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Brian Eno: Reflection

 A l b u m   D e t a i l s

Label: Warp Records
Released: 2017.01.01
Category: Ambient Generative
Producer(s): Brian Eno
Media type: CD
Web address: www.brian-eno.net
Appears with: Roxy Music
Purchase date: 2017
Price in €: 1,00

 S o n g s ,   T r a c k s

[1] Reflection (B.Eno) - 54:00

 A r t i s t s ,   P e r s o n n e l

Brian Eno - Performer, Cover Image, Photography, Producer

Peter Chilvers - Mutation Software

Matt Colton - Mastering at Alchemy Studios
Nick Robertson - Layout, Design

 C o m m e n t s ,   N o t e s

2017 CD Warp Records WARPCD280

Ambient music is a funny thing. As innocuous as it may seem on the surface, it can often be seen as an intrusion, an irritant. Muzak annoyed as many people as it mellowed, to the point where Ted Nugent tried to buy the company just to shutter it. When Brian Eno teamed with guitarist Robert Fripp (planting the seeds that would lead to his epochal Ambient series), the duo played a concert in Paris in May of 1975 that eschewed their Roxy Music and King Crimson fame and was subsequently met with catcalls, whistles, walkouts and a near-riot.

Forty years later, Eno’s ambient works have drifted from misunderstood bane to canonical works. Eno’s long career has taken him from glam-rock demiurge to the upper stratospheres of stadium rock, from the gutters of no wave to the unclassifiable terrains of Another Green World, but every few years he gets pulled back into ambient’s creative orbit. And while last year’s entry The Ship suggested a new wrinkle, wherein Eno’s art songs inhabited and wandered the space of his ambient work like a viewer in an art gallery, Reflection retreats from that hybrid and more readily slots along works like the dreamlike Thursday Afternoon and 2012’s stately Lux.

Like those aforementioned albums, Reflection is a generative piece. Eno approaches it less like an capital-A Artist, exerting his will and ego on the music, and more like a scientist conducting an experiment. He establishes a set of rules, puts a few variables into motion and then logs the results. Reflection opens with a brief melodic figure and slowly evolves from there over the course of one 54-minute piece. It’s not unlike the opening notes of Music for Airport’s “1/1,” with Robert Wyatt’s piano replaced by what might be a xylophone resonating from underwater. Each note acts like a pebble dropped into a pond, sending out ever widening ripples that slowly decay, but not before certain tones linger and swell until they more closely resemble drones. Listen closer and certain small frequencies emerge and flutter higher like down feathers in a draft.

Around the 18-minute mark, one of those wafting frequencies increases in mass and the piece turns shrill for an instant before re-settling. Another brief blip occurs a half-hour in, like a siren on a distant horizon. Between these moments, the interplay of tones is sublime, reminiscent at times of famous jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s weightless solos, time-stretched until they seem to be emanating from the moon rather than the earth. As smooth and unperturbed as Eno’s ambient pieces tend to be, these small events feel seismic in scale, even if they are short-lived.

Scale becomes the operative word for Reflection. While the physical editions of the album last just under an hour, Eno conceived of the piece to be the most realized version of his ambient music yet, one without parameters or end. Around 51 minutes in, the music starts to slowly recede from our ears, gradually returning to silence. But there’s a version of the piece for Apple TV and iOS that presents a visual component as well as a sonic version of Reflection that’s ever-changing and endless. As the lengthy press release the accompanied the album noted: “This music would unfold differently all the time–‘like sitting by a river’: it’s always the same river, but it’s always changing.” In this instance, reviewing the actual album feels like taking measure of that river from a ship window; you can sense more changes occurring just beyond its borders.

Eno’s ambient albums have never seemed utilitarian in the way of many other ambient and new age works, but naming the album Reflection indicates that he sees this as a functional release, in some manner. Eno himself calls it an album that “seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation.” It feels the most pensive of his ambient works, darker than Thursday Afternoon. Playing it back while on holiday, it seemed to add a bit more gray clouds to otherwise sunny days. Maybe that’s just an aftereffect of looking back on the previous calendar year and perceiving a great amount of darkness, or else looking forward to 2017 and feeling full of dread at what’s still to come. 

