Silence speaks volumes on Brian Eno’s innovative, tranquil Reflection

Silence speaks volumes on Brian Eno’s innovative, tranquil Reflection

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Brian Eno (Photo: Shamil Tanna)
Brian Eno (Photo: Shamil Tanna)
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Brian Eno

Album: Reflection
Label: Warp Records

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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.


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