Discreet Music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Discreet Music
Studio album by
ReleasedDecember 1975
RecordedSide A: 9 May 1975
Side B: 12 September 1975
StudioSide A: Brian Eno's studio
Side B: Trident, London
ProducerBrian Eno
Brian Eno chronology
Evening Star
Discreet Music
Cluster & Eno
Alternative cover
Re-release cover, featuring a still from Eno's 1981 video Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan.

Discreet Music is the fourth studio album by Brian Eno, and the first released under his full name (as opposed to simply "Eno"). The album is a minimalist work, with the titular A-side consisting of one 30-minute piece featuring synthesizer and tape delay.[1] The B-side features three variations on Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel, performed by the Cockpit Ensemble and conducted by Gavin Bryars.

While his earlier collaborations with Robert Fripp and several selections from Another Green World (1975) feature similar ideas, Discreet Music marked a clear step toward the ambient aesthetic Eno would later codify with 1978's Ambient 1: Music for Airports.[2]


Brian Eno's concept of ambient music builds upon a concept composer Erik Satie called "furniture music".[3] This means music that is intended to blend into the ambient atmosphere of the room rather than be directly focused upon. Like Satie's notion of music that could "mingle with the sound of the knives and forks at dinner", Discreet Music was created to play in, and blend with, the subtle background audio of various, or any given, situation.[3]

The inspiration for this album began when Eno was left bed-ridden by an automobile accident and was given an album of eighteenth-century harp music by a visiting friend, Judy Nylon.[4][5] After she left, according to the Discreet Music liner notes, Eno inadvertently played the harp album almost inaudibly, which "presented what was for me a new way of hearing music — as part of the ambience of the environment".[5] Nylon recalled the event differently: "I put the harp music on and balanced it as best as I could from where I stood; [Eno] caught on immediately to what I was doing and helped me balance the softness of the rain patter with the faint string sound for where he lay in the room. There was no 'ambience by mistake'."[6][7] Eno related another version in a 2011 interview: "[Nylon] put a record on and then left. The record was much too quiet but I couldn't reach to turn it up and it was raining outside ... I suddenly thought of this idea of making music that didn't impose itself on your space ... but created a sort of landscape you could belong to".[8]

This album is also an experiment in generative composition.[9] His intention was to explore multiple ways to create music with limited planning or intervention. Nicole V. Gagné described the album as "a minimalist work using tape-delay and synthesizer" that would lead to Eno's further experiments in ambient music.[1]

In a 1979 interview with Lester Bangs, Eno called Discreet Music the most successful of his recordings, explaining that it "was done very, very easily, very quickly, very cheaply, with no pain or anguish over anything, and I still like it."[10]


The A-side of the album is a thirty-minute piece originally intended as a background drone for guitarist Robert Fripp to play over in a series of concerts.[11] Eno set up a synthesizer with built-in memory along with a tape delay system, but was immediately interrupted:[12] "people started knocking on the door, and I was answering the phone and adjusting all this stuff as it ran. I almost made that without listening to it. It was really automatic music."[11] The liner notes contain a diagram of how this piece was created.[13] It begins with two melodic phrases of different lengths played back from a synthesizer's digital recall system.[14] The equipment used in this case was an EMS Synthi AKS, which had a then-exotic, built-in digital sequencer.[15] This signal is then run through a graphic equaliser to occasionally change its timbre.[13] It is then run through an echo unit before being recorded onto a tape machine.[15] The tape runs to the take-up reel of a second machine, and the output of that machine is fed back into the first tape machine which records the overlapped signals.[15] The next day, Fripp visited and Eno accidentally played the piece back at half-speed, thinking that "it was probably one of the best things I’d ever done and I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time."[11]

A recreation of the "operational diagram" on Discreet Music[16]

The second half of the album consists of three related pieces, collectively titled "Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel", performed by the Cockpit Ensemble, and conducted and co-arranged by Gavin Bryars.[13] Bryars later wrote that "the Cockpit Ensemble" was a "catchall name" for the hired studio musicians, as many did not wish to be credited.[17] Eno described the music as the result of a self-generating, self-regulating system, with the input to the system taking the form of two- or four-measure fragments of Pachelbel's canon, and the system being the performers with a set of instructions.[13] Each variation involves a different way of manipulating and overlaying the musical fragments.[13] In the first piece, "Fullness of Wind", the players' tempos are decreased, with the rate of decrease being related to the relative pitch of the instruments, so that lower instruments are slowest.[13] In the second piece, "French Catalogues", groups of notes are associated with time-related directions from different parts of the score.[13] The third piece, "Brutal Ardour", presents the players with sequences of notes that are related but of different lengths.[13] The titles of these pieces were derived from inaccurate French-to-English translations of the liner notes of a version of Pachelbel's Canon performed by the orchestra of Jean-Francois Paillard.[18]


Discreet Music was the third (of four) simultaneous releases on Eno's new Obscure Records label.

