Fripp & Eno
, September 26th, 2008 14:31
Having read about the Roxy Music maestro’s esoteric interests, an earnest young musician once asked Robert Fripp: “Is Brian Eno a Buddhist?”
“No, he’s naturally bald,” came the reply.
This very English koan captures the essence of Fripp and Eno’s early collaborations. Both 1973’s (No Pussyfooting) and 1975’s newly remastered Evening Star appear to operate on the Zen principle that the transcendent and the quotidian are the same thing; that when you tune into the latter properly, enlightenment comes. Both are exercises in pure Frippertronics: the sound of Fripp’s swelling, endlessly sustained guitar lines treated and backed by Eno’s looped, lower-case electronics. They work by noticing and staying with particular details — one guitar tone, one seemingly innocuous musical phrase — until they become transformed, a permanent impermanence maintained by fluctuations in texture and detail.
But, despite the exotic implications of Peter Schmidt’s sublime cover art, it’s quite likely that this album takes its title from the Ipswich-based local newspaper Eno would have delivered to his neighbours as a youngster. Fripp and Eno’s early vision of ambient music was at once serious in scope and imbued with dry humour; enigmatic and emotive; profoundly engaged and daringly detached. Like its better-known predecessor, Evening Star delivers meditative sounds with a future-shock sharpness that appeals to those put off “ambient” by the wafty, New Age connotations the term has picked up over the years.
The first side offers four distinct but aligned glimpses. ‘Wind On Water’ steadily reveals a world of wonder, almost inducing Stendhal syndrome using only a cluster of tones that bleed subtly into one another. The title track is pure, harmonic pleasure built around one gently looped guitar chord; the joyous stasis of a night sky. ‘Evensong’, a softly awkward loop with a music box feel, is a cramped, peg-legged English counterpart to the kind of electronic pastoral Harmonia would have been working on in Germany at the time. ‘Wind On Wind’ (a short excerpt from Eno’s own, 30-minute ‘Discreet Music’) is discreetly gorgeous.
But it’s the astonishing ‘Index of Metals’, the half-hour drone piece that takes up the second side, that showcases the more discomfiting side of ambient electronics. At first more chilling than 'chillout', its looming, metal-on-metal loop anchors tonal excursions and clock- or computer-like sounds, and steadily decays into a gentle, wave-like wash. (You might place it halfway between Alvin Lucier’s voice-reducing-to-texture in ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ and the receding industrial playout of Iggy’s ‘Mass Production’.) Just as (No Pussyfooting) suggests a benign version of A Clockwork Orange’s futurescape, ‘Index of Metals’ puts me in mind of the derelict, opposed Stothert & Pitt cranes currently rusting in front of Battersea Power Station. It could be the sound of ghost work heard across water, or a religious rite performed under those monuments from a forgotten civilisation. In an era of cramped schedules and clogged hard drives, Evening Star sounds more radical, in one sense, than it would have back when Sunday afternoons were still allowed to drag.