Sign In
FHS
Staff

LUX

By Eamonn Morris in Arts & Culture

Most of the time, when we listen to music, we are thinking in terms of the narrative that a work presents. The journey we take from “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”  to “A Day In the Life” is essentially a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most of the music we listen to is like this, regardless of the genre. Classical musicians talk about things like “resolutions” and “formal divisions;” jazz musicians talk about “developing” improvised solos. Rock songs usually contain some sort of story, since they almost always have lyrics. What I’m trying to say here is that when we think about music, we are usually thinking about what it is about. Brian Eno’s newest solo effort, LUX, isn’t about anything. It began life as a sonic installation, finding its home in Haneda Airport in Tokyo before being released in a traditional album format. This is music that has no forward trajectory at all, that tells us nothing, and that has no beginning, middle, or end. Where the piece starts and finishes is pretty arbitrary, and when it was over I was actually kind of surprised. The album basically has a similar stark, empty texture throughout, although it does seem to move from consonance to dissonance and back again, to a certain extent. But as I said, it is a mistake to assume that Eno really meant to take us on much of a journey with this ambient work- it simply exists moment to moment, with no expectations of past or future. The first track, LUX 1 (the tracks are kind of like bookmarks- they’re not meant to be experienced as separate divisions of the piece) begins in what is essentially a major tonality, with consonant intervals slowly forming and breaking apart in the emptiness. After about twenty minutes of this we move into LUX 2, which is decidedly more tense. Most of the intervals are much closer in this section than they were in the previous one, and this section is characterized by its glassy harmonies which straddle the line between sweet and bitter. The sounds that are actually forming these intervals throughout the work range from pianos to violins and other strings to unidentifiable synthesizer patches. Most of the notes occur with such a relationship to one another that the listener can track the sound’s entire lifespan, from attack and decay and everything in between. I could actually pick out how some of the notes were vibrating the air around them as I listened. LUX 3 continues to be tense, as if the notes were floating over some kind of abyss, although one can hear the harmonies beginning their slow shift back to brighter places. LUX 4 sees the harmony move back into more major territory, although the bittersweet chords of the middle section continue to hang suspended in the air. Low notes in the bass register act as convenient placeholders throughout the whole piece, and they were often the only way for me to determine where the harmony was at any given place. If you’re looking for an album that will give you a message, or a moral, or meaning on some concrete level, you are out of luck. Eno’s sounds will not talk to you. And that, in itself, is LUX’s power. So much of the music we listen to is created for the express purpose of conveying an emotion, a message, or a story, that the power of the sounds themselves are lost. Eno, with the ambient music that he pioneered with Discreet Music and continues here on LUX, gives the sounds themselves the spotlight. When I listened to this work, for the first time in my life, I was truly able to let go of everything I thought I knew and just let the sounds exist around me, without talking. It was a truly magical experience.

Share this story: