Brian Eno
‘An Ending’ from Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
(EG, 1983)

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A favourite of Mixmaster Morris’ much loved and epic ambience sets. ‘An Ending’ offers a delicious and much needed sanctuary from the everyday horror of theodolite monoculture.

This for me conjures a feeling of unbearable beauty, yearning and bucolic horizons. It is contemplative music that gives the soul some space. I have jammed with Eno who is a bit of a role model to me.

I have also jammed with Roger Eno at Youth’s Puretone Space Mountain which happened last year near Granada. Roger is an incredible pianist.


John Foxx

Brian Eno
Another Green World
(Island, 1975)

Listen / Buy

I first heard Another Green World in late 1975 when it was released. A friend, Bobby Forrester, had it on order and carried it around town under his arm. It looked intriguing.

I must confess, I didn’t like the songs much but those instrumental pieces were an entirely new form of life! Mysterious, organic sounds, often underpinned by superbly minimal drums, a rich twisty bass and a drum machine! I loved that. It was cocktail music for a bar coexisting in 1950s LA and a drive-in movie on a lost star.

Brian identified a new form in Ambient Music but I feel these instrumentals created another new form, one originating outside rock or popular music and which was actually more useful to the furthering of a future stream of new avant-rock. It all seemed to be some crossroads of John Cage, Stockhausen and the more imaginative periods of New York jazz. At the time, I thought the closest thing to it were some hints in the work of Weather Report and surely enough Brian name checks Zawinul on one of the tracks.

So, a new form had been created resembling jazz but absolutely without any of the clichés. Instead, it was a freeform investigation of what you could now achieve with a recording studio, an unfettered imagination, a few fine friends and some new machines. Each track was a wee masterpiece of sonic jewellery. It promoted a feeling of departure, fun and freedom, of casting off the crap. That cheered me up no end after all the heavy metal, white blues and prog clogging up the horizon. After the closing track, you could only sigh and realise that this new thing was quietly significant. It would take time but it would surely change minds. It also made you want to get in there and devise a few things of your own.

Because of all this, I wanted Brian to work on Ultravox!’s first album which he kindly agreed to do. Towards the end of our recording sessions, in September 1976, he got a call from Bowie asking him to work on his new album. Bowie had been listening to Another Green World too and that is how this record unassumingly entered the DNA of modern music.

Translucence/Drift Music/Nighthawks by John Foxx, Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia is out 8th September.


Adam Wiltzie

Brian Eno
Here Come The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World, Before and after Science
(Various)

I have often said, Eno is reverential for me. I have met many of my heroes, most of them in the sporting world métier, forever regretting trying to talk to them but with “The Great Bald One” it was quite different. I had the pleasure of spending half an hour with the guy backstage at an UnSound Festival in Krakow some years ago. He was dressed in lady stereo surround looking completely serene, engaging in conversation as if he would rather be no where else in the world than hanging out with a clown like me. That is truly an art form in itself.

We celebrate artists for being prolific and Eno for me is the modern world’s true Renaissance Man. His existence and output in the field of creativity has always been a constant source of inspiration for me. It would be a tragic waste of words to put one of these recordings on a higher level than the other because in many ways they are all perfect time capsules for me, adding to the fact that he essentially never went back to this style for his own releases. It seems to keep the joy of returning to Warm Jets, Tiger Mountain, Green World and After Science all the more special. Like a wise man once said, “When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema and dynamite. Now I just believe in Eno.”


Illum Sphere

Eno, Moebius, Roedelius
‘Tzima N’Arki’ from After The Heat
(Sky, 1978)

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‘Tzima N’Arki’ is taken from After The Heat, the second record Eno made with Moebius and Roedelius from Cluster. Engineered by Conny Plank and featuring Can’s Holger Czukay on bass, it’s a total dream team. Compared to the first side of the record, this tune feels quite standalone.

It pulls elements from various musical worlds: the reversed Eno vocal, the piano is minimalist, Plank’s dubbed out work on the boards, the sparse kicks, there’s a lot going without feeling busy. It might sound a bit of a leap, but it actually reminds me of a lot of Rhythm & Sound music, just 20 or so years before.


