Artist: Brian Eno Release Date: April 1982
Musical Context :
Label: EG Music Inc. / BMI. Running time: 44m 35s
Jon Hassell - Trumpet
Bill Laswell - Bass
Michael Beinhorn - Synthesizer
Michael Brook - Guitar
Brian Eno - Synthesizer, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals, Producer, Electronics, Treatments
Axel Gros - Guitar
Engineered by Daniel Lanois (Canada), Julie Last (NYC), Johnny Potoker (NYC), Andy Lydon (London), Neal Teeman, Barry Sage, Cheryl Smith and Martin Bisi.
Mastered Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound, New York.
Special thanks to Robert Quine, Alex Blair, Harold Budd, Laraaji and Danny Lanois.
All songs recorded between September 1978 and January 1982.
“As a listener, I wanted to be situated inside a large field of loosely-knit sound, rather than placed before a tightly organized monolith (or ‘stereolith’ for that matter). I wanted to open out the aural field, to put much of the sound a considerable distance from the listener (even locating it out of earshot), and to allow the sounds to live their lives separately from one another, clustering occasionally but not musically bound together.” ~ Brian Eno, on his intentions for the record.
In other words, listen as hard as you can, as loud as you can, but know you’re still not hearing all of the recording. If there’s one way to explain how this Eno plays, it’s the sense you get that a whole world of things are going on just outside
the frame in which you’re listening. You hear constantly, at the periphery, sounds as if through keyholes or under doors, or you feel them under the floor or behind you. The immediate liminal result can be exceedingly creepy, but wildly effective. Listening to 'The Lost Day', for example, in the dark, alone, in an empty house
is jarring like a misty night walk in the woods, without ever leaving your living room. The departure from the earlier ambient records is marked, as Eno had used strictly linear methods for his Discreet Music
and Music for Airports
. Like any algorithmic
formula, he would essentially program the machine, which would in turn generate the music. It was stunningly simple and surprisingly successful. So, of course, as any artist would, he abandoned that technique and moved on. On this recording, process and theory take a back seat. For better or worse, which only the individual listener can judge, the On Land LP opts for a more intuitive and collaborative sound. The result is far less precise, but far more human. There are both flaws and nuances which do not emerge from Eno’s more mechanical
records. There is a deliberate effort to be evocative or actual geographic landscapes and moments, be they real of imagined. As a result, On Land became hugely influential for a whole generation of ambient music
enthusiasts and composers and became a sort of benchmark for collaborationists in the genre
, even now two decades after its release.
What’s it sound like though?
“I found the synthesizer … of limited usefulness because it tended towards a diagrammative rather than an organic sound. My instrumentation shifted gradually through electro-mechanical and acoustic instruments towards non-instruments like pieces of chain and sticks and stones…I included not only recordings of rocks, frogs and insects, but also the complete body of my earlier work. As a result, some earlier pieces I worked on became digested by later ones.” ~ Eno, on mixing the final elements of On Land.
There are no doubt samples and echoes here of earlier work, particularly the moodier moments of Music for Films seem to have been mobilized for the creation of some of this record’s eerier textures. Which isn’t to say its all spooky though; the reproduction of sitting by a calm lakeshore on a warm evening moving from dusk to night is nigh-well perfect on the sixth track, for example. 1
Despite the use of some earlier source material, spread over the full forty minutes of the record, On Land, if optimally approached (two main, two rear channels in a ‘warm’ listening environment - amp at least 100 w, and a solid 35-21K Hz dynamic range, would be helpful
) still stands quite on its own as a listening experience, and simply towers over the vast majority of ambient records usually touted as impressive or innovative. It is a meticulous, carefully crafted work – not the product of one or two hobbyists. As you can see by the list of credits above, a lot of people in a lot of cities fussed about for four years getting On Land to sound the way it does. The world of Mister Eno, all claims
to the contingent contrary, is one largely without accidents.
Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?
If you like the creepy element, I’d recommend some Lull
) or any Main records you should come across (Hz
is the best, I believe), which all got fairly regular play in experimental circles for a while. On the other hand, if you like the found sound
; and for more organic ambient stuff, I’m pretty partial to Stars of The Lid
or Windy and Carl
. As for the artist himself, however, Music for Airports
is another fairly crucial album if you find you like this sort of thing. Eno and Lanois collaborated the year following this record on the Apollo : Soundtracks and Atmospheres
, which became yet another ambient music classic (and later furnished a tune for Trainspotting
). It would also be the last great ambient record Eno would record before returning to more pop music production and art rock
1. Lizard Point 2 - 4:30 : Like a soundtrack to a emptied world, this opener is full of all the subterranean growls, terrestrial moans and deserted whispers that the ceaseless drone of humankind has wiped away. Eno manages here to capture it, amplify it and play it back for us. Judging by the tone, Mother Earth sounds distinctly unhappy. Extraordinarily chilling listen.
2. The Lost Day - 9:29 : as mentioned, this is the track most appropriate for a very slow, something awful emerging crawling from the mists around the deserted cabin scene. There are distant bells, growls, tinkling pianos and insectoid scuttling that is nightmarish in a way Mike Oldfield never even conceived. 3 Luminously ominous .
3. Tal Coat - 5:48 : undersea sounds, like sailing over the edge of coral reef which recedes endlessly into the green-blue depths below, or the sound a cocktail party of pulsars might make, if stars had a language of their own. It is precisely cut and ground, as songs go, a mathematical wonder. The patented Eno bubble noises are given front and centre staging (much later deployed in his mixing the Slowdive track, Sing, off Souvlaki).
4. Shadow - 3:03 : this is certainly one of the disc’s more ominous tracks, replete with a lot of disconcerting piping, breathing, whispering, twirling and chirping. For some reason it’s the twirling noises in the background that are really frightening, a bit like the swing of the guillotine you hear on the first This Mortal Coil record.4 Nicely shivery.
5. Lantern Marsh - 5:35 : the sounds here are also culled from Eno's childhood, this site apparently close to his hometown. And, again, this indicates perhaps a bit of haunting in his youth, as the forlorn bays of distant animals, lost in foggy valleys, echo out in all directions. Aural imagining at its best.
6. Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills) - 5:16 : a refreshingly serene Chill Out track (likely where Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond got the formula). My favourite track for sure.
7. A Clearing - 4:06 : a continuation, with warbles and swallows gathered in little bunches around the treetops in the late autumn afternoon, still and resonant.
8. Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960 - 7:08 : for one reason or other, this is the most anxious cut on the album, though it sounds peaceful enough. Cold waves, circling gulls, all scene from the dunes. But you get the sense Eno is alluding to something a bit less prosaic here, something instead quite tragic, whatever it might be.5
1 Wind whistling in the wires, sparrow songs, even real live Honduran froggies (according to the liner notes), all sampled for our evocative, alchemical and atmospheric listening pleasure. You can almost see the evening star twinkling over the surface of a lake, and I’m not even sure if there is a lake in Leeks Hills, which is apparently somewhere in East Anglia, where Eno grew up.
2 All compositions by Eno except ‘Lizard Point’ by Beinhorn/Eno/Eno/Gros/Laswell.
3 Yet somehow it’s his stuff that ends up in the Exorcist? So not right.
4It'll End In Tears, track five, Fond Affections – easily the scariest sound ever produced by a Yamaha DX7. If you’ve heard the record, it sticks out.
5Brian Peter George St. Baptiste de la Salle Eno, born May 15, 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, would have been just a 12-year old schoolboy, though this song sounds like no youngster should think.