Brilliant Adventure

all the way to memphis

Brilliant Adventure.

‘Brill’ is a luverly instrumental, again with koto, that Reeves and I did in the front room in Bermuda,” Bowie recalled in a web chat. Considered as incidental music for an Omikron game sequence, “Brilliant Adventure” wound up sequenced on ‘Hours’ as an ampersand between sturm (“New Angels of Promise“) and drang (“The Dreamers”).

As with other ‘Hours’ tracks, “Brilliant Adventure” is echo-music, here of “Moss Garden,” Bowie’s koto piece on “Heroes” (which itself echoed Edgar Froese’s “Epsilon in Malaysian Pale,” as commenter Gnomemansland noted). “Moss Garden” had ambition (an attempt, successful or not, to interweave “Western” and “Eastern” soundscapes) and fearlessness: it was the work of a man seemingly intent on becoming an inspired amateur again, plucking the strings of an instrument he could scarcely play. The piece kept opening up as it went on, disclosing new perspectives as it wandered.

By comparison, “Brilliant Adventure” is a tiny ship corked in a tiny bottle. It begins with an eight-bar sequence: over a bed of synthetic chimes and a (soon-diminishing) repeating bass note, its only melody is a descending five-note koto and synthesizer “flute” line that, with a chord change, diminishes to solitary koto. First seeming to wane, the koto rallies to tidily close with a four-note rising figure, ending back on the opening note. The synth flute, freed from the shackles of the top melody, indulges a few notes and then quietly seizes control of the piece, whose tempo suddenly slows to a crawl.

At 42 seconds, the track ends; it’s reborn a moment later. The entire sequence repeats, with barely any variation. Again, there’s an ending; again, a stubborn resurrection. This rebirth proves too much: midway through the first eight-bar sequence, the track finally, gracefully expires. Life, as it turns out, isn’t quite worth the effort after a few rounds.

Recorded late 1998, Bowie’s house, Bermuda?; May 1999, Seaview Studio, Bermuda? with overdubs at Chung King Studios and Looking Glass Studios, New York.

Top: “Zerokra,” “Memphis, 1999.”

34 Responses to Brilliant Adventure

  1. s.t. says:

    Perhaps a haiku is most appropriate for this one:

    I wake to a sound.
    Menu screen with looped music.
    An old DVD.

  2. fluxkit says:

    This song does sound nice as sequenced between “Crystal Japan” and “Sense of Doubt” on the All Saints compilation.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I totally agree! ;) That All Saints compilation overall is definitely well-sequenced. Brilliant Adventure is one of David Bowie’s lesser instrumental tracks, hardly possessing the “shock of the new” people must have experienced with the second sides of Low and “Heroes”. But it’s definitely got a minimal, ethereal beauty to it, and I’ll definitely take it over most of Buddha Of Suburbia. One of the highlights of a rather uneven album…

  3. Mr Tagomi says:

    I seem to be out of step with general opinion on most of the Hours stuff, but I think this is a lovely little interlude between my two favourite tracks on the album.

    I think the slight change in timbre in the final repetition does enough to sustain it to the end.

    It certainly is a tiny ship corked in a tiny bottle, as you say, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

  4. MC says:

    For me, the least essential DB instrumental of any period, the furthest he ventured into muzak territory.

  5. Maj says:

    Well, I like this one better than some of Bowie’s “classic” instrumentals from the 70′s and much less than some of his other classic instrumentals from the 70′s.

    Unfortunate that it never goes anywhere. If it did, I would probably prefer it to the aforementioned Moss Garden (which is OK, and art and all but it just doesn’t stir me).

    Oh well.

    I always thought it was a bit out of place on Hours. Considerably out of place, in fact. The place it really belongs to is the front room in Bermuda.

  6. Momus says:

    The frog jumps into the pond
    Again. Diminishing returns;
    Winter.

  7. Mike F says:

    A fragment of faux Asian music. Not bad but not really good either.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I mean no disrespect, but I sometimes wonder why you’ve set yourself the task of reviewing/commenting on every single Bowie composition if you so clearly dislike so many of them? I sometimes feel there’s something Sisyphean about this blog; as if it’s a task you set yourself and will finish…no…matter…what.

    • s.t. says:

      Does it really read like it’s a chore? Chris has written some great stuff here. The final paragraph alone is magnificent. It’s not entirely clear what his full personal feelings are, but it seems that he’s also evoking the attempted theme of the song itself, as well as tying in themes from this era of Bowie’s career.

      I can’t say I’m a fan of this track (but who can actively dislike something so innocuous?). Yet I think it deserves some time and attention too. Contextualization, reevaluation, a sense of duty to a figure whose artistic trajectory means a lot to a whole bunch of people.. These make it well worth the effort to dwell on Bowie’s lesser works as well as the glorious ones. Chris is doing us (and the Dame) a tremendous service with this blog.

      We already know what a rabid apologist would say about all the entries (“Too Dizzy is amazing, omg!”). Everyone else is going to like some songs more than others, so at least we get to read pieces by a talented writer with an eye for detail.