LTO

Laraaji
Ambient 3: Day of Radiance’ (produced by Brian Eno)
(Editions EG, 1980)

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The bright overtone-rich sounds of the zither family of instruments are a perfect sonic representation of the feeling of intense light or radiance, especially in the spiritual sense of the word.

As with the rest of Eno’s Ambient series, the repetitive and constant nature of Laraaji’s pieces produces a feeling of timelessness, making them conducive to meditation. Unlike the rest of the series, the fast energetic beginning of this record has an invigorating effect on the mind, yet at the same time manages to create a feeling of serenity and reflection.

The record has a fairly natural acoustic sound at the onset and Eno’s input is not obviously apparent, but as the pace of the tracks progressively winds down, they also become more engulfed in Eno’s sonic dream world.

The hammered dulcimer features throughout the record, especially on the first three tracks. I actually picked up a second-hand one recently, which you can see me using on my ‘Against the Clock’ for FACT.

Storybook by LTO is out now.


Boris Blank (Yello)

Brian Eno
Another Green World
(Island, 1975)

Listen / Buy

For me, this was a turning point in Brian Eno’s career. A move away from the earlier outings with Roxy Music which felt a bit kitschy and pop. Maybe it’s a pastiche and I missed the point.

Another Green World is a definite step in a different direction and the second side of the album is where the fun begins. Conventional structure seems to disappear. ‘Spirits Drifting’ has a touch of atonality and dissonance.

‘Little Fishes’ and my favourite, ‘Big Ship’, are like an endless spiral. It’s a warm feeling that strangely reminds me of the early Velvets. Finally ‘Be Calmed’ feels like the first ambient track, melancholy with a soul, almost like being homesick. Whatever the colour, it remains another world.


Harold Budd

Brian Eno
Another Green World
(Island, 1975)

Listen / Buy

Another Green World is to step, or amble, into a world that works. The track ‘Becalmed’ has haunted me for 40 years.

Translucence/Drift Music/Nighthawks by John Foxx, Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia is out 8th September.


Here Come The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and after Science have been remastered at half-speed and are available to buy now. Order your copies here.

Main image: Ian Disckon

Comments (13)

  1. Luis Pita Moreno 4 months ago

    Discreet Music, Cluster & Eno, The Shutov Enssemble, Drum Between The Bells, Lux…

  2. Freewayblogger 4 months ago

    “Before and After Science” has an added depth if you consider side one as “Before” and side two as “After.” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5797b84b42508a6b74a8ea97b2f905dee82c8803865c7ca4929de4e804c7d91e.jpg

    • susan petry 4 months ago

      aamzing.

    • David Klein 4 months ago

      It’s my fave, although I’m usually out-voted by the Another Green World people. I see it as a concept album, where each song on Side 1 gets a sort of ambient treatment on Side 2. There’s a real symmetry there, even the Side 1 instrumental “Energy Fools the Magician” and the corresponding “In Hollow Lands” on Side 2. And “Spider & I” is one for the ages.

  3. Horst Bakker 4 months ago

    Always the same overrated, unlistenably twee records. Never the good stuff like ‘Nerve Net’.

    • David Klein 4 months ago

      Somehow twee seems not the right word here.

  4. moebius_rising 4 months ago

    No love for Small Craft on a Milk Sea

  5. Adam White 4 months ago

    “When I first came across Discreet Music, I was struck immediately by the elegance of its own poetic awareness. Each component of the work elucidates elements of its own ontology in thoughtfully artful but undeniably methodological ways”

    We get it – you’re really, really clever.

    • Spaceman T 4 months ago

      I felt the same way about Judas Priest’s second album

  6. Peter Goldsbrough 4 months ago

    I’ve bought the 1/2 speed reissue of Brian Eno – Before and After Science and the pressing is very poor. There’s dirt embedded in the vinyl on both sides of the first lp. And Sound of Vinyl customer service don’t seem to care or want to send a replacement. BEWARE of these reissues.

  7. Manghi Davide 4 months ago

    To me, The big ship, from another green world.

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