Monday, February 20, 2017

Brian Eno | Reflection app

Reflection, the twenty-sixth solo studio album by Brian Eno, was released on the first day of 2017 by Warp Records, as a vinyl LP and compact disk. It is also available as a downloadable app, at a considerably higher price.

The app represents the realization of something that Eno had first hoped to do over forty years ago, with the release of Discreet Music. The title track of this 1975 record can be viewed as a thirty minute excerpt from an infinite algorithmic, generative composition: the longest available half-side of a vinyl LP (without having to cut the grooves so close that it results in a serious loss of fidelity).

Discreet Music is one of Eno's first forays into ambient music (predating the watershed Music for Airports by three years) and the first solo record to bear his full name. It is easily one of favourite records of all time, and art works. But Eno viewed it as a compromise, the limitation of the medium.

With the introduction of the compact disk, he was able to issue a single track of music at almost twice the length of Discreet Music, a decade later, with the release of Thursday Afternoon.

Thirty-two years later, Reflection is 54 minutes in length, on the CD and vinyl version. But the app offers an ever-changing infinitely long piece of generative music. And one which changes depending of the day.

"Reflection is the most recent of my Ambient experiments and represents the most sophisticated of them so far," he writes in the liner notes. "My original intention with Ambient music was to make endless music, music that would be there as long as you wanted it to be. I wanted also that this music would unfold differently all the time – ‘like sitting by a river’: it’s always the same river, but it’s always changing. But recordings – whether vinyl, cassette or CD – are limited in length, and replay identically each time you listen to them. So in the past I was limited to making the systems which make the music, but then recording 30 minutes or an hour and releasing that. Reflection in its album form – on vinyl or CD – is like this. But the app by which Reflection is produced is not restricted: it creates an endless and endlessly changing version of the piece of music."

The Reflection app is different from Eno's previous ventures into digital apps in that it is pointedly not responsive, not interactive.

"There are two statements," he told Philip Sherburne, in an interview with Pitchfork last week, "One is the price and the other is that it isn’t interactive. That was quite important to me, to try to keep it free of anything you could do with it. I just did not want people sort of fiddling. I was trying to say, “This is something to listen to.” Think of it like a finished piece of music. It happens to be a finished piece of music that will never repeat, but it is a finished piece. Some people were a little bit annoyed there was nothing they could do to it. My response is: You don’t expect to be able to do anything to a CD, do you? You just put it on and turn it up.

The point about the price was that if you make a vinyl, it costs 22 pounds in England, a CD is 16. Both of those are reduced versions of the app, in the sense that they are a tiny fraction, infinitesimal, of the lifetime piece. I really want to make the point that this is an endless piece of music. And one of the ways I can make that point is to price it higher. So in England, the app went to 30 pounds. A lot of work went into it, as well. It was only the two of us, Peter and I, and it took about a year to make the app."

Purchase the app for $39.99, here.
Read the full interview at Pitchfork, here.

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