Andy Beta - January 4 2017
The Pitchfork Review

Transport yourself into an Enotopia with the ambient master’s latest release on Warp Records. Through the hour-long, other-worldly journey you can still hear the rattling from his previous journey with The Ship, the echoes that are still ruminating from Apollo, and the distant hue that will forever linger in existence thanks to Music For Airports. Reflection is the latest in Brian Eno's ambient series that has been running for over four decades; a series which no-one else has come close to emulating and comes to show that we are in the presence of one the greatest musical masterminds of our lifetime.

Reflection captures Eno at his best. His most recent output has been dominated by a series of collaborations alongside the likes of Karl Hyde, Jon Hopkins and David Byrne. Although 2016’s conceptual project The Ship touched upon some of the great, ambient qualities that defined his earlier output, in reality there hasn’t been an album of this intense deepness for over two decades. It is a pure form of Eno-esque ambience filled with emotive-colour that is reflective of his Music for Airports period. And purposefully so. Recorded as one track, at just under-one hour in length, Reflection is aptly titled, as the artist looks back on how his music in particular makes people feel, and the conversations it leads them to engage in. Recorded in one live take, built upon styles and musical processes that have been developed over the past few decades, Reflection almost feels like a gift – in which we are fortunate enough for Eno to have given us.

There are not so many artists out there who have been as influential as Eno. An artist who created his own genre – a style of ambience that set the tone for modern music as we know it. Writer Maya Kalev who crafted the term ‘power ambient’ to define the modern, revivalist sound that encompassed music from artists such as Lawrence English and Ben Frost – a sound which has been ever-present in today’s musical landscape. And as relevant and important as these artists are, Reflection sits as a body of work that provides a different perspective on contemporary ambient. It feels less urgent. It paints with melodies, allowing each and every listener to have their own relationship with the music. Just imagine a conversation between Eno and that of ‘80s producer Gigi Masin, and how it could sound, with their impressionist approaches to soundscapes.

'It’s the music that I later called "Ambient",' writes Eno as an accompanying note to the LP. 'I don’t think I understand what that term stands for anymore - it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows - but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements.' Reflection is quintessentially Eno. A beautiful, thought provoking and introspective body of work that is composed in a way that is still as unique and as radical as the man himself.

Rating: 9/10

Dan Cole - December 9, 2016
© 2000-2017 Drowned in Sound

In 2016, as he was preparing for the release of Reflection, Brian Eno admitted that he wasn't quite sure what the term "ambient music" even means anymore. It's been used to describe everything from atmospheric techno to tense, foreboding sound sculptures. For him, it's always referred to generative compositions, unrestricted by time constraints or rhythmic structures, and often left to chance. Reflection continues with the type of albums he initiated with 1975's untouchable Discreet Music. The piece slowly unfolds over the course of an hour, with notes calmly being suspended in mid-air, only to drift away and pop up later at their leisure. Occasionally, there's a cosmic sweep that wisps away in the background at infrequent intervals, providing the biggest element of surprise to the album. Reflection is languid and relaxed, but it's still somewhat somber -- it's meant to be relaxing, but it's not entirely relaxed itself. In terms of similar Eno albums, it's not as sparse or glacial as Neroli, not quite as vivid as Lux, and clearer than Thursday Afternoon. As with all of his ambient works, it's minimal and non-distracting, but there are subtle alterations and changes, and it does reward any amount of attention paid to it. In its recorded form, Reflection has a proper ending -- the last few minutes fade out very slowly. However, with this work, Eno took advantage of technology and also released it as an app, endlessly generating music and visuals that continue changing throughout the day for as long as the listener cares to have it going on. There was also a limited early edition of the CD, with each copy containing a one-of-a-kind iteration of the algorithmically generated piece.

Paul Simpson - All Music Guide

Reflecting is an act of selfishness done for the benefit of others. Why look back on the past with an intent to understand it if there isn’t a desire to use that uncovered truth to impact others more positively in the future? We reflect to understand, yet what’s learned in the process can only be savored by the grueling process of tracking how we got there. Because of that, reflection is a singular act, something only the person doing it can benefit from in full, but if used correctly, our reflections help the world at large.

