Reflection by the river of sound

Brian Eno's latest missive, Reflection, offers two options: a one-track contemplation lasting 54 minutes and a generative app that creates endless permutations of images and splashes of sound.
Brian Eno's latest missive, Reflection, offers two options: a one-track contemplation lasting 54 minutes and a generative app that creates endless permutations of images and splashes of sound.PHOTO: WARP

The old ways of doing things are drifting away.

For the first time, film and TV streaming, as well as downloads, have recently overtaken DVD sales in Britain. Artists such as Beyonce, Bjork and Kanye West are redefining music creation and consumption, releasing so-called "visual albums" or ceaselessly tweaking their songs.

In comes Brian Eno, the musical pioneer who coined the term "ambient" when he released his 1978 album, Music For Airports.

The Englishman's latest missive, Reflection, released on Jan 1, offers two options: a one-track contemplation lasting 54 minutes and a generative app that creates endless permutations of images and splashes of sound through an algorithm co-created by musician and software designer Peter Chilvers. Eno describes the latter as akin to "sitting by the river - it's always the same river, but it's always changing".

What about the more conventional album then, the one reviewed here? One could say it is a snapshot of that river at a particular time - a piece of archive, a quaint memento, a temporal documentation of a recording.

  • AMBIENT

  • REFLECTION

    Brian Eno

    Warp Records

    4/5 stars

But does this mean one's experiencing of it remains the same every time? Far from it. Herein lies the existential conundrum: Is there a definitive "original" or are we left with copies or versions of truth in this so-called post-truth world?

As Eno says, the album "seems to create a psychological space that encourages internal conversation".

If you are caught up in the socio- political disruptions of the past year, then Reflection can be seen as contemporaneous commentary. It is a balm for frazzled nerves, a much welcome escapism or an Arcadia for disenfranchised liberals.

If you are more philosophical, Reflection is a clean slate with absolutely no preconceptions.

Aside from the album title, there is no conniving album title to manipulate your emotions. If you are sanguine, then this presents a fresh start, a new hope.

Gentle synths swirl outwards. A centrifugal flower blooms, as if a pebble is dropped into the placid surface. Bell-like tones linger and evaporate. At 22 minutes nine seconds, a whistle rings out, as if transiting through a time warp. Such microscopic details reveal themselves once you immerse in the fluvial ebb and flow.

So, is this heaven or hell? Afterlife? Just a reprieve from the tedium of cable news? Ask yourself.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Reflection by the river of sound'. Print Edition | Subscribe