The album is dedicated to Russian artist Sergei Shutov, and was created as an assembly of tracks for him, as he had mentioned to Eno the difficulty he had of getting Eno's music in the then-communist Russia.
Shutov is a Russian painter who I know in Moscow, and a while ago he gave me a painting as a present. He uses my music in his studio a lot; he's got a little blaster there, and plays my music as he's working. So I thought I’d put together a tape for him of unreleased pieces from the past few years. I kept a copy of the tape, and when I started playing it I started to enjoy it and see a thread running through the pieces that I hadn't really seen before. They’d never been put together before, you see.
On the rear cover of the CD, the ten tracks of nine letters are arranged in a grid as seen in a word searchpuzzle. This appears to reflect Eno's known affinity for word games, but there is a purely coincidental reason for why they are so titled.
Triennale – Milan festival where Eno had an installation in 1985.
Alhondiga – Spanish installation in 1988.
Markgraph – German exhibition music & light company that helps with installations.
Lanzarote – Canary Islands, host to a yearly music festival.
Francisco – Installation at the Exploratorium in 1988.
Riverside – Riverside Studios in London was the site of a 1986 installation.
Innocenti – 1987 Florence installation (In Harmonic Space).
Talking to Mojo magazine in 1998, Eno explained that The Shutov Assembly tracks "were originally proposals for orchestral pieces; what I wanted to do was make them, using my normal tricks and devices, and then present them to an orchestra and ask them to try and copy them accurately – so if this sound goes "dnnngeeeee", you might need to have a damped tubular bell and a violin player working together to make that one sound. I thought it would be an interesting way to use an orchestra, to force it to use its instruments in a different way". The Netherlands Metropole Orkest played two performances of the music in June 1999 at the Holland Festival, which ran from 5 to 26 June in Amsterdam, the first of which was broadcast live on Dutch radio.
Though the music can certainly be classified amongst his other ambient works, most of the compositions have a certain "dark" feel to them. In an interview, Eno said "it's the association with danger that I didn't use to like, and it's exactly that, what I do like now". He described The Shutov Assembly as "sort of the out-of-town version of it, the outside-the-city-limits version of danger".