Music

Brian and Roger Eno's 'Mixing Colours' Is a Celebration of Contemplative Slowness

Photo: Mary Evers / Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon

Brian and Roger Eno's Deutsche Grammophon debut, Mixing Colours, represents a refreshing antithesis of today's harsh and accelerated times.

Mixing Colours
Brian Eno and Roger Eno

Deutsche Grammophon

20 March 2020

As a sound tinkerer and a leading pioneer of ambient music, Brian Eno has always been a musician widening spatiotemporal tonal boundaries to create exceptionally beautiful tapestries of sound. Heavily influenced by the transformative and cosmic sonority of some of his German contemporaries such as Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster, Harmonia, or Popol Vuh he began his journey of exploring recreative sonic spaces in 1975 with Discreet Music. Three years later Brian Eno released his seminal album Ambient 1: Music For Airports coining the term ambient music in its liner notes by explicating that "an ambience is defined as an atmosphere or a surrounding influence: a tint".

This definition perfectly sets the scene for his latest work Mixing Colours in which he collaborated with his younger brother, pianist Roger Eno, who is also a notable figure in ambient music. Both started working together in 1983 on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks for some compositions alongside with musician and producer Daniel Lanois. In return, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois produced Roger's 1985 debut album Voices. So it's not the first time that the Eno brothers collaborate. But it is their first-ever duo album they created jointly as a whole.

In all 18 tracks on Mixing Colours, they explore the very nature of emotive music and invite listeners to immerse themselves in the infinite space and calmness of their tonal meditations. Like good wine, the material on the album grew over many years. The reciprocal creative process for Mixing Colours started back in 2005 with Roger recording individual synthesizer compositions and fragments of songs he then sent to Brian, who digitally decomposed his brother's ideas and arranged them in new ways for giving each one its individual sound world. "We weren't directing this towards an end result – it was like a back-and-forth conversation we were having over a 15-year period. […] The idea for a full album emerged as the number of pieces kept increasing, and the results kept being interesting. It's something that neither of us could have arrived at alone," says Roger recapitulating the album's birth.

With its concept of color-related song titles, Mixing Colours offers a genuine collection of reflective and very introspective songs whose phantasmal but aesthetically pleasing atmosphere seems to resonate transcendental, Apollonian moods from far-away strange worlds. Contrasting its title, the album's elegant opener "Spring Frost" immediately transports you in a prismatic cloud full of contemplation and relief. Roger and Brian carefully take their time to develop their complementing tonal language. Softly shimmering, layered keyboard notes and a harmonizing background ostinato melt together slowly in perfect harmony. Just like watching the color composition of a well-balanced painting, the long sounding notes give you the illusion of time being completely dissolved. This track nicely reflects the prevailing mood on Mixing Colours.

"Burnt Umber" unexpectedly features the sound of reverb-laden chimes echoing long into the acoustic space. Together with a sequenced bass ostinato, the track conveys a haunting mood that is absolutely incomprehensible. If there is an epitome of loveliness on the album, then it is the stunning and dreamy "Celeste". Again, the Eno brothers exemplify masterly how to create magical compositions full of tranquility. There is a numinous quality in it when the song's soft piano and keyboard melodies sprinkle some spots of sparkling colors on the atmospheric electronics. When listening to "Celeste", you are instantly housed in a relaxing comfort zone of acoustic cotton wool. Thus, the track's programmatic title referring to the Spanish word for sky-blue and everything related to the sky is well chosen.

Equally enlightening is "Obsidian". Here, the journey continues solely with the sound of a church organ generating an almost reverential, spiritual feel by fusing the dichotomy between the sacred motet and the profane madrigal. The lucid shining piano solo pieces "Blonde", "Dark Sienna", "Snow", and "Iris" (the only title not referring to a specific color) are outstanding examples of Roger's overwhelming minimalism oscillating amongst Franz Schubert's wistful melodic style and the romantic slowness of Erik Satie. Every note is placed carefully to achieve a maximum of transparent spatial impact. Although Roger is the primary musician in these relatively short pieces, they are full of references to Brian's iconic works with Harold Budd.

"Verdigris" and "Cerulean Blue" basically utilize the same musical motifs as the opener "Spring Frost". All of these subtle variations communicate a slightly different temper. Probably this is most recognizable in "Cerulean Blue" featuring a divine sounding carillon. This kind of sublime spacious quality also underpins tracks like "Quicksilver" and "Deep Saffron", both unfolding as a musical rendering of freedom. Every time you follow these compositions, you will be rewarded with a different listening experience, always resulting in contemplative calmness. In this regard, Mixing Colours represents a refreshing antithesis of today's accelerated times.

To underpin the calming effects of the music, Brian Eno produced a series of short films for seven out of 18 tracks in cooperation with musician and software designer Peter Chilvers. All films were shot from a train window, and all of them move softly with the music capturing its essence. Unsurprisingly, most parts of this album came into existence while traveling with trains. "I can sit there with my computer and headphones, and these pieces are absolutely perfect train music for me," says Brian Eno.

All 18 compositions on Mixing Colours "are very impressionistic and very much to do with sonic quality, sonic color," Brian adds. This kaleidoscope of colors, minimalistic sounds, and levitating textures result in a kind of imaginative synaesthesia constituting a deep feeling of oneness. The oceanic quality in this otherworldly music is always present. In this regard, Brian and Roger Eno's Deutsche Grammophon debut represents a refreshing antithesis of today's harsh and accelerated times.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.