This album was re-released on the Virgin label in 2004. On CD reissues, a full minute of silence separates Discreet Music's title track from the Pachelbel piece.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[20]
Spin Alternative Record Guide7/10[21]
Tom HullB+[22]
The Village VoiceA−[24]

Reviewing for The Village Voice in June 1977, Robert Christgau stated that the album "encourages a meditative but secular mood (good for hard bits of writing) more effectively than any of the other rock-identified avant-garde music that's come our way".[24] In 1979, Lester Bangs described it as "either the definitive unobtrusively lustrous statement on ambient musics or a wispy treacly bore that defies you to actually pay attention to it [...] depending on your point of view."[10]

Trouser Press described the album as "striking and haunting, filled with beauty and apprehension, paralleling the minimalist music being made by Steve Reich and Philip Glass."[25] AllMusic's Sean Westergaard said it is Eno's "first full foray into what has become known as ambient music," and added that "[the album's] reputation as a groundbreaking and influential work is surpassed only by its placid beauty."[2]

This album was a favourite of David Bowie's, and led to his collaboration with Eno on Bowie's late 1970s Berlin Trilogy.[26]

For the 40th anniversary (2015) of the release of the album, the Canadian music ensemble Contact recorded "Discreet Music" with classical instruments as a seven-part one hour work.[27]

Track listing[edit]

Side A
  1. "Discreet Music" (Eno) – 31:35
Side B

Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel (Eno)

  1. "Fullness of Wind" – 9:57
  2. "French Catalogues" – 5:18
  3. "Brutal Ardour" – 8:17


  • Brian Eno – synthesizer, keyboards
  • Gavin Bryars – co-arranger and conductor on Side B
  • The Cockpit Ensemble – performer on Side B
  • Brian Eno – producer, photography
  • Peter Kelsey – engineer
  • Simon Heyworth – mastering
  • John Bonis – cover design
  • Andrew Day – redesign

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gagné 2012, p. 90.
  2. ^ a b c Westergaard, Sean. "Discreet Music – Brian Eno". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b Suchin, Peter (November 2005). "Brian Eno and the "Quiet Club": Subtle Beauty as Social Critique". /seconds. No. 1. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  4. ^ a b Singer, Liam (7 October 2004). "Brian Eno / Harold Budd: Discreet Music / Ambient 1: Music for Airports / Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror / Ambient 4: On Land". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  5. ^ a b Beck, Matt (27 February 2009). "Brian Eno and Discreet Music". Curator Magazine.
  6. ^ Plantenga, Bart (2001). "Live Now, Wise Up, Die Well: An Interview With Judy Nylon, Punk Legend". 3:AM Magazine.
  7. ^ Sheppard 2008, pp. 188–9.
  8. ^ Khan, Riz (3 June 2011). One on One - Brian Eno. Al Jazeera. Event occurs at 15:11.
  9. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Brian Eno". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b Bangs, Lester (November 1979). "Lester Bangs Interviews Eno". Musician. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  11. ^ a b c O'Brien, Glenn (23 November 2016). "New Again: Brian Eno". Interview. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  12. ^ Sheppard 2008, p. 194.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Discreet Music (liner notes). Brian Eno. Obscure. 1975. 3.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  14. ^ Barbiero, Daniel (October 2020). "Orchestrating Eno: From the Discreet to the Discretionary". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  15. ^ a b c Carr, Dan (3 September 2019). "Deconstructing Brian Eno's 'Discreet Music'". Reverb Machine. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  16. ^ KLFM.org; Poljicanin, Ivan (12 January 2017). "Brian Eno – Discreet Music (EG Records Ltd., 1975.)". KLFM (in Croatian). Retrieved 31 August 2023.
  17. ^ "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet BCGBCD22 – Gavin Bryars".
  18. ^ Sheppard 2008, p. 211.
  19. ^ Barnes, Mike (October 2004). "Brian Eno: Discreet Music / Music for Airports / On Land / The Plateaux of Mirror". Mojo. No. 131. p. 127.
  20. ^ Considine 2004, p. 278.
  21. ^ Powers 1995, p. 129.
  22. ^ Hull, Tom (n.d.). "Rock (1970s)". Tom Hull – on the Web. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  23. ^ Pinnock, Tom (January 2019). "Brian Eno: Discreet Music / Ambient 1: Music for Airports / Music for Films / Ambient 4: On Land". Uncut. No. 260. p. 38.
  24. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (27 June 1977). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  25. ^ Grant, Steven; Green, Jim; Robbins, Ira. "Brian Eno". Trouser Press. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  26. ^ "Eno: I would set up sonic scenarios for David Bowie". BBC News. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  27. ^ "ContaQt | New Music Ensemble". Archived from the original on 14 April 2018. Retrieved 1 April 2016.

Works cited

External links[edit]