Pitchfork recently spat out their “50 Best Ambient Records of All Time” list, essentially a holistic (and deserved) tribute to Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Oneotrix Point Never, and Tim Hecker. I assume it’s also a native advert for Spotify. For example, omissions include Ash Ra Tempel’s landmark ambient work “Inventions for Electric Guitar,” while the sole Ash Ra Tempel album included, which pales, is also the sole Ash Ra Tempel album available on Spotify.
Of course, with any list, you will need to painfully sever worthy things, but this list’s major crimes include omitting, at the expensive of listing more than one Hecker or Riley work: Tony Conrad (uh, WTF?) and, less importantly, anything by the following ambient giants: Popol Vuh, Flying Saucer Attack, Cluster, Seefeel, Pole, Steve Reich, Tangerine Dream, Don Cherry (if you list Alice Coltrane, Cherry belongs too) and – now hear me out – a 1986 soundtrack album by Michael Brook and an Irish guy named David Evans.
Step back to 1985. Brook makes Hybrid (another p-fork omission) with Eno and Daniel Lanois on which Brook debuts his invention, the infinite guitar, which produces a continuous sustained note (most famous use: U2’s “With or Without You”). Meanwhile, Evans takes some time off between albums in his day job as guitarist for U2 and asks Brook to collaborate on the soundtrack for a small movie known as Captive starring Oliver Reed and Irina Brook (no relation; she’s the daughter of Peter Brook and former girlfriend to Iggy Pop. ) Paul Mayersberg, writer of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, directs for the first (and last?) time. I’m guessing there’s a related David Bowie story no one’s telling.
Despite trying, I’ve never seen Captive, outside of clips on YouTube. The released soundtrack turns 30 this year, and remains available, not only because of Edge’s involvement, not only because of Brook’s continued soundtrack mastery to this day, and not only because the sole track with a true vocal (“Heroine“) features the first recorded appearance of a teenage unknown named Sinéad O’Connor.
It remains available because it’s good.
And mostly ambient. Nearly straightforward guitar is mostly rare (“Rowena’s Theme“) or something straight out of Eno/Budd/Lanois or Vangelis records (“Drift” or”Island.”) Otherwise Brook’s and Edge’s shared penchant for gadgetry pushes their guitars into a place where they no longer sound like stringed instruments (“One Foot in Heaven“).
Other tracks play like Brook/Edge had been making ambient music for years already by 1986. It was one of the best ambient releases that year. Don’t believe me?
If you don’t buy it, at least consider how little else ambient music had going on in 1986; the bar was low. From 1985 to 1992, Eno stopped making records. It was also the end of a sound, for the most part, as 1987’s roots-y Joshua Tree buried Edge’s new-wavier sound experiments for almost another five years, and mostly took Eno’s influence out of the band forever, aside from later one-off albums they did together, like 1995’s Passengers, which in places sounds much like Captive.
Edge never laid down another soundtrack. And no, I don’t count the godawful Spider Man crap. Whatever he did for the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s London stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was reportedly trashed, except for the b-side “Alex Descends Into Hell for a Bottle of Milk /Korova 1,” which is far more interesting than “The Fly,” its A-side.
Interestingly, Edge seems eager to get going on more soundtracks after Captive, and mentions he’s had offers in this interview around the time of the release:
In the New York Times, Vincent Canby takes the Captive film version out to the woodshed and gives it a savage beating. Mayersberg wins, because he lives longer than Canby and writes The Croupier. Maybe Edge’s lack of soundtrack work stops because of the panning; maybe not, given Michael Brook’s continued ease finding work.
That’s not to say improving on the Captive soundtrack would be worth trying. 30 years gone, it stands up well as a capsule sound, a representative relic to what ambient music had done, had begun to do, and could do, and would do in the years forward.
And hey, I made you a playlist: