Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Brian Eno & David Byrne 'My Life In the Bush of Ghosts' (1981)

''My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
is a novel by African writer Amos Tutuola from Nigeria published in 1954. This novel recounts the fate of mortals who stray into the world of ghosts. The 'bush' is in the heart of the tropical forest, an impenetrable thicket left even after the rest of the forest is cleared for cultivation. Here, as every hunter and traveler knows, mortals venture at great peril, and it is here that a small boy is left alone.''

This album, from the very definition of a dynamic duo, is instantly recognisable as being in a genre all it's own, like 'Entroducing...' 25 years before the fact and accomplished not with samplers, but with simple manipulation of the raw tape; from Eno's recordings of radio call-in shows, evangelists, and the various Arabic samples that help to give the album it's haunting quality. Despite an underlying funkiness adeptly provided by Byrne playing most of the instruments (underrated musician that he be), this is a different beast to Byrne & Eno's work on the previous 3 Talking Heads albums.

The fascination with African polyrhythms remains, but as a listening experience it it free of associations with the oeuvre of either artist. The album takes on a life of it's own through the strange grooves characterized by found objects and African percussion, overlayed with those voices from disparate places in languages we can't understand - everything is out of context and the effect is supernatural and, like I said, unique. I've always loved this record and the only thing that comes close (despite all the claims of inspiration by other musicians down the years) is David Byrne's mostly-instrumental 1981 album 'the Catherine Wheel'. Innovative? Probably, 'My Life...' was obscenely ahead of it's time... but nobody went on to imitate the hands-on analogue sampling technique of this album (understandable given the headache it must have been without MIDI). Perhaps that's why sampled-based albums have rarely been so otherwordly? Having said that this would make good rush hour listening; it captures the cold and hollow functionality of an overpopulated urban area whilst being tethered to a sombre spiritual ancestry.

This is the 11-track CD edition (not the whopping 2006 reissue, but you are welcome to buy it for me =P), it's bloody marvellous and of course doesn't include the long-gone but fitting track 'Qu'ran'. The Islamic Council of Great Britain wasn't having a track that sampled readings of the Holy Book, and who were these two nerds to argue? It was struck from the running order, replaced with the B-side 'Very, Very Hungry' and has remained absent from all subsequent reissues. However you can hear it by clicking the link a couple of sentences back.

Here is the extremely cool official website of the album. The samples Eno originally used have all been made public domain so you can download them and do your own mixes. There are also streamable tracks and essays by Byrne about the production of the album and it's connection to the Tutuola book.
And for shits n' giggles here's David Byrne's web-o-log, which is surprisingly good reading... and he doesn't even have to upload any albums?!

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