Music

Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [reissue]

Richard T. Williams

Brian Eno

Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

Label: By Strategy
US Release Date: 2004-06-01
UK Release Date: 2004-05-31
Amazon
iTunes

"How would you have done it?" Inspired by a book of postcards depicting scenes from a Chinese communist opera known as Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, and taking the "strategy" element literally, Eno set out to make his follow-up utilizing a variety of new intellectual approaches. He and an artist friend, Peter Schmidt (whose artwork is featured on a handful of Eno's album covers, including Taking Tiger Mountain), developed a set of lateral thinking ideas meant to motivate an artist who was blocked creatively, or, in Eno's case, panicked by studio time constraints. These ideas, dubbed "Oblique Strategies" and represented on a deck of cards made commercially available as early as January 1975, help illustrate why Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is such a masterful work; they indicate that Eno is simply a great thinker who thrives by analyzing the methods involved in the creation process, which is as important to him as the final product. The entire first edition set of Oblique Strategies is available for viewing at http://www.rtqe.net/ObliqueStrategies/Ed1.html; a few of them are featured here, including possible ways in which they may have been applied toward Taking Tiger Mountain.

"Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor." Certainly, in 1974, building a rock record around guitars was the safe method, especially for a studio wizard/synthesist like Brian Eno. Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera makes an encore performance as Eno's primary guitarist, and the sound of the album is defined by Manzanera's razor-sharp rhythm guitar, which dominates such tracks as "Third Uncle" and "China My China". Lead guitar, on the other hand, is always treated to sound like something alien or unusual, like a chorus of frantic dogs in the mid-section of "The True Wheel". The two styles converge shortly thereafter in the same song to a truly mesmerizing effect. In addition to Manzanera, Eno himself is credited with "snake guitar" on multiple tracks, referring to one of his particular treatments. Clearly, though, Eno wanted to move past the guitars, and Taking Tiger Mountain would prove to be his last record that relied on them; the record is full of telling stylistic diversions and flourishes of less conventional instrumentation, in addition to Eno's usual buzzing and chirping synth sounds.

"(Organic) machinery" and "Abandon normal instruments." Eno's burgeoning role as an architect of sound, who could shape any multi-layered cacophony into something beautiful and memorable, led to his employment of found-sound and percussion from non-traditional sources throughout the record. For example, typewriters are used for additional percussion in "China My China" (accompanying lyric: "They know what God gave them their fingers for / To make percussion over solos"). Other rhythmic, metallic sounds enhance "The Great Pretender" and help develop its mechanical edge. The song may have taken its lyrical inspiration from the strategy of "(Organic) machinery" as well: it appears to be about a woman who submits to the sexual advances of a machine. The electronic cricket sounds into which the song fades as it ends may actually be the machine's incessantly squeaky gears.

"Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame." Another defining aspect of the record, Eno's lyrics are remarkably literate and often humorous, but he has frequently admitted to being more interested in the sounds of his lyrics than the meanings behind the words. Each song tells a specific, sometimes macabre, story in a surreal environment that may not actually be metaphorical. "Put a Straw Under Baby" tells of a nun burying her baby in a box to avoid shaming the convent, accompanied by a deliberately awkward lullaby melody, complete with strings treated to sound like kazoos. "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More" demonstrates a man pondering the departure of his girlfriend on a plane to China, not knowing that the plane will explode before it gets there. "Back in Judy's Jungle" is a Beatlesque sing-along from the perspective of a British strike team member during an imaginary war; the background whistling even quotes The Bridge on the River Kwai. The chorus sung by the soldiers manages an air of longing without definitive meaning: "Back in Blighty, there was you / There were milkmen every morning / But these endless shiny trees / Never used to be that way". Taking Tiger Mountain ultimately marks the creative pinnacle of Eno's lyricism; he would never again concentrate on this wordy, bizarre, and often nonsensical side of his music.

"Mute and continue." The record's creative success assured that Eno had taken rock and roll to its outer limits; although he followed Taking Tiger Mountain with two more pop/rock records, approximately half of each concentrates on his forays into ethnic textures and atmospheric mood pieces. His subsequent "invention" of the ambient genre and a staggeringly successful career as a studio producer for other artists have assumed the bulk of his acclaim over the past 30 years, as they almost should have; still, his firsthand contributions to rock, as achievements that cannot be overstated, have been undervalued for too long. The remastered reissues of Taking Tiger Mountain and Eno's other early records will hopefully remedy this for a new generation of rock enthusiasts.

"Is it finished?" Yes.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image