This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Brian Eno – “Another Green World” (Island/E.G. Records, 1975)

This month’s Classics Critiqued choice is many things. Universally recognised as the best album of Brian Eno’s 40 years plus musical career, a stepping stone to the creation of ambient music as we know it today and a modern classic that hasn’t aged in the way many albums released in 1975 have. “Another Green World” links electronic music’s past while looking forward into its future and would go on to be acknowledged by many as highly influential. Though in 1975 Eno had not yet taken the leap fully into the ambient music genre, it seems odd that “Another Green World” is perceived as a ‘song album and not an ambient album’ as only five of its fourteen tracks feature vocals. Geeta Dayal puts this down to the album’s sequencing as the vocal tracks are well spaced and longer than the brief instrumentals between them. In this article I will explore ideas about Eno’s creative process and the making of “Another Green World”, his ideas of exploiting the studio as musical instrument, the perception of Eno as a studio boffin and how he discovered ambient music and his founding concepts.

Before he made “Another Green World” Eno had released two solo albums in 1973 and ’74: “Here Comes the Warm Jets” and “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) respectively. With these albums he attempted to throw off people’s perception of him as the strutting peacock synthesizer operator of his previous band Roxy Music, which he was mostly successful at. He arrived at “Another Green World” with a sound that was hinting at a grey area between his rock music past and his ambient music future. This was the first time Eno had gone into the studio without any demos or songs completed. He used the guiding principle of his cybernetics hero Stafford Beer – “Instead of trying to specify in full detail, you specify it only somewhat. You then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go.” All Eno had was the talent of his session musicians, a general concept, ideas for which instruments to use and his ace card: his musical ear and skill with synthesizers and processing sound.

Eno’s style is often described as being painterly but as Geeta Dayal expertly pointed out in her book on “Another Green World”, a filmmaking is a better analogy as Eno “has a knack for identifying and assembling the right mix of people to serve a larger vision, and the ability to coax unexpected performances out of collaborators.” This seems be crucial in both the creation of and our understanding of the album. Eno’s collaborators and engineer Rhett Davis recall Eno in a playful and experimental mood during the album’s creation. His experiments included creating 80 foot tape loops in the control room, breaking off in the middle of recording for a slice of cake, treating pianos with bits of metal under the strings or hammer, recording in stairwells and challenging Phil Collins to drum to a mathematical formula he wrote out, which frustrated Collins no end. Regular collaborator and lead guitarist Robert Fripp believed “The key to Brian, from my view, is his sense of play… Although Eno is considered an intellectual, and clearly he has more than sufficient wit, it’s Brian’s instinctive and intuitive choices that impress me. Instinct puts us in the moment, intellect is slower.”

The recording studio was an essential tool that Eno fully exploited on “Another Green World”. Recording in odd rooms/spaces and using the reverb  within Basing Street studio, a deconsecrated church, had a profound effect on the acoustic atmosphere present on the album as did Eno’s desire to push the limited analogue technology as far as it would go. Harold Budd, a future Eno collaborator, said of his use of the studio as an instrument, “The documentary aspect is part and parcel of most recording studios. You perform something and it’s captured, and it’s recorded and pressed and put out in the world. The part with Eno was just the opposite. You use the studio in order to get the sounds that are going to be captured, you know what I mean? It just put a reversal on it.” Eno himself said “… I strongly believe that recording studios have created a different type of musician and a different way of making music… Now this is obviously a very different way of working from any traditional compositional manner; it’s much more like a painting. So it’s clearly a method that is also available to the non-musician. You don’t have to have traditional technical competence to work that way.” In saying this Eno inadvertently planted the seed of the idea of the modern music ‘producer’ who can be anyone creating music with software and recording hardware in their own home, the completely autonomous non-musician and studio producer who needs no proven ability or experience.

“Another Green World” isn’t an album that has many direct decedents as can be said for most of Eno’s best work; he is a distinct artist who stands alone. However, the album and his other pure ambient albums that soon followed have influenced at least two generations of ambient musicians including Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, The Black Dog, Biosphere, Wolfgang Voigt (Kompakt co-founder) and a new generation that includes Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds, M83, Eluvium and others. The greatest legacy Eno and “Another Green World” have is the ideas behind them, the experiments, the imaginative titles that hint at what’s within, the inspirational devices such as the Oblique Strategies employed when the music itself wasn’t enough to fire the imagination. These ideas and the resulting album have remained central to electronic music for 37 years and I have no doubt they will continue to do so.

Stream “Another Green World” here.

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

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