Unfamiliar Wind

“Unfamiliar Wind” was included on Ambient 4: On Land, the eighth and final solo studio album by the British musician Brian Eno. On Land employs synthesizer-based notes and sounds found in nature such as branches snapping and frogs croaking. Eno regards this composition as environmental, using recorded sounds from nature. Combining audio recordings with synthesizer-based notes and other complex sounds, Eno shifted his musical approach away from performance art towards surrounding sounds. Sound associated with certain places (i.e. honking with city traffic) reconstructs our mental landscape, placing the audience in familiar territory. Mixed with unfamiliar sounds (i.e. synthesizers), the resulting composition does not faithfully recreate, but exaggerates or reimagines that landscape, the audience pushed outside their comfort zone. In his piece discussing On Land from The Hyperreal Music Archive, Eno perfectly captures what makes this approach so compelling: “We feel affinities not only with the past, but also with the futures that didn’t materialize, and with the other variations of the present that we suspect run parallel to the one we have agreed to live in.”

Eno listened to the world in a musical way for “Unfamiliar Wind.” On Youtube, one user combined “Unfamiliar Wind” with moving images from the short film “Water Wrackets (1975)” by British film director Peter Greenaway. The video stars wrinkled water from swamplands with various plant life. Its moving images convey serenity, seemingly breathing more life into the piece, an actualization of Eno’s vision. The heart of this piece  is represented by the non instruments (i.e. animal cries, rainstorm). The synthesizer-based notes suspend realism with mechanical sound) clashing with natural ones. His audience becomes submerged inside this newly created aural field. Eno arranges the clustered sounds, where conclusions can be drawn from his expressed intentionality successfully conveys intentionality. The audience must wrestle with the meshing of old and new, simultaneously expanding their comfort zone while never settling comfortablely.

I responded to “Unfamiliar Wind,” inspired into thinking critically about his outlook of the world the environment as musical performance. As Eno did, I found various nature-related sounds on the web, assessing varying potentials I carefully assessed the potential of each sound’s role in either the main event or background noise. for either main event or background noise. I sought to exaggerate the jungle environment. I played two drones simultaneously. The animals I included were monkeys, baboons, bobcats, chipmunks, cougar, lemurs, lynx, panthers, and snakes. Realistically, these animals would not naturally exist within such close proximity. Yet, with my deliberate suspension of reality, somehow the audience will hear the conflation (throwing wildlife together). The exaggeration of the jungle environment comes in the sound proximity of animals. Additionally, some animal sounds undergo distortion, the waveform stretched out.

The tools I utilized in Logic Pro X were the pointer tool (multi-purpose), pencil tool, solo tool, fade tool, marquee tool, and automation curve tool. The pencil tool and automation curve tool helped while editing automation for volume and panning. I used the solo tool to isolate select sounds to compare how each functioned standalone versus together and decide artistic direction. The marquee tool helped assisted me primarily with selecting areas for looping/echoing effects for certain audio files. Lastly, the fade tool helped me smooth transitions and helped me iron ironed out some crinkles for looping/echoing effects. I also employed Software instruments. were also used (Upright Bass) including synthesizer-based instruments (Long Ambient Pad, Modeled Air), playing on the same technique Eno used. I considered Automation for background events such as the software instruments and various audio clips. One particular usage was for fading effects for software instruments where the fade tool could not be utilized. After watching video tutorials on tool access and common application, I became more comfortable with realizing the vision I sought for.

My  composition features three main parts. The part one directly mimics “Unfamiliar Winds,” beginning with an unfamiliar “F” drone on the Long Ambient Pad. The monkey chatter enters, serving as the background for introducing more familiar sounds of spider monkeys and baboons. This first part featuring the primates frames the scene in the jungle. Panning effects were applied “Ab” drone on Modeled Air for disassociation – as the audience slowly becomes more comfortable with the constant drowning noise from “F” drone, the new shifting sound “Ab” drone throws comfort off-balance and darkens the color/tone. The synthesizer-based drones act as the “unfamiliar wind” in the familiar mental landscape created as the jungle. The baboon echo eerily elongates, the sudden distortion prepping the audience for what follows.

The “winds” from the part one slowly still as the entrance of the sauntering Upright Bass sets up the transition to the part two. The mental image of the already formed within individual minds within the audience is suddenly infiltrated with mysterious walking bassline – music produced by humans. One could hardly imagine some bassist sitting in the middle of jungle surrounded by wildlife left and right. However, this human infiltration of the jungle, as before with the synthesizer-based drones, becomes one with the environment, producing an entirely new aural landscape. Walking up and down the Upright Bass indicates something amiss,  or some creature on the prowl. The bassline [Ab1, Bb1, B1, G1, Gb1] and dances around Ab1, utilizing whole steps and half steps for texture and dissonance. The second part deviates from “Unfamiliar Wind” as the surrounding activity increases, with non-stop call-and-responses above incessant chipmunk chattering (audio file “Chipmonk+Talk”). The prowling bassline compliments the animated animals featured here – rattlesnakes, cheetahs, lemurs, bobcats, and lynx. The surrounding noise sounds off in sequence – middle, left, right, left, repeat. The sequential panning effect comes from three separate tracks, each one assigned incoming direction, contributing heavily to how immersed the audience becomes. Two patterns, animal sounds and the dancing bassline, playfully suggests the piece tugs slightly away from Eno’s approach back towards traditional musical performance, but not completely. The part meets an abrupt end, the chipmunks hush and the lynx cry out, all noise dying out as the wrinkling swampwaters signal the beginning of the part three.

Part three brings brighter, more uplifting tones with another walking bassline. By looping the note sequence [ D2, E2, A2 ], ambient environmental sounds, usually background noise, become the standalone events. This lighter bassline provides the greatest difference in tone among all three parts. Part one featured an F minor drone. Part two darkens tone from part one except gradually drops the “F” drone shifting the main tone towards “Ab.” Part three seemingly converts minor to major, the bassline adopting “A” tonality – an effective shift since the change only required one half-step. Modeled Air returns with the melodic line [A2, G2, A2, D3, E3], ending on the E3 which tends strongly towards F3 thus further implying F major. A singular jungle bird calls out above the environmental sounds. The return to serenity in part one with lighter tones and jarring events rounds off the composition. Suddenly, rainwater pouring down. The skipping was left intentionally, emphasizing an unnatural looping effect. Nighttime descends upon the jungle and nearby, the snoring cheetah rests.

Considering approach, techniques, and intentions, this composition could be appropriately named “Jungle Walk,” since surroundings change along the journey. While overall much more activity happens inside the jungle, the audience ultimately experiences the same “world as musical performance” as Eno intended in “Unfamiliar Wind.” Selection and placement of sound events exaggerate the imagined jungle, our familiar mental landscape altered by this unfamiliar aural landscape. Perhaps, some moving images showing wildlife in the jungle would complement this composition well.  In this manner, “Jungle Walk” meaningfully engages with “Unfamiliar Wind” through similar approach yet different execution.