Sunday, 25 September 2011

Eno gets Brewed

Shock Upset at City Halls as Local Boys Take Down Magisterial Soundscape artist

Music at the Brew House 4: Icebreaker 3

Brian Eno, long established as the defining artists for both ambient and electronic music, has lost out to Edinburgh's contemporary classical underdogs Stephen Deazley and Martin Parker. This long-awaited clash, pairing Edinburgh's Music at the Brewhouse against Icebreaker's recreation of Eno's Apollo, ended in upset as Deazley's collaboration with media designer  Andy McGregor emphasised an idiosyncratic story of one man's bravery over The Science Museum's 2009 commission featuring Eno's music and NASA's footage of the moon landing.

On paper, it was no contest. Eno's 1983 album Apollo, Atmospheres and Soundtracks had been scored for Icebreaker, known for their driving soundtrack to Ashley Page's seminal ballet, Cheating, Lying, Stealing. The addition of BJ Cole upfront on pedal steel, and the unseen images from Apollo's mission to the moon, seemed to ensure that Brewhouse, more frequently seen at Tramway creating multi-media musical happenings and relying only on a film of the barely known test pilot Joseph Kittinger, would provide little more than a distraction.

Brewhouse chose to bat first, offering a taut introduction. Guided by Kittinger's journey into the outer reaches of the stratosphere, and his descent, Man High made optimum use of the chamber line up: Peter Furness' clarinets summoning up the woozy splendour of the ascent, while the three violins held steady, lending a romantic swoon to the adventure. Driven by Joby Burgess' diverse percussion and David Knotts' pulsating keyboards, Brewhouse illustrated McGregor's mixing of the 1960 footage of the pilot's 32  kilometer leap.

In the second half, Icebreaker began with a solid summary of the space race's intentions. Footage of Kennedy giving it patriotic pride and the tension at Cape Canaveral soon resolved into iconic imagery of the Apollo spacecraft reaching to the moon. Because of the emphasis on new footage - no countdown to blast-off or amusing zero gravity snacking - the familiarity of the journey does not detract from the spectacular surrealism of the moon landing. By the time the astronauts finally reach the moon, Icebreaker have established both the bravery of the mission and the splendour of our species' trans-planetary ambition.

For all Brewhouse's dynamic drama, the relaxed majesty of Eno and Icebreaker looked set to triumph. Then, sometime between the landing and the larking about on the moon, Icebreaker lost the game. Cole's pedal steel adds an awkward sentimentality to the sequences after the US flag has been planted. The new footage is given the intensity of holiday film, a schmaltzy, thoughtless celebration of a couple of guys arsing about in outer space. Eno is not just an avant-garde electronic experimentalist: he is the producer of U2, and this is audible in the later half of For All Mankind. Ironically, the astronauts are brought back to earth by his sterile theft of Hawaiian and country motifs.

Of course, the real winner tonight was contemporary classical music: Deazley and Parker established themselves as accessible, forceful composers, and even Icebreaker's disappointing result linked ambient electronica to lush orchestration. A show of two halves, perhaps... but both halves demonstrated how music can reanimate obscure heroes of history and events that familiarity has rendered empty.

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