Opal - Brian Eno's Musical Vision

Opal Ltd has concentrated solely on music publishing and Brian Eno's own work since 1991. From 1983 until then, Opal represented a group of artists who produced what Eno describes in his Diary as "a string of eclectic, interesting, often lovely and nearly always not-very-profitable records". This page highlights Opal's activities prior to 1991. If you want more information on Opal's current activities, see Eno's Diary and the EnoWeb's addresses page.

"If someone asks me what the Opal artists have in common I'm hard pressed to find a simple answer. I suppose I could say that each is distinctive, not only from each other, but also from the various mainstreams of modern music: it is a label for outsiders.

"Such a description might appear to condemn to permanent obscurity the artists to whom it is applied. But popular music has always drawn its strength and richness both from the center - from the Beatles, for example - and from the edges - like the Velvet Underground. And sometimes the tables suddenly turn and what was on the outside shows up very close to the centre." - Brian Eno

It was with these words that Eno opened the liner notes to the first compilation from his label imprint, Opal, in 1988. Eno had long been commited to ambient music and in launching Opal, he hoped to continue providing an artists' collective for people who shared his vision. The flagship artists for this imprint consisted of such longtime collaborators as musicians Daniel Lanois, Harold Budd, Michael Brook, Jon Hassell, visual artist Russell Mills and others.

In many ways Opal was a continuation of the aesthetic these artists formed at E.G. records - making music that was unintrusive enough to be pleasant background music, and at the same time having enough complexity and texture to reward close listening. Eno became enamored with this approach to music after an incident in which a record played quietly in the background as he faded pleasantly in and out of consciousness. As a result of that experience, Eno tried to create music which could evoke that feeling.

In the making of this music, Eno began working with other ambient visionaries. His Ambient series brought him together with electric zither player Laraaji and minimalist composer and pianist Harold Budd. He worked with ethnomusicologist and trumpet player Jon Hassell on the Fourth World Volumes. Daniel Lanois became involved through his production for Eno at Grant Avenue studio and began contributing instrumentally. This process continued until Eno had a strong core of artists who believed in his vision, which resulted in perhaps the greatest alliance of ambient musicians around. These artists have been kept fresh by their enthusiasm to experiment and work together with other artists and have made a big impact upon popular music, not only through their own works, but also through working with and influencing such popular artists as U2, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Neville Brothers, Cocteau Twins, and many others.

Some Places to Start:

Angels in the Architecture - Various (Editions E.G.)

This CD collects ambient tracks by many of the artists in Eno's circle, such as Roger Eno, Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Robert Fripp, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, Roedelius, and a few others of similar style. Very good overview.

Music for Films III - Various (Opal)

This CD contains music, by Opal artists, produced for or used in films (real or imaginary says the cover). This contains tracks by Daniel Lanois, Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Laraaji, and Russian musicians Lydia Cavina and Misha Mahlin. This, too, is a good place to get a feel for what these artists are like, although the album doesn't quite hang together.

On Land - Ambient #4 - Brian Eno (E.G.)

This CD contains a number of tracks recorded between 1978 and 1982, some with other musicians. It covers a much broader scope of sounds than some of Eno's other ambient records. If you like these, you'll probably like most of the work by these artists.

Other Tangentially Related Labels:

Real World/Axiom

Two other labels which share a similar vision and sound are Real World and Axiom (be forewarned that these two labels are much more ethnic sounding and rhythmn based than most Opal stuff). Both of these labels contain artists who are trying to create trancey atmospheres through their music. Much of the music could fit in the category of ambient, although it's probably more accurately classified as world music. To illustrate how much they have in common, artists from E.G., Opal, Real World, and Axiom have even rotated amongst projects by each others' labels.

Some Places to Start:

Passion/Passion Sources - Various (Real World)

These CDs are based on music for an inspired by Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. Jon Hassell shows up in one song. Many moody ambient pieces. Great place to begin exploring Real World.

Plus From Us - Various (Real World)

This CD is a collection of music which inspired Peter Gabriel's US CD. It contains two Opal tracks, one each by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Most of the CD leans more towards popular music than ambient, but even the pop songs are pretty atmospheric.

Illuminations/Manifestation - Various (Axiom)

These CDs truly run the gamut of styles. Everything from funk to rap to folk to world. Shankar appears on Illuminations with Peter Gabriel on keyboards and co-wrote a Material song on Manifestation. Bill Laswell, the producer of these CDs, appeared on Eno's On Land. If you like ethnic groove-fests, you'll love these.

Night Song - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook (Real World)

Mmm-hmm! Beautiful devotional songs, beautiful guitar-playing.

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