On his 19th studio album, Brian Eno tackles that by chasing time at large. Reflection is his latest ambient experiment to shine the sophistication built into the genre. For Eno, ambient music is about creating the endless, about writing songs with an eternal coda. The 54-minute singular piece that is Reflection chases this, of course, in written conception, but also through its physical release. The album is available on CD, vinyl, and streaming platforms like most are. It’s also available on an app Eno created in tandem with iOS and Apple TV that allows the music to change endlessly, breaking the written form and drawing closer to that goal of endlessness via ambience than ever before.

In sound, the single-track release capitalizes on instruments that toy with time. A single note on the chimes will ring for what feels like forever. Another electronic pad is tapped, bouncing around until it rolls quietly to a stop. The waves go on forever, each getting its time in the spotlight upon initial appearance but then merging with the rest, a type of communal peace through a desire to rest or, dare we say, reflect. Eno achieves this by patterning several sonic materials and filtering them through algorithms to vary their relationships, encouraging permutations that feed into a single stream. Then, he listens. And he listens again. Eno changes notes here and there, but he waits until the music finds a wholeness, a type of bone-cracking stretch that never quite stops.

Reflection is admirable in the proximity in which it approaches its goal. In the end, reflections only hold worth to those who can see themselves in their image. Reflection is the type of ambient music that is both accessible and deeply difficult to understand. To some extent, Eno has mastered that balance over the years with his ambient installation albums. This record sees him reach for a broadness that encompasses every listener: the elder with a wrinkled forehead from stress despite entering retirement, a teacher who prefers grading papers at midnight to teaching classes at noon, a preteen boy encircled in peach-flavored vape smoke laying in the park. Eno created another landscape that allows listeners to question how they fit inside its scope — and since this one is nearly endless, more listeners than ever before can walk in Eno’s footsteps.

That’s not true of all minimalism. Naturally, a genre of soothing notes and layered hums is easy to fall into. Eno does that here, but his movements, on occasion, bleed together in a way that allows a listener to forget what they were staring at. For most of the record, that works to its benefit. Getting lost helps you connect feelings that otherwise stand on their own. Like any good Eno record, this allows you to feel consumed, wrapped tightly in a blanket, left to cozy up inside yourself since the world has already decided to cozy up outside of you. Sometimes you forget what you were examining, which is an added feeling of loss many never seek, but the record’s highs make up for that.

Once again, Eno reminds listeners to experience in their own way, on their own time, to their own image. The music takes shape as a lazy river, half an hour after workers turned off its water guns and tipping buckets, a few towels left at the amusement park’s edge to soften the sound. The water is still, but technically moving. Occasional water droplets fall from the edge of the plastic faucets. A breeze blows between the handles on the plastic float. Listeners are free to stare at what they choose as the music tugs them along, but Eno determines the pace and mindset in which they do so. We may not see it from his point of view, but that’s for the better. On Reflection, Brian Eno chases the endlessness of thought through music and comes to terms with that same endlessness simultaneously — and by doing so, he allows listeners to do the same.

Nina Corcoran - January 04, 2017
© 2007 - 2017 Consequence of Sound

By design, Brian Eno’s latest collection of instrumental ambient music is a fluid entity. In addition to making the 54-minute, one-track Reflection available via the usual media (e.g., CD, vinyl, streaming platforms), the composer collaborated on iOS and Apple TV editions featuring an “endless and endlessly changing version of the piece of music.” There’s technically no definitive version of Reflection—it’s a composition that morphs and evolves depending on any number of emotional, environmental and temporal factors.

In other words, Reflection is Eno’s latest (and perhaps most ambitious and immersive) attempt at generative music, a term he dreamed up to describe the results of a computer-aided compositional approach. After figuring out a specific palette of sounds and sonic patterns, Eno lets a system of algorithms interpret this raw material and produce pieces of music he can refine until he’s satisfied. In general, this convergence of human creation and digital automation is powerful, and ensures these works avoid getting overly sentimental or detached.

On Reflection, the heart and soul behind his tweaks is even more on the surface. Glowing, bell-like tones—which sound like percussionists playing mellifluous chimes in deep space—ease in gently and then trail off in melodic blurs. Sci-fi-soundtrack keyboards zap through the tranquility, sometimes conjuring comets streaking through the night sky and at other times resembling brain waves tracked by an EEG monitor. All of these sounds fade in and out of the piece gently in slow motion, which gives listeners a chance to revel in and absorb their emotional resonance.

Occasionally, certain sounds burn brighter than others; these louder rhythmic patterns or droning synth moments are jarring and demand attention by conjuring feelings of discontent, restlessness, and wariness. Yet Reflection is generally relaxing, thanks mostly to the skillful way Eno prioritizes silence. The album possesses the same eerie, zero-gravity chill permeating 1978’s landmark Ambient 1: Music For Airports and 1983’s Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, two other collections where the absence of sound speaks volumes. By the time Reflection comes to an end, via a long denouement in which it eventually settles into a series of hushed oscillations and resigned tones, overwhelming tranquility overshadows any lingering unease.

In an essay accompanying the release of Reflection, Eno wrote that the album “makes me think things over. It seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation. And external ones, actually—people seem to enjoy it as the background to their conversations.” His assessment is astute; whether used as sonic wallpaper or the soundtrack for a lengthy meditation, Reflection is the kind of album useful for getting ideas percolating and nourishing interior worlds.

Annie Zaleski - Jan 3, 2017
The A.V. Club.

Part of what's made Brian Eno the authority on ambient music is his conviction that the genre will never accommodate any such thing as authority. To Eno, ambient is a shifting document merely suggestive of time, place, and mood; matters of its design, ownership, and impact are ultimately less crucial than the room for interpretation it creates. On Reflection, Eno's seventh release in seven years, this underlying logic is repurposed for what Eno calls “generative music” (his word for “pieces that make themselves”), meaning that the album's single 54-minute track is merely one incarnation of an infinite musical system, a window into a massive soundscape of loops and lulls.

This conceptual needling has endowed Eno's career with extracurricular significance, and his output with an otherworldly aura and appeal. “Reflection” is a case where he chips away at his original artistic endeavor (writing a short phase of music) with a series of algorithmic manipulations (such as pitch-shifting every 50th note), thereby creating a system of understated inconsistencies; as the piece proceeds and these manipulations repeat, they become increasingly consistent, almost as recognizable as the origin loop itself. The question in this dance between rule and rule-breaking is which is more central to the experience of the piece, and whether “Reflection” would be as captivating without its instances of quiet rebellion.

Listening to “Reflection” is therefore a relaxed acclimation to its repetitive motif and its whisper-thin departures. Eno's central pattern—a procession of calm, reverberating chimes—is continually introduced by a slow bed of synths, and then followed by a rise and fall of midtempo synths; other recurring noises include distant buzzing, the sustained whirr of what sounds like an ocean wave captured sonically, and an effect that seems uncannily like a finger running the rim of a half-filled glass of water. (Certain instruments bring to mind warm, improvised vibraphones, while others evoke the automated tones of elevators and public transit; the mix evokes man and machine merging together, one of Eno's thematic fixations.)

Moments of suspense come and go but with diminishing returns, and by the 10th arrival of the same passage of calculated tension there's little fear that it won't pass yet again. And in between are long stretches of hovering that find “Reflection” at its most lost, most in need of a grand drama not quite captured by Eno's infinite (and infinitely small) variations. The result is one of his most nuanced and meticulous pieces but not one dependent on—nor effectively displaying—its little deviations.

Reflection is accompanied by an app that allows endless streaming of the piece as it changes subtly according to the time of day. (As explained by Peter Chilvers, Eno's collaborator on the project: “The harmony is brighter in the morning…[the piece reaches] the original key by the evening”). In a sense, the 54-minute track is therefore something of an advertisement, an excerpt cut to the size of the industry's sales format to preview an extended director's version. Yet it's hard to imagine anybody sitting through this near-hour of music and coming away with the impression that the one thing it needs is to be considerably longer; instead, it's more rewarding to consider “Reflection” as-is, and as Eno's final say on the piece (as opposed to one permutation of a boundless symphony, as abstractly worthwhile as that may be).

