My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
was rightfully heralded as groundbreaking when it was first released in 1981. Ambient forefather Brian Eno
and Talking Heads singer/songwriter David Byrne created an innovative blend that set precedents for numerous trends, including electronica, sampling and world music. The cerebral concept was also remarkably physical
dance music for thinking people, as it were.
25 years later it remains important, and Nonesuch's remastered reissue has only improved it with the addition of seven tracks that, according to Byrne, would have been originally included had it not been for the limitations of vinyl.
But this is more than a welcome reissue with improved sound and additional material. Eno and Byrne could never have envisioned today's political climate, but by incorporating voices sourced from radio broadcasts by Christian fundamentalists and Arabic pop records, My Life has transformed from a significant musical statement to a political manifesto. Such a statement was not Eno and Byrne's original intent, but the integration of disparate theologieswith today's widening gap between American right-wing fundamentalism and the Muslim worldcould not be timelier.
Sampling is commonplace today, but in 1979-80 it simply did not exist in mainstream music. Like producer Teo Macero's tape-splicing work with Miles Davis, Eno and Byrne were forced to be equally inventive in an analogue world. Paralleling Eno's ambient musicsimultaneously playing musical phrases of different lengths, looking for magical moments where they would serendipitously coalescethe pair would have two tape machines (music and voice) playing simultaneously, waiting for the moments when the two would come together as if they were always intended to.
While Eno and Byrne create the majority of the music on guitars, basses, percussion, drums, synthesizers and found objects, other musicians make guest appearances, including Talking Heads drummer Chris Franz, bassist Bill Laswell and Tubes drummer Prairie Prince. But in many ways this music is meant to be faceless. From the primitive jungle rhythms of "Mea Culpa" to the greasy funk of "Regiment" and the dance floor frenzy of "Help Me Somebody," the music is more about insistent groove than melodic hooks. Thematic ideas periodically emerge, but they are just as likely to suddenly disappear without a trace. My Life has nothing to do with virtuosity and everything to do with instinct and unfettered imagination.
The world of 2006 is considerably smaller than that of 1981, where, without the internet, sourcing music from various cultures required more effort. While Eno was no stranger to breaking new musical territory and dissolving cultural barriers on projects like trumpeter Jon Hassell's Fourth World, Vol 1: Possible Musics, Byrne's involvement here proved that his reach extended far beyond the Talking Heads. As musically relevant now as it was then, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts may be even more germane today. Musically contemporary but politically a virtual powder keg, it manifests a confluence of disparate ideologies that many would find hard to accept in today's increasingly polarized climate. A massively influential masterpiece.
Visit Bush of Ghosts, Brian Eno and David Byrne on the web.
Personnel: Brian Eno: guitars, basses, synthesizers, drums, percussions, found objects; David Byrne:
guitars, basses, synthesizers, drums, percussions, found objects; John Cooksey: drums (4);
Chris Franz: drums (3); Dennis Keeley: bodran (2); Mingo Lewis: bata, sticks (5, 8); Prairie
Prince: can, bass drum (5, 8); Jose Rossy: congas, agong-gong (7); Steve Scales: congas,
metals (4); David van Tieghem: drums, percussion (1,3); Busta Jones: bass (3); Bill Laswell:
bass (1); Tim Wright: click bass (1); April Potts, Eglingham Hall: rooks (4).