Ever since his 1978 album Music for Films, a collection of ambient miniatures meant to double as cues for possible movies, Brian Eno’s name has been synonymous with cinematic sound. Between 1983 and 2005, three more Music for Films volumes followed, but Brian Eno (Film Music, 1976 - 2020) breaks with the imaginary-soundtracks conceit, focusing instead on the composer’s actual commissions for movies and TV. There are some truly impossible-to-find gems here, including a spooky synth étude for David Lynch’s Dune—the only piece Eno contributed to the film—and a similarly eerie sketch for Michael Mann’s Heat in which nervous snare rolls punctuate gaseous pads. Some tracks here have done double duty: “Deep Blue Day,” a blissful reverie infused with Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel, originally appeared on 1983’s Apollo – Atmospheres & Soundtracks, the score to a documentary about space travel; 13 years later, it would reappear in Trainspotting to accompany Ewan McGregor’s desperate, drug-fueled plunge into the worst toilet in Scotland.
But no matter how dramatic the scene, Eno’s music remains resolutely restrained; on track after track, the tempos are slow, the mood diffuse, the texture as important as the melody. “Beach Sequence,” from Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders’ Beyond the Clouds, makes for an unexpected foray into dream pop; “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” from Married to the Mob, sounds like country music beamed back from the dark side of the moon. The collection ends as it must, with “An Ending (Ascent),” an Apollo cut that’s subsequently been used in film after film, from Traffic to 28 Days Later. Its angelic choir and gently unfurling tones are so evocative, a future filmmaker may right now be discovering it via this very compilation and filing it away as the perfect accompaniment for a scene as yet unimagined.