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Brian Eno & J. Peter Schwalm: Drawn From Life

Tired of the hassles of de facto pop stardom, Brian Eno spent most of the last four years away from making music, at least in the conventional sense. Of course, being the egghead intellectual renaissance man he is, Eno kept busy even while keeping a low profile. Amid the occasional production assignment for U2 and James, Eno briefly relocated to St. Petersburg for a change of pace, published his diary, experimented with self-generating composition, and concentrated on the visual arts. Drawn From Life, Eno's first proper album since 1997, may ironically only be of interest to the handful of fans who kept up with him even as he seemed to lose interest in holding the public's attention. A collaboration with German artist J. Peter Schwalm, Drawn From Life is in many ways the apotheosis of Eno's recent recording strategy, showing the benefits of random composition and less restrictive process work. When Eno introduced his notion of "space jazz" with 1997's The Drop, the concept didn't sound fully fleshed out. Eno had hoped to apply jazz's improvisational, flowing qualities to ambient music, enlisting some of the properties of generative software (programs that create spontaneous and constantly changing melodic patterns, akin to virtual wind chimes) without abandoning the human element. Drawn From Life demonstrates the difference a composer's hand can make, even with relatively amorphous music. Since it encapsulates so much of what makes him Eno, Drawn From Life could actually prove a convenient starting point for newcomers, late start though it may be. The disc's sweeping, cinematic washes of synths, flute- and string-like tones, and gently hypnotic percussion provide a welcome respite from more abrasive electronic music. While Drawn From Life doesn't maintain the thematic unity that makes Discreet Music and On Land classic ambient Eno excursions, it does benefit from more direction than in his most recent works. "From This Moment" recalls some of his drifting pieces with Robert Fripp while keeping in line with the late-night menace of his best ambient pieces. Laurie Anderson and Can's Holger Czukay show up on "Like Pictures Part #2" and "Like Pictures Part #1," respectively, while Lynn Gerlach's treated take on vocal jazz, "Rising Dust," sounds at once familiar and new. The fact that Eno (who sings on "Two Voices") can take something as theoretically simple as ambient music and make it interesting, even after the rise and onslaught of his techno and new-wave progeny, shows that the musical machinations of the human brain will always trump trendy hardware. Now, if only he would once again apply his artistry to more conventional rock music, he might kick-start it just in time.

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