Tag Archive: Biosphere


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)

For many years ambient music existed on the fringes of contemporary music, an underground concern often maligned as background muzak. In this article I explore the origins and ideology of ambient music and its recent resurgence at the hands of new and established artists.

There are some conflicting ideas about who invented ambient music and why but its origins are traceable back to the Futurism and Dada art movements of the early 20th century. Though widely known for creating new ways of painting and sculpting and pushing the boundaries of what could be classified as art, artists of these movements also experimented in music, sometimes incorporating non musical elements into compositions. Erik Satie is the most important of these composers. As a creator of what he named ‘furniture music’, described as being suitable for generating a perfect background atmosphere that would not distract the diners at a dinner party, Satie links Dada and Futurism with the beginnings of contemporary ambient music. Satie’s ideas influenced Brian Eno who having studied at art school gained an understanding of art, artists, like the Futurists and Dadaists, and music and later coined the term ‘ambient music’ in the mid 1970s.

The ambient music standard-setter is Eno’s universally critically acclaimed ‘Ambient #1: Music for Airports’ from 1978. Eno believed ambient music could be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener” and referred to “Ambient #4: On Land” (1982) as “environmental”. Both statements seem appropriate though there is a strong case for a strain of ambient music that doesn’t solely sit in the background with a recent development of artists such as Biosphere who put greater emphasis on the music’s emotional content. From the commencement of ambient music’s Eno era the divide between environmental and emotional ambient pieces has existed: Cluster’s ‘71’ and ‘II’ from 1971 and ’72 mixed synth washes and melodies with recordings of domestic appliances, kitchen utensils and industrial machinery and, conversely, the arpeggios and melodies of Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’ instil a dreamlike state of emotion and reflection.

Ambient releases were initially infrequent but when rave music was forced indoors due to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a separate ‘chill-out’ room in clubs was created to allow attendees to come down while cushioned by ambient music and though there is now a distinct difference between what is called chill-out and ambient music the performers in these rooms became the ambient music leaders. This included The Orb with 1991’s ‘Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and ‘U.F.Orb’ from 1992, The Irresistible Force’s ‘It’s Tomorrow Already’ (1998) and ‘Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92’ by rave pioneer Aphex Twin. Via these albums clubs, major record labels and corporations were shown the commercial potential of ambient music and the genre became overrun with sub standard cookie cutter releases and advert soundtracks, eventually leading ‘chill-out’ and its cash-in compilations to flood the late 90s-early 00s market. Commercial (over)exposure pushed many ambient artists underground and record labels like Touch specialised in finding the best new artists and revitalised the genre with releases from Biosphere, Chris Watson, Phillip Jeck and B.J. Nilsen and though these artists received acclaim the genre remained deep underground, until recently.

We are now experiencing a resurgence in ambient music, evident in recent releases from The Black Dog, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Sun Araw, Emeralds, and there are similarities to 80s new age music, and chillwave artists such as Washed Out. The Black Dog’s ‘Real Music for Airports’ challenges Eno’s original utopian vision and is in many ways more effective in realising and expressing the sounds and feeling of airports. Like The Black Dog, Sunn O))) create a heavier atmosphere and though these acts are not often categorised as creating ambient music they represent ‘dark ambient’, a rarely covered subgenre that is as engrossing as it is intimidating. ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’, the latest release from Sunn O))) evokes the sound of the earth’s crust splitting and reference Miles Davis on ‘Aghartha’, the brass and woodwind are utilised in an unconventional form to create texture and atmosphere. ‘Big Church’ employs droning guitars and bass with a colossal-sounding choir to create the feel that you are in fact in a cathedral but this is a simplification of what the group musically achieve, which is difficult to describe accurately. Sunn O))) are not for everyone but well worth listening to. ‘Returnal’ by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) and ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ by Emeralds share a similar affection for the sounds of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis but both artists stamp their own mark on these familiar instrumentations. OPN’s skill is being able to evoke places, emotions and memory. Glistening waves of synths effortlessly flow though the tracks due to his seamless manipulation of recordings and computer editing. ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ is a milestone for Emeralds as they have adapted a stronger song based approach and allowed guitarist Mark McGuire’s riffs and melodies more space in the mix. Here the songs flow easier than on the previous album ‘What Happened?’ and there is a greater sense of direction. Sun Araw’s albums all inhabit their own worlds and space: ‘Beach Head’ is like a super slow motion version of the Hawaiian scene depicted on the cover, ‘Heavy Deeds’ is urbane in vibe, revealed by the title, is indeed heavy as his wah-wah symphonies stretch out to infinity and latest album ‘On Patrol’ takes his techniques deeper and further out than ever before.

When writing and researching this piece I have discovered much about ambient music and its preconceptions. I’ve been guilty of paying too much heed to them and until last year I had not bothered to look beyond them. However, I’ve come to realise that ambient music is currently and historically rich and diverse despite lesser artists diluting its form and corporate misappropriation. The present selection of artists is further evidence of ambient music’s wealth and they promise an interesting, bold future.

Spotify playlist:

Altered States playlist

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