Drums Between the Bells
By Madeline Bocaro
Although he might as well be known as the King of Ambience, Eno was an original King of Pop. My favourite Eno solo albums have always been the ones with vocals. After leaving Roxy Music, he created a pair of pop masterpieces (in January and November 1974). Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) are the pinnacle of Eno ecstasy. Such an eloquent, soothing voice, singing odd, melodic yet abstract songs – ranging from lullabies to Brechtian drinking songs – about Mao’s China and dead finks who stumble ‘round in threes, is evocative of your favourite mad British uncle reading you surreal fairy tales at bedtime. His time as a fine feathered pop star, with and without Roxy Music was a thing to behold.
Soon, Eno became more ethereal with Another Green World (1975) and Before and After Science (1977). His gentle, calming synth sounds seem to shimmer, and evoke seascapes and beckoning ephemeral heavenly horizons. His Music For… series; Airports, Films, the Moon, etc… were a bit unexciting (unless perhaps you were at an airport, in a film, or on the moon). But they did have beautiful moments – and we must give him credit for studying the effects of calming sounds upon people in stressful situations and places. When commissioned by Microsoft, Eno composed the Windows ’95 start-up sound on a Mac! He largely abandoned lyrics for decades, until Another Day on Earth in 2005. Lyrics or not, some of his pieces were the perfect soundtrack for a meditation class.
Eno’s haunting score for the 2009 film The Lovely Bones (which takes place mostly in heaven) was not released as an album, but it is one of his most beautiful scores. It also includes previous material from his ambient and pop albums.
Drums Between the Bells marks a return to words, but here we have the best of both Eno worlds, since Disc 1 contains the lyrical tracks, and Disc 2 contains the instrumental versions of same. The instrumentals sound like completely different songs, making this Eno offering a double delight. The words are spoken, not sung, and they are not Eno’s, but English poet Rick Holland’s –whom Eno met in Holland in the late 90s and started this lengthy collaboration. There are moments of sheer beauty, classic passages of calm and serenity, and glimpses of other worlds.
Eno’s voice is on some of the tracks, but most of the vocalizations are by random people whom he found to be sonically interesting. He told BBC 6Music’s Radcliffe & Macione. “They were all people who I met. Caroline Wildi (“Dream Birds”) was working in my health club @ the reception. She has a cut glass BBC voice evocative of another time. Another was Eno’s polish bookkeeper “…and another a girl whom I met at a crossing in Notting Hill who asked me the way….Voices I found attractive and liked the melodies they formed when they spoke.” All of the voices are wonderfully unique and each one is aurally perfect for each piece.
New Oblique Strategies instructional cards (the first edition was produced in 1974 for artistic dilemmas) were written for this working situation. Try Eno Web’s [random oblique strategy generator:
Eno joked on the radio that he might have to pay royalties to the estate of John Cage for the completely silent track on the album (the 1 minute long “Silence”) – possibly the first since John & Yoko’s ‘Nutopian National Anthem’.
Drums Between The Bells is available in a number of formats, including a 44-page hardcover book with a double CD (one CD featuring instrumental versions of the tracks), a double LP and as a digital download.
I’d love to hear the other 5,700 pieces of music in his computer that Eno’s assistant sifts through and selects upon his master’s description and command while composing.