BRIAN ENO: AMBIENT 2: THE PLATEAUX OF MIRROR (w. Harold Budd) (1980)
1) First Light; 2) Steal Away; 3) The Plateaux Of Mirror; 4) Above Chiangmai; 5) An Arc Of Doves; 6) Not Yet Remembered; 7) The Chill Air; 8) Among Fields Of Crystal; 9) Wind In The Lonely Fences; 10) Failing Light.
In this collaboration, it must be acknowledged, the leading role clearly belongs to Harold Budd, who plays piano on all ten tracks, while Brian is either diverting himself by putting various magical effects on the played chords, or, more frequently, just adds his own synthesizer gravy to the piano melodies. Nevertheless, since the record was (a) released in the «Ambient» series as #2, (b) features Eno as an active collaborator rather than just producer, it makes sense to include it in his regular discography, even if he is acting rather like a henchman here.
I am not well acquainted with Harold Budd, but I did hear parts of his alleged masterpiece from 1978, Pavilion Of Dreams, which was actually produced by Eno as well. That album could by no means qualify as «ambient» — more like «impressionistic», building upon the legacy of Satie, Debussy, and others, while also introducing elements of jazz and world music. However, Eno was probably attracted to Budd because of their mutual penchant for naturalistic soundscapes — and so it is hardly a surprise that The Plateaux Of Mirror is all about naturalistic, or, rather, super-naturalistic soundscapes.
The album title is right on the money: «plateaux» implies heights, «mirror» implies glass and transparency, and most of the tracks do sound like you've been lifted high up in the air and put up on an uneven glass surface, where the slightest breeze causes psychedelic sonic repercussions. If you think I'm talking bullshit, look at the titles — ʽAbove Chiangmaiʼ and ʽAmong Fields Of Crystalʼ should be enough to confirm the rightness of the vision. The album also hints at a certain pace of development, as all the action begins to take place with ʽFirst Lightʼ and ends with ʽFailing Lightsʼ, so with a little help from your imagination you could actually generate some kind of story to go along with the tracks — provided you can get that obsessed with this record.
Budd's frugal melodies follow the «accessible» trail of minimalism — usually, they sound either like Bach or like 19th century romanticists with 95% of the notes removed — and, as a direct sequence, there is not a single moment here that would sound «unpleasant» even to the not well trained musical ear. However, I doubt it that even the most discriminating Bach listener would easily memorize these compositions and distinguish them from one another, not because they aren't different, but because every effort is directed at making them fuse together in a hazy, foggy, superglued jello mass that disorients and distracts your perception organs and reassures you that nothing whatsoever is happening, when in reality, when you come really close and pay really serious attention, it becomes obvious that there are actual melodies played on real instruments. That be the colorless magic of Eno production.
Unable as I am to speak about the individual tracks, I only have to say this — «beauty», whoever she is, does reside here, gently swaying on the sound waves. Importantly, this is the first time an Eno album gets a professional classical pianist all over it, which makes it very different from something like Discreet Music, not to mention Music For Airports: Budd's introduction of these «sonata elements» ties Eno's vision to Western musical legacy much tighter than could be achieved through Brian's work alone — though whether this is a «good» thing is anybody's guess. My guess is that this is a serious work of art, deserving to be studied rather than just be used as a routine sonic tapestry. Unfortunately, I'm hardly competent to study it, so all I can really say is — sure is one cold, slippery, transcendental-magical plateau. Oh, actually that's plural — plateaux, which does make sense, because the melodies wobble in and out of your conscience as if taking place in a multi-dimensional space. But I guess, where there's one imaginary plateau, nothing prevents you from upgrading your imagination to the next level.