Do you have some Christmas lights in your house, or maybe a lava lamp? Put those on and go lie down on the floor. You can’t listen to this record with the regular lights on. You can’t listen to it from your regular comfort position. You have to create an environment that opens your mind to different dimensions of understanding. Then maybe, you know, something visionary will trickle in. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is not regular music. Brian Eno, for his part, was very much into the idea of making music for specific places and experiences: music for airports, music for moon landings, music for floating down the Nile, music for opening Windows, etc. Actually, it wasn’t so much about telling you what the music was for, but allowing the music to be unobtrusively part of your life and coloring your perceptions in a subtle way. This is not one of those experiments in ambiance. This is music you have to pay attention to. But it’s certainly good for coloring the perception.
David Byrne and Brian Eno really need to hang out more. Every time they collaborate something brilliant comes out. The last Eno and Byrne collaboration was Everything That Happens Will Happen Today in 2008. That record was innovative in a lot of ways, mainly in terms of distribution and promotion; independently produced! independently distributed! It was two old dogs learning new internet tricks, really taking advantage of this new digital age be-your-own-master music business. It was also notable in conception. Eno and Byrne set out to make an album that explored the human condition, as it exists in the digital age, and in doing so tampered down their own natural cynicism and emotional dryness. Cheerful, simple, emotionally direct songs that aren’t about making fun of people in flyover states.
Today it seems like huge segments of the music industry revolve entirely around the craft of sampling; it’s been so abused it can’t even be called an art anymore. So it’s hard to picture a time when the idea of using a piece of someone else’s work as a building block for your own was unheard of. But in 1981, when Brian Eno and David Byrne decided they would make an entire album from musical ‘found objects’, this was a thing that had never been done before. Little did they know what they wrought upon the world. However, the musical stylings of every two-bit rapper who’s ever ridden a borrowed groove to the top of the jukebox couldn’t be farther away from the original experiment, which remains unrivaled in sheer weirdness. My Life In the Bush of Ghosts didn’t bear much resemblance to sellable popular music in 1981, and still doesn’t.
David Byrne and Brian Eno’s album My Life In the Bush of Ghosts is so much fun that at first you don’t notice how some of the found sounds they used are actually kind of disturbing. In that regard the audible whipping in The Jezebel Spirit takes the cake, but this one is pretty scary too. I’m not sure if the insistent percussion makes the preacher’s voice creepier or if he’d be more scary alone, but it’s definitely eerie. And genius to take something no one in their right mind would want to listen to, and make it worth listening to. Eno and Byrne used snippets of obscure records, old radio broadcasts and whatever else they liked the sound of, mixed with a trailblazing combination of new instrumentation and electronic sound effects. It was absolutely unique in its time and stands as one of the cornerstones of basically the entire genre of electronic music. Many, many careers have been built on duplicating its principles of sound collage, but no one has ever done it better.