Most of all, “Reflection” is cause to revisit Eno's theory that musical repetition doesn't really exist, that “as far as the mind is concerned, nothing happens the same twice.” This idea—that the imprecision of human interpretation obscures repetition— works just as well in the other direction: Even a piece such as “Reflection,” which consciously evades repeating itself, can be experienced by the listener as something which in fact does repeat. “Reflection” the song is thus another thoughtful contribution from Eno, and perhaps his strongest and most focused soundscape since 1978's landmark Music for Airports. But packaged as Reflection the album alongside Reflection the app, the piece adopts a conceptual hang-up: This is music that's never the same but sounds like it is, obsessed with the fact that it isn't.

Jonathan Wroble - December 30, 2016
Slant Magazine

“All is quiet on New Year’s Day,” U2 once sang. That was in 1983, before they became clients of Brian Eno – and, arguably, the last time anyone had any peace on the first day of the year. New Year’s Eve raves routinely spill over into the next evening. The ceaseless chirrup of social media precludes silence.

Into this clamour lands Reflection, the latest ambient work by Eno, the Roxy Music maverick who named this new genre in 1978 with Music For Airports, and whose cultural reach now spans the avant garde, Coldplay albums and generative apps. If your idea of an album is 12 or so tunes, Eno routinely bucks that set of strictures, even if his last album, The Ship – released last April – cleaved closer than most to tradition.

Here, the one track unfurls very gradually over 54 minutes (and one second), its thrums and oscillations reverberating at a pace you might call glacial if the glaciers weren’t all melting in such a hurry. At seven minutes in, the tones gather momentum. At 21 minutes, there’s something like the twitter of an electronic bird. It gets going again at the 47-minute mark, when the bell-like nuances once again turn up a notch.

The overall effect is deeply, magnificently peaceful, meditative, even; ambient certainly monopolises certain sections of the thesaurus. Naysayers may liken ambient music to watching paint dry, but this is paint drying on a Mark Rothko canvas. The harder you tune in, the more there is to notice, the more you let it wash over you, the more it sucks you in to reveal internal structures.

Throughout his long career, Eno has tinkered with gear and software that allows for the autonomous generation of sounds. As well as the standard version, Reflection also comes in “premium generative” editions. Core elements and sets of parameters fed in by Eno can be randomly recombined ad infinitum by a set of algorithms – a considerably gussied-up version of a Buddha machine, if you like.

Reflection also – inevitably – throws up a set of reflections. The idea of authorship is a vexed question at the best of times, what with the death of the author, and the collaborative nature of vast amounts of art and cultural products. Pop routinely comes under fire for being written “by committee”. But if an algorithm composed this music, is Brian Eno the author of it?

Geeks have long thrilled to the idea of computer-generated music; in Japan, they already have a virtual pop star called Hatsune Miku. Music analysis software exists that can predict hits with increasing accuracy, and Google Labs have an ersatz neural network up and running that can make convincing music. Along with all the other careers currently being destroyed by automation, it looks like that most notionally human of all – music – is under threat. If you’re feeling paranoid as 2017 begins, the vast rippling peace of this album can suddenly take on a slightly sinister bent.

Rating: 3/5

Kitty Empire - 1 January 2017
© 2017 Guardian News

Reflection is the twenty-sixth solo studio album by English musician Brian Eno, released on 1 January 2017 on Warp Records. It is a single piece of ambient music produced by Eno that runs for 54 minutes in length. Released on CD, vinyl, and digital download, a generative version of the album is available as an app that changes the music at different times of the day. Reflection is an addition to Eno's series of ambient albums. Its structure is similar to that of Thursday Afternoon (1985), an earlier album of his that consists of a single track that runs for 60 minutes in length. Reflection has a length of 54 minutes. Eno decided on its title as the piece "makes [him] think back. It makes me think things over. It seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation. And external ones actually - people seem to enjoy it as the background to their conversations". He considers the work the most sophisticated of all his ambient releases. On 1 January 2017, an album listening event was held at several Rough Trade shops worldwide. During the event, a "uniquely generated, one-of-a-kind" edition limited to 500 copies were available on CD that contains a signed case sleeve with a booklet.


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