The Kings of Ambience

… They are not whom you, or Sasha-Frere Jones, think:

he did something that was extremely modern, something you can only do on records, which is, he took the performance to pieces, spatially. Now, those things were done by a group of musicians in a room, all sitting closet to one another … but they were all close-miked, which meant that their sounds were quiet separate from one another. And when Teo Macero mixed the record, he put them miles apart. So this is very interesting to listen to in music, where you have the conga player three streets down the road here, you have the trumpet player on a mountain over there, the guitar player—you have to look through binoculars to see him, you know! Everybody is far away, and so the impression that you have immediately is not that you are in a little place with a group of people playing, but that you’re on a huge plateau and all of theses things are going on sort of almost on the horizon, I think. And there’s no attempt made by Teo Macero to make them connect with one another. In fact, he deliberately disconnects them from one another.

That is Brian Eno, talking about Bitches Brew, as quoted in John Szwed’s book So What: The Life of Miles Davis.

Now, here’s Jones’ New Yorker article on Eno:

The growing influence of this idea, ironically, makes it difficult to see clearly Eno’s distinct contributions to music—his catalogue of recordings doesn’t completely contain his contribution to the pop canon. When someone lies on the studio floor and sings at a microphone five feet away, Eno is in the air. When a band records three hours of improvisation and then loops a four-second excerpt of the audiotape and scraps the rest, Eno has a hand on the razor blade. When everybody except for the engineer is told to go home, Eno remains. Behind Eno stand John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Erik Satie, but those guys didn’t make pop records.

Name dropping avatars of cool conceptualism? Check. Pointing out Eno’s practical roots, i.e. music he heard made that he literally emulated as way to find his path and style? Nada.

“When a band records three hours of improvisation and then loops a four-second excerpt” is exactly what Miles and Macero did on Bitches Brew and immediately before that on In A Silent Way, itself the first intentionally made ambient record. Eno heard this, heard how it was made, then did it himself. Cage and Satie matter, but they are more intellectual justifications, signifiers of a historical tradition. Miles + Macero = Eno.

Jones clearly has a gig where he can write what he likes, but where are the editors in this? The New Yorker now has a generation-long blind spot when it comes to jazz, and that’s as puzzling and inexplicable as ever. I can only paraphrase the line for This is Spinal Tap, “New York’s not a big jazz town,” and despair.

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