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Brian Eno | the valley of lost things

Brian Eno

prophecy theme by brian eno

Any regular readers out there will probably groan as Brian’s name is mentioned here once more. Its most recent appearance in this blog was a quote from him on a poster for Penguin Cafe. This time, it’s because I recently went to see David Lynch’s’Dune’, some thirty years on since its original release, and he appears early in the pre-film credits: “Prophecy Theme by Brian Eno”.

The Arts Picturehouse’s publicity described the film as “under-valued”, but I was keen to see it again on a large screen, and I certainly wasn’t the only one as the cinema was virtually fully-booked.

Yes, the film was still a disastrous mishmash of exposition giving its stars very little to do, and its battle scenes cling to old, out-dated war films, so it doesn’t stand up well to expectations of emotional involvement in the action, but I still like its art direction vision of a futuristic Edwardian art deco.

So, what of Brian’s prophecy theme? It was understated and subtle, especially in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack by Toto, almost to the point of being unnoticeable under the pumping sound levels pounding through the cinema like thumpers summoning giant worms.

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Thursday, February 26th, 2015 film No Comments

penguin cafe (nee cafe orchestra)

“Eccentric, charming, accommodating, surprising, seductive, warm, reliable, modest and unforgettable”

Brian Eno

That’s what Brian thinks about Penguin Cafe, according to their publicity material and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. They performed a rare concert last night in the impressive new concert hall at Saffron Hall, and played live on Radio 3 in the run up to the concert.

Arthur Jeffes (son of Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra) is in a difficult position. The group, now called Penguin Cafe, opened their concert in Saffron Walden last night with ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’, which never fails to make me smile, and closed their encore with the joyous ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’.

Between these two numbers, they performed a mixture of old (‘Southern Jukebox’, ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, Bean Fields’, ‘In the Back of a Taxi’) and new pieces mainly from ‘The Red Book’ (‘1420’, ‘Black Hibiscus’, ‘Bluejay’, ‘Odeon’). Arthur introduced them all, often with fond reference to his father’s work, and sometimes mentioning his childhood memories of them. The older pieces, usually involved a wider range of instruments, such as a melodica, are still quirky, lively and eccentric, and obviously pleased the crowd.

His enthusiasm for ‘1420’ was obvious, but he appeared slightly nervous when introducing two pieces as ‘world premieres’. He described a new piece called ‘Birdwatching’ as a reworking of a favourite tune by Cornelius, who is, apparently, a “Japanese Brian Eno”, which for me is a good introduction that made me warm to it in advance, and it rewarded my openness with the lively passion and quirkiness I expect of PCO.

For the first encore piece, Arthur played solo piano for Harry Piers (sp?), a piece he wrote for his father’s memorial.  It, too, had emotion, presumably from the memories it evoked, despite its repetitive minimalist style, and was played with passion.

In contrast, the newer work generally lacked the energy and eccentricity of the older pieces, which is why I described Arthur as being in a difficult position. The choice of encore was clearly justified as they finished to an almost unanimous standing ovation. Can Penguin Cafe create new work that meets the expectations of fans of the older music, and continue to perform the older pieces with the required freshness and vitality? On the basis of last night’s concert, they most definitely can, providing they don’t let it slide into bland niceness.

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Sunday, February 8th, 2015 music 1 Comment

“like cities built on hills…”

Brian Eno has again proved his status as a Renaissance Man. He and Karl Hyde have  created, with a little help from Holo Decks,  a free interactive Augmented Reality App for iOS, to accompany their new album Someday World. If you point your camera phone at the vinyl version of the album or at the online version you see abstract graphics described as outsider architecture that you interact with by double tapping the screen. It seems more specific than his generative app Bloom. If you point the camera elsewhere, you merely see the camera view with no graphics.

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Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 art, generative art No Comments

from fingerboard to fretboard

It’s been a good day for music. First of all, I stumbled across Brian Eno and Karl Hyde performing tracks from their new album Someday World live on BBC Radio 6. And tonight I received advance notice of a new release next week of music by Philip Glass’ String Quartets performed by The Dublin Guitar Quartet.

To quote the WXQR website:

“String Quartet No. 5 is full of plucked and bowed chords that sound like wild strumming even on violins, but the cool, restrained interpretations of the Dublin Guitar Quartet speak more like a virginal harpsichord with an unusually sweet voice—a glowing tone, not a flashy one. And of course, it helps that their flawless rhythmic unison and tonal blend makes the four instruments sound like one.”

The transposition to guitar is beautiful, almost as striking as The Balanescu Quartet performing Kraftwerk. Someone has helpfully posted the Quartet’s version of  The Model on YouTube, not my favourite track, either of the Quartet’s covers or of Kraftwerk’s, but the whole Possessed album is worth a listen. I’ve taken back my iMac from the repair shop so I can now listen to music while I work. And now I have two more albums on my list to buy.

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Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 music No Comments

television as controllable light source

Last night I read more of ‘Brian Eno: Visual Music’ by Christopher Scoates and came across Eno’s use of televisions as light boxes and looping recordings of music with Daniel Lanois. There was also a description, photograph and diagram of ‘Shutter Interface’ , the 1975 work by Paul Sharits, which involved four projectors each showing a loop of single- colour frames that overlapped on the wall, creating a mix of hues. Each loop had one black frame to introduce a flicker that interrupted at different moments in the four cycles.

The films are all out of phase/sync and therefore a multitude of variational states of interactions between them is set in (potentially perpetual) motion. For Sharits, the fades and dissolves were “‘active’ punctuation for the ‘sentences’ being visually enunciated” and in their variable syntax recall a Chomskyan notion of grammar.”

The reference to Chomsky may seem high-falutin’ but it refers back to an earlier passage which discussed the linguist’s theory of

“…linguistic competence in which he argued that language has an infinite set of sentence combinations, which became known as ‘generative grammar.'”

It occurred to me that creating an equivalent work in Processing would be very simple, so I immediately started writing one, though my initial thought of using an OOP approach may have been slightly over the top, but that depends on how far I might want to take this. In these days of Processing, Arduino, LEDs and ubiquitous computers, it seems odd to think of Eno regarding television to be “.. the most controllable light source that had ever been invented…”, but the availability of simple alternatives doesn’t diminish his work.

Furthermore, this nocturnal burst of programming spurred me on to resume work on my abandoned path-following Saffron Mandala sketch and my as-yet unstarted slitscan sketch. From past experience I’m wary of promising imminent future posts on these sketches, because there are other things to deal with such as work, family, food and house but I also need to catch up on sleep too. But these are now my projects to focus on.

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Saturday, January 4th, 2014 coding, generative art No Comments

Dave Brian’s super. Dave Brian can do anything

My hero is at work again, releasing an application called Trope in the iTunes App Store.

I missed him on the recent South Bank Show programme about Coldplay, but for some reason, the South Bank Show isn’t available on ITVPlayer, so I can’t watch it now or providce a link to it. Grr.

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Thursday, September 24th, 2009 creativity No Comments