Ambient feels like an inaccurate term to refer to the work of Brian Eno. The genre has unfortunate connotations of mere passivity; a background noise to supplement something more substantial; conversation, study or work. It implies the unsavoury idea that music can be ancillary to something more robust, more practical. That is has a use value.
Far from being background music, Brian Eno’s ambient works build universes of their own for the listener to explore. Reflection is Eno’s latest and ‘most sophisticated’ entry into the genre which he helped establish. Originally conceived as a constant stream of uninterrupted ambient sound generated by a system of algorithms, Eno has had to settle for the more conventional formats of mp3, CD and Vinyl. The single 54-minute long track that comprises this album is no less dynamic for the transition.
The album begins with a brief quasi-melody before sweeping you in on a soft, synthetic wave; the tentative first steps onto into alien territory. Short sweet chirrups are heard in the distance. Humming drones tune in and out, sometimes reaching a near-unbearable level of intensity before retreating into the distance.
There is a sense that the landscape is constantly renewing itself, constantly unfolding. ‘It’s always the same river,’ says Eno of this project, ‘but it’s always changing.’ There are echoes of the sonic landscapes Eno created on the B-side of Bowie’s 1977 album Low here, though more subdued. An intergalactic expedition that is less transcendent and more meditative. The procreant urge of an alien world.
At around the halfway point of the album the wider soundscape pulls back to bring odd shimmering notes to the forefront. Sections like these can be hypnotising, even nauseating, but they are all the more reason why this album deserves your full attention. Reflection’s achievement is to craft moments like these along a soundscape which is forever morphing and which sounds different each time you visit it.