Let’s Talk: Brian Eno’s ‘Reflection’ – The Album That Never Ends

If Brian Eno drops an album in the woods and nobody’s around to hear it, does it still get a favourable review from Pitchfork?

Back in May 2015, I spoke (rather frankly, in retrospect) of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and his 18-day soundtrack, titled Subterranea, to accompany Stanley Donwood’s art exhibition, ‘The Panic Room’. It was an interesting premise to create a single song of such length, but ultimately I wasn’t impressed.

You can read the full discussion of Subterranea on our Faecbook page here 

Brian Eno has announced his latest ambient endeavour, titled Reflection, that’s been coined as “the album that never ends”. Alongside being released as a condensed album at 54 minutes in length on January 1st 2017, Eno is releasing an iOS application that streams his ambient music indefinitely. It’s been described as “an endless and endlessly changing generative app”, being constructed from musical algorithms on the part of Eno and Peter Chilvers. Supposedly, the music adapts to the time of day, with daybreak producing brighter harmonies, and where night-time brings a slowing in tempo, but ultimately it’s “the same river, but (it’s) always changing”.

A comparison can be made with the hot topic of the year in the video game world: No Man’s Sky. The infamous space-exploration game was hyped for having 15 quintillion procedurally generated planets, but received mixed reception for falling short of the hype, with game-play being described as “a mile wide but an inch deep”. Whilst I haven’t played the game myself, I’m not convinced of the value of procedural generation, in both art and entertainment, though admittedly I have fallen for 65daysofstatic’s soundtrack, No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe. 

The difference here is that Eno, instead of creating music for entertainment, is reflecting on his past ambient experimentation; bringing his desires for ambient music’s true incidental endlessness, or entropy, into reality through the use of streaming. Though like No Man’s Sky’s supposed repetitive nature, I suspect that after a few iterations listening to Reflection, one would start to feel a little déjà vu;  though it’s most likely that the variations throughout Reflection are intentionally more nuanced. Given its supposed infinite length, however, there will be undoubtedly a time where the album begins to repeat itself exactly – and, quite frankly, that’s just lazy song-writing.

The real question is: who’s going to be listening to the endless album? I doubt that even Eno himself will care enough to listen to his creation all the time, for the rest of time. Maybe he’ll check up on it now and again, but that’s what we all said about our Tamagotchis, didn’t we? Remember those? Though I admire the artistic experimentation behind an endless piece of music, pragmatism must prevail. Reflection will see its end: whether through blurring into obscurity with Eno’s next ambitious project; Apple’s inevitable redundancy of current applications or operating systems; or the heat death of the universe – Reflection will see its end.

Like The Flaiming Lips’ 24-Hour Song Skull, I’m interested enough by the concept of trying to conquer time itself, and I shall take the time to listen to the 7 Skies H3, as it were, of Eno’s Reflection – the 54 minute snippet of the much larger tapestry. But to listen to an endless ambient album? Frankly, I don’t think anyone has the time.

~Cerpin Taxt

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