Brian and Roger Eno – Mixing Colours


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“The more you listen to this, particularly with the fabulous worlds that Brian has created, you can really walk into this enormous landscape and stay.” – Roger Eno

In these unprecedented times anxieties are escalating.  Sometimes you want calming music.  Something to escape into, drift away.  The equivalent of a warm, incense-scented isolation tank.  That’s where the Eno brothers come in.  Building soft, safe, aural architecture.  A place for meditation and calm.

Roger and Brian Eno have worked together before – most recently on last year’s update of ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ (1983) – along with Daniel Lanois – was written for the documentary Apollo (later renamed ‘For All Mankind’), directed by Al Reinert. But that was really Brian’s baby.  This time it’s a real and proper duo effort.  It’s their real collaborative debut.

For this ambient sonic palette experience, ‘Mixing Colours’, the brothers work together to create ‘sound-painting’ that draw on occurrences in the natural world – as in the tracks ‘Desert Sand’ or ‘Snow’.  The track list reads like a paint shop colour chart.

There are hints at solstice motifs in ‘Wintergreen’.  Can ‘green’ and ‘forest’ have a soundscape?

More clearly, there’s a slight ecclesiastical mood with ‘Obsidian’.  ‘Obsidian’ is produced when the felsic lava from a volcano rapidly cools.  It produces a substance similar to a black resin-like glass.  There are overtones of church organs, blended with an oddly liquid ambience.  From all this I was set to dreaming about what all this means.  The movie in my head involves two explorers crawling trough a tiny pace that opens out into a huge cathedral sized cave of black obsidian –  haunting, awesome and beautiful. and  rapidly with minimal crystal growth.

If ‘Obsidian’ hints at a colour (Black) then other compositions are outright descriptive.  Take Ultramarine’, which really does feel like a slow plunge into the dark blue waters.  It’s a slow, simple and delicate piece that is barely there.  Listeners may remember ‘Deep Blue Day’, form the movie ‘Trainspotting’, where Ewen McGregor swam down to recover his suppositories.  It’s a bit like that.

‘Burnt Umber’ has a mix of simple and mystic ‘Asian’ bells and dark ‘brown/orange’ notes.  Then there’s ‘Verdigris’, which has the most memorable themes – almost a simple earworm.  The name, I learned, (isn’t Google wonderful) is the common name for that green pigment you get through the application of acetic acid to copper plates.  Simply put, the natural patina formed when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or seawater over time. I didn’t really see the connection to the colour, but then everything is subjective, I guess.

The majority of these delightfully sparse digital instrumentals started life with multi-instrumentalist Roger – Eno the younger – crafting the melodies on his piano.  He’s a long know but less applauded an experimental musician himself.

His slow, deliberate playing is like striking a bell.  The tunes are barely sketched out, before sent to older brother Eno, who apparently added all the electronic resonance during his regular train journeys.  “Nearly all of the work on this album was done on trains,” Brian Eno said in a publicity statement. “I can sit there with my computer and headphones, and these pieces are absolutely perfect train music for me.”

The single ‘Celeste’ is was also released as the first of a series of seven visuals from ‘Mixing Colours’, directed by Brian Eno and software designer Peter Chilvers.  The concept was to marry “the simplicity and contemplative qualities of its soundscapes with suitably uncomplicated, mesmerizing imagery of slowly changing, dreamlike panoramas”, they told Deutsche Grammophon recently.

You can explain this music in many ways – calming, meditative, even cinematic.  Most of all it’s soothing.  Think of it as the colours you’d choose to paint a room in a spa.  A safe place to relax, forget, drift away.

In these crazy days watching paint dry, especially these colours could be the best medicine we can get.


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