Music for Installations is best thought of as a prolific dump of quality new Eno, all available in one place.
The title of Brian Eno’s latest sounds kind of like an insult. One can imagine an earthy British dad saying before turning back to his soccer game, “This sounds like music for installations!” In a way, Eno’s been egging us on with this ambient shit since the ‘70s and Music for Airports. How little work do you have to put into enjoying a piece of music for it to scan as music? For that matter, how little work could one put into making music? Eno uses generative computer programs and algorithms to make a lot of these pieces, and some of the longer ones might take more time to listen to than they took to make. Are we supposed to even think of this as music? Eno would rather compare his pieces to paintings.
This nine-LP release reinforces your take on Eno. Think he’s is infuriating, an NPR-sanctioned intellectual who sucks all the fun out of music? This $200-plus box set of music meant to accompany art exhibits might set you over the edge. Think he’s one of the greatest minds ever to ennoble pop music? The shimmering purity and deceptive complexity of these pieces make them some of his most rewarding yet. Just like to doze off to his music? Sweet dreams.
Music for Installations registers most potently as pure music. This would be a smart choice for a desert-island disc simply because it contains so many extended ambient pieces that feel like self-contained worlds. It might not be as evocative as Gas’s Pop, as pretty as Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams or as mysterious as Vladislav Delay’s Entain. But this is its own rabbit hole of ambient music, and if you’re in need of something new to zone out to, you could spend a few days just digging into this stuff instead of falling into another YouTube algorithm abyss.
Despite its hefty price tag, vinyl is the ideal way to experience this compilation. On a streaming site like Spotify, the tracklist is presented to you chronologically, one track after another, daring you to listen to it straight through—which is the way we’re accustomed to listening to albums. With 18 sides of vinyl to pick from, you can simply cue up whichever is most pleasing to your tastes and discover new favorites as you sift through its immensity over time. The only downside of this is that the limited amount of space a side of vinyl can contain means many of these pieces had to be split in half, a common problem when extreme-length ambient music is transferred to vinyl (see also: Leaving’s vinyl pressings of Laraaji tapes).
And if you listen to it straight through and uninterrupted on streaming, you’ll eventually run into Making Spaces, a CD available at some of Eno’s installations though not specifically a soundtrack. It’s fine on its own, a solid latter-day Eno album in the tradition of 2010’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea in that it pays tribute to both Eno’s rock roots and the green worlds he’s stumbled upon since his glam-rock days. But coming after all this barely-there ambient music, you may think you’ve hit an Apple ad when you hear the beat of “Needle Click.”
Rather than a box set or a new album, Music for Installations is best thought of as a prolific dump of quality new Eno, all available in one place. Within the set, Making Space is notable, and some of the longer ambient pieces rival long-form classics like Thursday Afternoon or “Discreet Music.” (Nearly all of them beat last year’s Reflection). Perhaps the convenience of all of this being in one package means it’s less overwhelming than nine individual releases. But either way, this all but guarantees a lifetime supply of Eno.