sked about the use of chance in his music, Brian Eno once perfectly summed up his nearly five decades of work as a performer and producer: “I’m going to set up something that can surprise me.” That simple idea can be applied to much of Eno’s art. The renowned Oblique Strategies cards, which Eno created with Peter Schmidt, feature ambiguous phrases and ideas meant to shake artists out of a creative rut. And he’s spent decades seeking out technology to produce “generative music,” a stream of ambient sound that “[is] there as long as you wanted it to be” and never plays the same thing twice.
Those attempts to astonish himself are one of the reasons why he gets second billing on Finding Shore. The principal composer and performer is the British pianist Tom Rogerson; the sound of his playing is further manipulated by Eno by way of an instrument called a Moog Piano Bar. Created by synth pioneers Don Buchla and Robert Moog in the early 2000s, it sits right above a piano’s keyboard, shining an infrared light on each of the 88 keys. When one is played, the beam gets interrupted and triggers a MIDI signal, which can in turn trigger all kinds of noises. In this case, as Rogerson improvised on the piano, Eno was messing about with the signals he was receiving. Finding Shore, the result of that collaboration, is a record that beautifully smears together modern classical, ambient, and jazz.
On some tracks, the producer doesn’t do much at all. The opulent “On-ness” is given only a light dusting of reverb, so as not to distract from the song’s Satie-like delicacy and emotion. And on album closer “Rest,” there are nearly two minutes of unadulterated piano before its melody and rhythm lines are echoed by synthesized chiming. When Rogerson hits his final chord, Eno completely takes over, dissolving the sound into a glossy decay, as though a Rothko painting were slowly fading to black. It’s the mirror image of the opening track, “Idea of Order at Kyson Point,” which begins with a slowly repeating batch of notes processed to sound like a slightly out-of-tune vibraphone. Eventually, the curtain is pulled aside to reveal the piano behind the noises, with Eno shifting tones just so.
A member of the explosive avant-rock group Three Trapped Tigers, Rogerson tends to favor space and openness that allow for the natural resonance of the piano to hang in the air. That leaves plenty of room for Eno to manipulate sounds on the fly. But throughout Finding Shore, there are sharp bursts that stir these dreamy tracks quickly awake. The bulbous low note that closes “March Away” is forcibly rent asunder by the shattering chords of “Eastern Stack.” There’s a strange Cecil Taylor-esque fury to that track that is eased only by Eno’s low simmering hues moving beneath it. The short, jagged “Red Slip,” on the other hand, is all energy, a seeming homage to the pulsing minimalism of Philip Glass given an acidic tang via tones that sound like a bad mobile phone connection.
By and large, the two musicians strike a balance on Finding Shore, fluidly intermingling the acoustic and the electronic. But some of the best tracks are those where Eno completely subsumes the sound of the piano. “Marsh Chorus” warps into focus to reveal bits of birdsong and a lovely drone intercut with jangling melodies reminiscent of Eno’s 1997 album The Drop; “The Gabbard” imagines a repeating four-chord sequence as the blinking eyes of a dozen androids while little flutters of electricity and long pulses flow through the room.
Putting his music in Eno’s hands and ears proves to be a wise decision by Rogerson—just as his own playing turns out to be the ideal raw material for Eno to sculpt with. Between their respective spotlight turns, both musicians are on equal footing, challenging and surprising one another, and their listeners, with music that feels alive and wondrous.
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