Brian Eno’s groundbreaking “Ambient” works all evoke an intangible yet familiar emotional state. Where Ambient 1: Music For Airports so successfully captured the ennui and disconnection of air travel, Ambient 4: On Land superbly captured the beguiling mystique of the Eno’s boyhood countryside. However, this record offers so a more oblique clue in its title. The musical landscape is that of a still winter day. We experience a chill, eerie dawn, “First Light”, and then the album seems to track the pale winter sun across the grey sky. Finally, we come to the “Failing Light”. The odd sense of melancholy and distance should strike an immediate chord with anyone who has crossed a windswept, fern laden expanse of moorland, listening to one’s own boots crunch the frozen earth.
Eno’s collaboration with Harold Budd would lead to many of his most successful experiments. Here, Budd’s skilful, albeit undirected, piano provides a forefront to the shimmering backdrop that Eno has created. The two augment each other, and therefore Ambient 2 manages to avoid one of the most common failings of its genre; it is able to stand close inspection. While neither Eno or Budd showcase their respective virtuosity, this pieces are musical enough to hold the attention of a solitary audience. It will certainly perform the function of “furniture music”, although it is hardly the record to reach for when aiming to kick start a party, unless you intend your guests to spend the evening staring introspectively into middle distance. Indeed, in the course of the modest write-up, the music has at times sent me into a not altogether unpleasant state of mild comatose (as you may be able to tell).
The most significant complement that can be paid to this music is that its very understatement gives it extraordinary power. In diametric opposition to the majority of rock music, which manages to be vacuous amongst towering bombast, this quiet, reflective collection expresses a great deal without uttering a word. Naturally, a listener will infer his or her own meaning upon instrumental music, that is what makes the form so appealing to artists. To me, it speaks of the desolate, secular beauty of nature. It is an aesthetic without colour, shape or force; an incorporeal, tremulous presence. Art of any form which can distil this essence is scarce, and increasingly so. A record to keep.