Thursday Afternoon

Brian Eno

Despite his considerable and varied musical output, there has been an underlying consistency at the foundation of all of Brian Eno's work. This consistency is the product of his curiosity about the nature of the medium in which he is working - a curiosity that has often succeeded in generating results just beyond current assumptions of what was possible.

This experimental attitude asks several questions: what can be done now that could not be done before? What kinds of music does that suggest? And what kinds of listening behaviour? These questions, in turn, point up a central assumption of Eno's work: not only is music always evolving new forms of structures, it is also continually changing its social function, occupying new niches in the cultural landscape. We make music in new ways, and we hear music in new places. Technological change is, of course, a major factor in this evolution. The development of recording processes extended the cultural niche of music beyond live performance and into all sorts of times and spaces, turning music into a durable, transportable art in much the same way as writing transformed the spoken word. And, besides extending those listening options, specific recording techniques have suggested entirely new ways of composing music.

Much of Eno's work is predicated on an intuitive response to this evolution. "Music for Airports", for example, is a series of pieces that could only have been generated in a multi-track studio and which are designed to take advantage of recently created listening spaces made available for background music. As he has often done in his work, Eno recognised the unused capacity of a new cultural landscape and took advantage of it. "Thursday Afternoon" is perhaps the first recording specifically for the compact disc and it utilized two new freedoms of that format: it is 61 minutes long (a duration that only the compact disc could accommodate) and its is occasionally very quiet (made possible by the disc's lack of surface noise). It seems likely that, just as the 78-rpm record set the scene for the 3-minute song, so the compact disc will foster an interest among composers in long-duration pieces like this one. Perhaps less predictable is how composers will respond to the prospect of silence within recording.

Compositionally, "Thursday Afternoon" belongs to the family of works which also includes "Discreet Music" and "Music for Airports". Like them it is an even-textured, spacious and contemplative piece in which several musical events appear and recur more or less regularly. Each event, however, recurs with a different cyclic frequency and thus the whole piece becomes an unfolding display of unique sonic clusters. Eno has characterised this style of composition as "holographic", by which he means that any brief section of the music is representative of the whole piece, in the same way that any fragment of a hologram shows the whole of the holographic image but with a lower resolution. Eno's intention with these pieces is that they should function as tapestries; large-scale, non-intrusive atmospheres which lend a consistent mood to the environments in which they are heard. Perhaps, then, they should be seen as more closely related to painting (and in particular that school of painting that verges into environmental design) than to any traditional notion of music.

C. S. J. Bofop, August 1985

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