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Brian Eno: Sonora Portraits (1999) April 11, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Brian Eno: Sonora Portraits

I just realized the other day that I’d forgotten about another Brian Eno book. Easy to do, considering this one gets filed with the CDs instead of the music books.

Sonora Portraits was apparently a series of book/CD sets produced by the Italian company Materiali Sonori, though the only other one I know of involved Hector Zazou, and I don’t have that one. What you get is a slipcase containing a slimline jewel box with a CD and a 96-page book the same size as the slimline.

I’ll get to the music shortly, but first, the book. Each page has two columns of text, the same material in Italian and English. There are four articles: “Sound Ambience: Erik Satie, John Cage, Brian Eno” by Claudio Chianura, “Una Conversazione con Brian Eno” by Arturo Stalteri, “Driving” by Fabio Martini, and “Ambient Music” by Adelio Fuse. Chianura’s piece is fairly short and puts Eno’s ambient music into the appropriate theoretical and historical context. Stalteri’s interview is also rather short, but surprisingly wide-ranging, covering specific Eno albums, Italian folk music, and UFOs. Martini provides a stream of consciousness piece with some thoughts about Eno’s music in various contexts. Fuse’s “Ambient Music” takes up half the book, going into more detail about Satie, Cage, and Eno, the ideas of ambient music, musique d’ameublement, and environmental sound. The book ends with a brief chronology of Eno’s life and work, and a selection of websites.

Overall, the book isn’t going to provide the kind of depth and detail that Eric Tamm’s does, but it certainly goes well beyond liner notes.

The CD is a rather odd mix, some relatively hard-to-find material (easier to find now than it was in 1999) and some much more accessible. There are three tracks identified as being from Eno’s work for Derek Jarman’s Glitterbug. The short ambient instrumental “Distant Hill”, the unfinished-sounding instrumental “Radiothesia III,” and the classical-gone-synth “Strawinsky” can only be found here or on the All Saints label compilation Future Perfect. Five tracks are from Music for Films III, reissued in 2005. There’s also a track each from Eno’s The Drop, Eno and Wobble’s Spinner, and Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up, as well as a brief edit of the album-length “Neroli” (from the album of that name); even that edit is available elsewhere. The disc ends with seven minutes of Eno speaking, which is reproduced in the book as the beginning of the Stalteri/Eno interview.

So, not an essential bit of Eno; the book’s much shorter than some others you can get, and there are no exclusive music tracks. It’s an interesting collectible, if you’re a bit of an Eno completist, but I have rarely listened to the CD; not only is the material generally available on other CDs, but it’s not the best selection of Eno material, and it doesn’t all really fit together very well. As for the book, I read it when I bought the CD and basically forgot about it.

(In 2000, Materiali Sonori released Arturo Stalteri’s tribute album Cool August Moon: From the Music of Brian Eno. Instrumental and vocal Eno songs are recast as pretty, piano-led chamber pieces. A reviewer on Amazon called it a work of schmaltzification, which is pretty much on target. I may have listened to it all the way through once. At most. Fortunately, it was an inexpensive emusic download.)

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