No thread on ambient is complete without mention of Brian Eno, who literally defined the genre. The story goes that after he was hit by a car, he was convalescing in a hospital. A friend who came to visit put on some chamber music, but accidentally left the volume at nearly inaudible levels when he departed. Unable to change the volume on his own, Eno listened as the music blended with the sounds in his environment in such a way that Eno was inspired.
Eno’s premise was that Ambient music should be as ignorable as it is interesting, and implemented the idea with absurdly long tape loops, which he populated with piano and synthesizer, running through his collection of reverbs and delays and phase with each other, creating rippling interactions. While he had explored mellow static textures before, most notably with Robert Fripp, Eno’s first intentionally ambient record was 1975’s “Discreet Music.”
While I love discrete music, it is the soundtrack of many bike rides and lost afternoons, Eno’s ambient music would become more defined and span half a dozen records in the coming years. The culmination of this evolution would be 1982’s “Ambient 4: On Land.”
On Land would encapsulate myriad techniques and push the sonic palette of ambient music from sonorous to boldly environmental. Eno would say that he put all of the unused recording from the entirety of his career through the his tape treatments as well as organized bizarre scenarios where microphones were hidden in resonant vessels to create far away textures while he and his cohorts would bang on rocks with broken branches. For me, this is Brian Eno’s best album of any kind and is way too interesting to be ignored.
While the ideas of ambient music would continue to ripple throughout different genres and inspire many followers, Eno himself seemed to bookend this era with 1984’s “Thursday Afternoon.”
While sonically a throwback to his work on “Discrete Music,” “Thursday Afternoon” was one of his first albums to heavily feature the DX7 and was mixed specifically for the new digital format of CD with an subtle dynamic range that would have been muddied by vinyl. It also runs a continuous hour in length. While not as pioneering as “Discrete Music” or as boldly inspired as “Ambient 4: On Land,” “Thursday Afternoon” is one of the best albums to listen to in the way Eno originally envisioned providing a completely immersive relaxing environment in which to recover from whatever ills the world has thrown your way.