Friday, January 14, 2011
Brian Eno & Laraaji - Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980)
Of the four albums in Brian Eno's "Ambient" series, the third installment is the least well known and sounds the least like the others. This is perhaps because it is the only one not to be released under Eno's own name, but instead credited solely to Laraaji. I am giving Eno credit above, however, because of his typically adept recording and engineering, and anyway it's his series.
What we have here is a series of pieces for solo zither, enhanced ever so slightly by synthesizers, bells and studio techniques, performed by street musician Laraaji (born under the slightly less exotic name of Edward Larry Gordon.) There are three "Dances" on the album and two "Meditations," the former being high energy and rhythmic while the latter are relaxed, free form and meandering. Much like in the work of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, the constant motion in the dance pieces after a time begins to seem like a static texture that simply hangs in the air for the listener to experience. Although this may seem to be in opposition to conventional notions of what ambient music is, the label does make sense in that these songs create an atmosphere rather than a dynamic musical composition. It also must be remembered that at the time ambient music was still a relatively new concept and Eno was blazing new trails as he went along.
There are Celtic as well as Asian idioms in the music, which is an odd pairing and creates a sound both exotic and difficult to pin down. Some of the figures Laraaji plays could be equally at home on a dulcimer in Wales or a zither in Egypt or a koto in Japan. The very lowest strings on the instrument rattle percussively when struck, and Jaraaji creates some wonderful rhythms down there while maintaining the drone like motion in the upper register. The amazing thing is that that he manages to make each of these five pieces sound completely distinct from one another. The problem with a whole album of music for one instrument is that the lack of timbral variety can become tedious if not handled carefully. That such tedium never occurs here is a testament to the inventiveness and skill with which Laraaji handles his instrument.
The meditations are more tradional "New Agey" ambient fare, but as always Eno avoids being trite or cliche in how he handles the sound. The amount of reverb applied is tasteful and the music is thoughtfully contructed in a way that works just as well for active listening as it does when functioning as furniture music. This may well be my favorite of the four albums in Eno's "Ambient" series, simply because it is so different from anything else he has done before or since.