Obscure Music – Paving the Way for Ambient (1975-78)

16. November 2021

Having played synthesizer with Roxy Music and releasing successful solo albums makes Brian Eno a pop star during the mid Seventies. He investigates musical ideas with the krautrock band Harmonia and Robert Fripp, but is also around the Scratch Orchestra that’s focussed on free improvisation.

With his label Obscure, Eno starts curating a series of experimental listening music in 1975. The artists involved want to leave their previous approaches towards creating music behind. They‘re up for taking inspiration from ancient traditions or eager to work with new technologies and in challenging group situations.

Until 1978, ten records are released on the label. Number eleven should’ve come by Eno himself. His Music For Airports, however, was so groundbreaking that it qualified as first release in the new Ambient series. 71 minutes with Gavin Bryars, Harold Budd, Max Eastley, Michael Nyman and others.

Featured cover art: Michael Nyman – Decay Music

Gavin Bryars – 1, 2, 1-2-3-4

ensemble piece for ten musicians who reproduce what they’re hearing on headphones connected to personal cassette recorders (1975, Obscure 2)

Harold Budd – Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord

pursuing the goal of being “existentially pretty, mindless, shallow, and utterly devastating”, the song is realized by Budd after having minimalized himself into retiring from composition over a period of ten years (1973-74, Obscure 10)

Christopher Hobbs – McCrimmon Will Never Return

written for the Promenade Theatre Orchestra, the piece’s detached melody is inspired by the Scottish bagpipe music Piobaireachd (Pibroch) and played on four reed organs (1970-72, Obscure 2)

Penguin Café Orchestra – Pigtail

leaving behind classical music and rock, Simon Jeffes forms the Penguin Café Orchestra to cherish the unconscious with its often suppressed qualities like randomness, spontaneity, and irrationality (1974-76, Obscure 7)

John Cage – The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (feat. Robert Wyatt)

passage from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, reworked by Cage in 1942 to get accompanied by hitting a closed piano in various ways, sung by Robert Wyatt (1976, Obscure 5)

John White – Drinking & Hooting Machine

an ensemble of five competent performers is blowing bottles for ‘whole breaths’ alternated by taking sips, swigs or gulps, thus resembling an aviary of owls practising slow descending scales (1976, Obscure 8)

Max Eastley – Metallophone

fascinated by musical instruments from the past and future, the artist and kinetic sculptor invents appliances like the metallophone, dependent on wind to create a charming sonic environment (1975, Obscure 4)

Michael Nyman – 1-100

written for Peter Greenaway’s film of the same title, the piece is based on a hundred chords running from the top of the piano to its bottom – once a sound has died, the next chord follows. The final version consists of four versions played back simultaneously and on half speed, thus revealing accidental concurrences and staggered sonorities. (1976, Obscure 6)

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