Brian Eno, Discreet Music

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Discreet Music

Brian Eno

Compared to Another Green World, Discreet Music feels like a minor work, but it nevertheless represents an important step in Eno's lifelong quest to free music from human intention and ego. As Eno wrote in the liner notes, "Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part. That is to say, I tend toward the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results. [...] It is a point of discipline to accept this passive role, and for once, to ignore the tendency to play the artist by dabbling and interfering."

Arguably Eno’s first true solo venture

Ironically, the record is Eno's first true solo venture, as opposed to the collaborative efforts of the three preceding records, but two other figures loom over the proceedings. One is Eno's frequent collaborator Robert Fripp, who helped Eno develop the system of loops and tape delays, extensively used on their 1973 album No Pussyfooting, that shapes Discreet Music. On the 31-minute title track, the system allows Eno to feed in a handful of placid synthesizer notes, sit back, and reap a harvest of slowly blossoming tones, which wax and wane as surely as a garden captured by time-lapse video.

The other figure is Johann Pachebel, whose "Canon in D" Eno heavily reworks — today we would call it "sampling" — by looping short phrases and creating new counterpoints. The three pieces gradually proceed from an almost mushy literalism — Eno cites the recording he chose to rework for "its unashamedly romantic rendition of a very systematic Renaissance canon" — to something more tentative and abstract. The final variation is the masterstroke, locating a thoroughly modern sense of dissonance in the Baroque chestnut, drawing it out like a latent energy that had lain dormant for centuries.