Even though the music review is a dying art-form, the magic words, “Brian Eno” are usually enough for me to purchase an album…
Greg Kot writes:
Brian Eno is perhaps best known as producer to the stars (U2, Coldplay, David Bowie, Talking Heads). But as estimable as some of that work has been, quintessential Eno can be found on a long string of less widely celebrated solo and collaborative records dating to the ’70s.
Since playing mad scientist to Bryan Ferry’s brooding night-crawler on the first two Roxy Music albums (still the peak moments in that band’s career), he has gone on to create small masterworks of skewed pop, ambient music and experimental electronica. He’s been especially prolific lately, and “The Ship” (Warp) continues his recent run of creativity, an album that has few direct antecedents in his vast discography and arrives as a late-career landmark.
In his typically thought-provoking liner notes, Eno presents the album as something of a soundtrack to two catastrophic events a century ago: the sinking of the Titanic and World War I. “Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia,” Eno writes, and “The Ship” captures that anxiety in two extended pieces.
The 21-minute title track is a theater of the mind: sonar blips, harbor bells and human voices weave in and out of a luminous soundscape that evokes an orchestra. Though comparisons might be made to Eno’s placid ambient works, the gently lulling layers of synthesizers give way to something more unstable. Eno uses his voice like another instrument. An excellent if underrated singer, he evokes the rumbling low end of Tuvan throat singers and the droning harmonies of medieval monks. As the mighty “unsinkable” ship goes under, words emerge with greater difficulty, as if the shivering, awe-struck narrator were slipping beneath “wave after wave after wave after wave …”
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno brings another wave of innovation with ‘The Ship’ – Chicago Tribune.)
Sounds good enough for me…
How is Brian Eno still finding uncharted waters after half a century spent making music? On The Ship, his first solo album in four years, Eno fuses his signature yawning soundscapes and substantive vocal work for the first time. The result is an album that occupies a space somewhere in between the ambient realm Eno helped to define and traditional songcraft. Its two major pieces meander, unmoored from rhythm and narrative, but they also demand your attention.
Of course, it’s not like Eno just holed up in his breakfast nook and jotted down the lyrics making up The Ship in a spare notepad — that’d be a little too simple. Instead, he fed dozens and dozens of texts into a Markov chain generator written by his frequent collaborator Peter Chilvers, many of them orbiting around a few key topics: soldiers’ songs from the First World War, accounts from the sinking of the Titanic, disclaimers inserted at the bottom of emails. The interesting phrases he salvaged from the resulting mess ended up on The Ship, brought to life by Eno’s sonorous voice.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno’s The Ship, and the family tree of ambient music | The Verge.)
plus a cover of one of my favorite Lou Reed / Velvet Underground songs – the one with a great, echoey unusual guitar solo1
For the sound installation, Mr. Eno assembled the speakers into “columns which look like gravestones from some culture that you haven’t quite heard of yet,” he said. “A mausoleum of some kind or a cemetery, because the music is very morbid.”
The music of “The Ship” is tolling and elegiac, while “Fickle Sun,” with lyrics about the “dismal work” of a soldier’s life, is in constant metamorphosis. Electronic sounds melt into orchestral upheavals and guitar distortion; voices, natural and synthetic, loom from all directions. It’s a rare Eno piece that revolves around contrast rather than homogeneity: “I liked the fact that things happened which you weren’t expecting, and they jutted out at you,” he said.
The piece ends unresolved, followed by an actor’s reciting a poem generated by a computer program over sparse piano notes and, as a soft landing, Mr. Eno’s tranquil, richly harmonized remake of “I’m Set Free,” the Velvet Underground song with a sweetly barbed chorus: “I’m set free to find another illusion.”
Time and mortality haunt “The Ship.” In recent years Mr. Eno has lost friends like Mr. Bowie as well as colleagues and family members. His father-in-law — “a very happy man, a very good man” — who worked as a doctor for the World Health Organization, once said something that stuck with him: “All men die in disappointment.”
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno: Ambient Sounds, but Political, Too – The New York Times.)
