Dirt: Sonic architecture
Brian Eno’s $30 app
Daisy Alioto on the quiet rage of ambient music.
My ears perked right up when a recent episode of How Long Gone made passing mention of Brian Eno’s $30 app. There’s really no middle ground in charging $30 for an app. Some things are $30 because they are good (lobster), others are $30 because they are bad (a single Shein haul).
It took me a second to find the app in question, because Brian Eno is well-represented in iOS. His other apps like Bloom, Trope and Air invite listeners to touch the screen to make their own composition. Reflection ($30.99 is different), there is no interaction for the listener. The interface has three buttons: a pause button, a sleep timer, and AirPlay. Reflection produces endless permutations of Eno’s 2017 album, an hour and five minute long title track.
“Just calling it an app is akin to saying Falling Water is just a building,” writes one app store reviewer. “I would not call this an app,” agrees another, “Between the music and visuals it’s more like sonic architecture.” The visuals consist of slowly morphing rectangles that only seem to change in the split second you look away from the screen.
My relationship with Brian Eno’s music is pretty typical, I think. The first album I was introduced to was Here Come the Warm Jets, his debut. I go through phases of listening to ambient music while I write, and have gravitated towards Music For Installations in the last five years; I just picked it one day and stuck with it. (ICYMI, there is an Eno documentary in the works from the director of Helvetica.)
To be honest, I like lyrics, so I’m more of an Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (a joint effort with David Byrne) kind of girl, and have spent hours staring at the cover art–a suburban gothic home by Stefan Sagmeister. Ambient music doesn’t have the same range of emotion. It’s a lack of emotion…right?
Last week I was running all over Manhattan for meetings and I had the thought that every aging person has at some point which is that the city is getting louder. And the city is, objectively, getting louder. But I am also more sensitive from the time spent inside during lockdown, no longer commuting, and technically living in the suburbs.
I don’t even listen to my headphones above a quarter of their volume, except for the rare moments I need to crank up a song that reminds me of being 15 and grit my teeth through self-obliteration. But the literal definition of “misophonia” includes intense anger and rage. And it wasn’t until I downloaded Reflection that I realized the simmering intensity that drives people into ambient music.
We’re mad the city is loud, we’re mad we can’t concentrate, we’re mad we can’t sleep. We’re mad because everything in modern life seems designed to manipulate our emotions to spend $30 on something–why not this stylish app? — Daisy Alioto