I know I’m obsessive to a point just south of OCD with my records, everything is alphabetized to the nth degree and then kept in date order, artists are filed by their first name* and bands whose name is a number have it filed under the alphabetical equivalent, e.g – 808 State, under E. These I feel are the minimum requirements necessary for sanity and what essentially differentiates our civilisation from savage barbarism, mankind from the apes, I get uneasy when people start filing stuff by genre etc** I know it’s their call but I do fear that one day they’ll have to answer to St Peter for it.
Anyhow, whilst recovering from a hideous ravaging life-threatening illness^ recently I made a discovery that one of the quartet of Brian Eno’s ambient LPs, shouldn’t really be classified as a Brian Eno LP at all. Ambient 3: Days Of Radiance, should actually be attributed to the African-American zither and hammered dulcimer player Laraaji and was produced by Eno, rather than written by him. It was enough to cause a relapse for me, I sneezed and got a bit of a temperature, dear reader I don’t mind telling you, my life was in the balance.
This presents me with a horrible dilemma; do I, correctly, file this record between Lamb and Lard^^, or do I keep the quartet of Eno’s ambient records together? knowing that this is incorrect. This really is the sort of thing that would keep me awake at night. If only I didn’t know, then I could have continued in my ignorant happiness – there has to be one of those piquant life-lessons here somewhere. This is exactly the reason why, as a strict vegetarian, I don’t look too closely at the ingredients of things I really like.
But anyway, back to
Eno Laraaji, Ambient 3: Days Of Radiance follows on very neatly from Ambient 2: The Plateaux Of Mirror – released earlier in 1980 – how prolific was Brian Eno at this time? as well as his outside production, he was dashing off LPs at a rate of two/year minimum, within another 6 months he would go on, with David Byrne, to release one of my Top 10 LPs ever, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. If Ambient 2 is the sound of a cold frosty, misty morning then Ambient 3, is the sound of a cold frosty morning and incipient spring.
This is not an LP that sets much store by track titles. Side A features The Dance: #1, #2 and #3, Side B Meditation #1 and #2. Sadly the dances in question don’t happen to be the Watusi, the Hully-Gully and the Mashed Potato, so we don’t get much in the way of ambient frugging. What we do get though, on the first side especially is a pure, crystalline loveliness. Laraaji, I have forgiven him for messing up my filing system, plays a zither and hammered dulcimer throughout, giving the sound of a sitar and a harp combined, the effect of which is like listening to a perfect alpine stream. Throughout the three distinct tracks various motifs, leitmotifs, rhythms and counter-rhythms are expounded and progressed. What Eno adds is the production nous, notes are treated and elongated, mucked about with, all to alter their effects; he mostly exercises a beautifully light touch throughout.
Where Ambient 3 is much less successful is on the ‘Meditations’ bit. This side of the LP, basically pre-empts the Orb and all those other 90’s ambient chancers by giving us a 19-minute track which, although I think was played entirely on acoustic instruments, has been treated and layered until it sounds like it was created electronically. It’s quite a technical feat but, doesn’t really take us anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I like a soundscape as much as the next man*^ but for it to be a little more than aural wallpaper there does need to be a sense of progression involved, otherwise I do find that I run the risk of ending up distracted/asleep.
For me this is the least successful of Brian Eno’s quartet of ambient LP’s purely because it has one side that is less than riveting, but it should be emphasised that this is solely in the context of some of the most extraordinary quiet music I own. This also shouldn’t detract from the perfect clarity and beauty of the first side of this album; whichever artist it is filed under.
PS – Laraaji being the stage name of Edward Larry Gordon, whom Brian Eno came across playing in Washington Square Park.
PPS – I reached for this LP, partly because spring is, just, upon us but largely thanks to Mr VC’s excellent recent Eno post.
*when was the last time you found yourself thinking, ‘Hmm, lets listen to some Waits, Tom after I finish playing this LP by Lanegan, Mark’?
**I’m looking at you dad!
^I had a runny nose and everything.
*^ possibly even as much as Eno, Brian