Brian Eno discusses that song:
The first time I ever heard [The Velvet Underground] was on a John Peel radio show… it was when their first album came out and I thought “This I like! This I want to know about!”. I was having a huge crisis at the time. Am I going to be a painter or am I somehow going to get into music. And I couldn’t play anything so music was the less obvious choice. Then, when I heard The Velvet Underground I thought, “you can do both actually”. It was a big moment for me.
That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. “I’m set free, to find a new illusion”. Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of “Finding The Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.
Subsequently I think we aren’t able and actually don’t particularly care about the truth, whatever that might be. What we care about is having intellectual tools and inventions that work. [Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens”] discusses that what makes large-scale human societies capable of cohering and co-operating is the stories they share together. Democracy is a story, religion is a story, money is a story. This chimed well with “I’m set free to find a new illusion”. It seems to me what we don’t need now is people that come out waving their hands and claiming they know the Right Way.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno Covers the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free”: Listen | Pitchfork.)
You’ve always pushed the boundaries of technology and recording techniques. Did you use any new methods on this album? I’ve been working with Markov chain generators (( from Wikipedia; A Markov chain (discrete-time Markov chain or DTMC), named after Andrey Markov, is a random process that undergoes transitions from one state to another on a state space. It must possess a property that is usually characterized as “memorylessness”: the probability distribution of the next state depends only on the current state and not on the sequence of events that preceded it. This specific kind of “memorylessness” is called the Markov property. Markov chains have many applications as statistical models of real-world processes)) which are statistical randomizers. I was using them to generate text and, in some cases, music as well. Like all varieties of randomizers, what matters crucially is A) what you put in the front end and B) how much you select what comes out of the backend. It’s not magic — they’re tools.
The story that is read by Peter Serafinowicz on “Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin” is generated by a Markov chain generator. What I put into the system in the beginning was some dirty songs by First World War soldiers — they used to take old songs and would put their own words to them which were often totally pornographic. I had some of the warnings and terms of conditions that appear at the bottom of emails, where they say “If you have received this email in error…” I like that kind of technical language. Then I had accounts written from the lifeboats by people watching the Titanic sinking. And also part of a book about the blitz over London.
All of that stuff went in and then the statistical generator reconfigures it. It might be mixing a bit from a bawdy song with a very serious account of weather conditions over London in 1941. It churns out tons of stuff. The trick is to go through it and find the bits that surprise you.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno’s The Ship: Producer and artist interview | EW.com.)
Markov chains are employed in algorithmic music composition, particularly in software such as CSound, Max and SuperCollider. In a first-order chain, the states of the system become note or pitch values, and a probability vector for each note is constructed, completing a transition probability matrix (see below). An algorithm is constructed to produce output note values based on the transition matrix weightings, which could be MIDI note values, frequency (Hz), or any other desirable metric.
1st-order matrix Note A C♯ E♭ A 0.1 0.6 0.3 C♯ 0.25 0.05 0.7 E♭ 0.7 0.3 0 2nd-order matrix Notes A D G AA 0.18 0.6 0.22 AD 0.5 0.5 0 AG 0.15 0.75 0.1 DD 0 0 1 DA 0.25 0 0.75 DG 0.9 0.1 0 GG 0.4 0.4 0.2 GA 0.5 0.25 0.25 GD 1 0 0 A second-order Markov chain can be introduced by considering the current state and also the previous state, as indicated in the second table. Higher, nth-order chains tend to “group” particular notes together, while ‘breaking off’ into other patterns and sequences occasionally. These higher-order chains tend to generate results with a sense of phrasal structure, rather than the ‘aimless wandering’ produced by a first-order system.
Markov chains can be used structurally, as in Xenakis’s Analogique A and B. Markov chains are also used in systems which use a Markov model to react interactively to music input.
Usually musical systems need to enforce speciﬁc control constraints on the ﬁnite-length sequences they generate, but control constraints are not compatible with Markov models, since they induce long-range dependencies that violate the Markov hypothesis of limited memory. In order to overcome this limitation, a new approach has been proposed.
(click here to continue reading Markov chain – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)Footnotes:
- at least on the originally released version – there are alternates, “closet mix”, “mono mix”, live, etc. – though my favorite is the originally released version [↩]