BRIAN ENO: REFLECTION (2017)
It has been a long while since Eno last went totally hardcore on us — or, at the very least, most of his «hardcore ambient» output tended to be written for art installations rather than the regular LP market. Reflection takes no such compromises: released on CD and vinyl from the start, it is intended as a purely musical piece, and with its rigid minimalism embodied in a single 54-minute track, the obvious and inevitable comparison is to Thursday Afternoon, and the obvious and inevitable reaction is, «oh no! not again! why????...»
Well, first of all, the older Monseigneur de la Salle gets, the more likely he probably will be to return to his meditative, introspective, reflective side than to try and compete with the acid electronic buzz of today (let alone any accompanying pop inspirations). And with so many of his friends and colleagues dropping dead around him, the more inclined he will be, naturally, to contemplate his own physical mortality / spiritual immortality. Eno himself describes the record as a "psychological space that encourages internal conversation", and he's not bullshitting you with this one — except, I think, that it may have been vice versa: as the title itself suggests, Reflection may have been a reflection of an internal conversation that the artist happened to have with himself during one of the days of the much troubled year of 2016.
And since everything is always understood better in comparison, it is only natural to go back to Thursday Afternoon and trace the differences between the two. The 1986 exercise was, above all, an affair of The Light — the perfect soundtrack of finding yourself slightly under the surface of the water with your eyes wide open and experiencing the rays of sunlight penetrating that surface, here and there, out of a skyline beset with rapidly, but gently moving white clouds. It had this caressing, floating ambience of whiteness and purity to it that could have served to illustrate any miraculous experience, from the resurrection of Jesus to losing your virginity. The textures of Reflection, in comparison, are also gentle and soothing, but deeper and darker, as if an invisible hand has firmly pushed you way down below the surface, and any sources of light that you now have access to have to come from the bottom of the sea — or, perhaps, from the depths of your imagination — rather than from the top.
Here, too, there are two layers to the sound: a basic rhythmic «hum», though less polyphonic in texture than the one on Thursday Afternoon, across which minimalistic bits of keyboard melodies vary in pitch and timbre — cold and emotionally detached, though, and you are probably not expected to experience any basic human feelings over them; you are simply expected to revel in the mystery, be it on your own microcosmic level or on the macrocosmic one — you decide if the music of Reflection is more about Outer or Inner Space. I would probably opt for the latter one, because I think Eno is more interested in what goes on within his own head now than whatever it is happening to the universe at large.
Of course, as of 2017, there is nothing particularly innovative about the concept, except for, maybe, the fact that the project comes equipped with its own multimedia application, and apparently, there is a «generative» plugin for this thing that allows the listener to tweak the settings and modify the textures depending on the time of day and other factors — something I do not really have the time to explore, although, perhaps, this is where the real money value of Reflection actually lies. Yet, strange enough, as I briefly rewind my recollections of Brian's various ambient projects, there is nothing there that sounds exactly like Reflection — they are either too dynamic and melodic (yes, the ʽ1/1ʼ part of Music For Airports is like Beethoven compared to this), or, on the contrary, even more radically minimalistic (like Neroli), or, as I said, create a completely different atmosphere (Thursday Afternoon). It's like you always saw this sort of record coming from Eno's meditative mind, yet it still took him almost fifty years to achieve it.
I mean, I can understand him when he seems to speak so proudly of this achievement — I'd never describe it myself as a «culmination» or «catharsis» record, but it seems very much... like him, something like a perfectly faithful sonogram of his internal state of mind, where most of his previous ambient exercises sounded more like musical reimaginations of various things outside of that mind, be it little fishes jumping in the water or the faraway craters of the Moon. And since, after all, Brian Eno is only a man, it may well be so that your internal state of mind is not that far different from his — particularly if you, too, experience these strange periods of «worried tranquility» where nervousness emanates from complete calm and dissolves back into it. That's kind of what Reflection is for me, and it makes a fine, healthy addition to the man's ambient catalog, even if I am probably never going to listen to it again — not until my dying bed, at least.