      • Momus says:

        I do think there’s something inherently interesting about how bad someone so good can be. How someone otherwise superhuman can be so very human. I must say that the recurrent badness of David Bowie is one of the things I like best about him.

    • the one who says:

      I guess you do have a interesting point there, Anonymous.

      Still, Bowie is one artist that often inspires some kind of “strange fascination”.

  9. bigredbulldust@live.com.au says:

    Neither brilliant, nor adventurous.

    I put in a lot of time with this album back in the day, and I’m starting to realise why I can only remember ‘Seven’ and the chorus of ‘The Pretty Things…’ This evaporates as I listen to it.

  10. Bruised Passivity says:

    Ha! Love the Haiku-off, very amusing. :-)

    I find this tracks’s album placement to be key to it’s enjoyability. Coming after the three hardest rockers of the album BA acts like a palate cleanser prior to the final course (The Dreamers). I often get listening fatigue by this point in the album so this song’s elegant simplicity I find very refreshing. While not the strongest of Bowie’s intrumentals, I feel that BA’s charm adds another layer to this “kitchen sink” of an album.

  11. gcreptile says:

    Yes, it’s obviously constructed as a memory of the 70s instrumentals – and yet, I like it less. I wonder why… I know that I really like the production values of the 70s. I like the sound of the 70s. Modern music is often too loud for me..the loudness wars… I think the small gaps of silence work less since music is recorded digitally. Moss garden has mystique, this one here has the pretense of mystique.
    I feel enthusiastic that this entry features “Epsilon of Malaysian Pale”. I love this album. I think that it was the inspiration for some of Vangelis’ “Blade Runner OST”. It also stands at the beginning of ethnic ambient music.

  12. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Momus nailed it: “I must say that the recurrent badness of David Bowie is one of the things I like best about him.”

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I can go along with that, but I don’t think this particular track is bad at all.

      “What’s Really Happening” would be my choice for out-and-out bad on this album.

  13. mark shark says:

    I seldom read the comment section on this blog due to the over-pontfication of small points of disagreement about Bowie’s work or over serious analysis of his work. I really like s.t.’s remarks that cut thru the crap IMHO. Chris seems to tread well the fine line of critique without revealing much personal bias. In my view, all Bowie’s work is like the old saw about fishing when compared to other pop music. “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work”. A side note – Chris’s musical technical commentary is often very interesting to me as a musician myself. He must know music to write about intervals and harmonies etc. as I learn things I hadn’t seen in strictly musical terms. He must play piano or something. We seldom get to hear pop musical review with an actual musical perspective. Keep up the great work Col !

  14. Mother says:

    Still the best blog on the internet.
    Magnificent write as always.
    “a tiny ship corked in a tiny bottle”, I like it.
    No Moss Garden, this track and album is somewhat forgettable but a big improvement on the ghastly Earthling.

  15. Steve Mallarmy says:

    I’d say the album was more than somewhat forgettable. My interest in Bowie must have been at a low ebb in 1999 because I never heard Hours although I got the preceding and succeeding albums. I’ve now listened to it a couple of times purely because of this blog and nothing has sunk in, save Thursday’s Child which I already knew. It’s the most unremarkable album Bowie ever recorded. Not as awful as Tonight, but just as pointless. Stranded on a desert island with a choice between this and Never Let Me Down, I’d go for the latter. Not that NLMD isn’t terrible, because it is, but it least displays that bowie-esque restlessness and tries so hard to be interesting even as it fails.

    I’m with Momus in that Bowie is interesting because he’s terrible at times, but Hours commits the sin of being rubbish in a completely boring way. The Hours period is the brief second part of Bowie’s double-dip recession, the first part being the lost decade of 1984-1994. Outside/Earthling were interesting failures which is good enough for me when it’s Bowie.

    But never fear, something better is around the corner. I think the Toy project really is innovative, not sonically obviously, but thematically. Many artists have resurrected their past success (as Bowie threatened to do with Ziggy – thank God he never followed through!), but how many have gone back to past failures? And the fact that Toy was never released just enhances the concept. This was a far more imaginative way of looking back than Hours-style regret.

  16. CosmicJive says:

    How opinions can differ. I would never consider Earthling and Outside failures, (well maybe commercially for the man). I love those two albums to death and play both of them a lot more than Heathen or Reality.

    Funny thing, he says at his Birthday show: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise I won’t bore you”. And then he releases ‘hours…’ which kicks-off a very safe classic Bowie period with nothing (sonically) really new to offer.

  17. Stang says:

    Promising not to bore us then (apparently) committing himself to boring us…how unreliable…how Bowie

  18. pastal says:

    Just a heads up that all German nouns are capitalised. Sturm und Drang.

  19. crayontocrayon says:

    On it’s own a fairly inconsequential effort. Some might even call its inclusion on hours lazy given the strength of some of the b-material – one less set of lyrics to write(or outsource to the interweb). But as mentioned previously it gives some much needed breathing space before the album closer. A team player of a song.

  20. roobin101 says:

    I tried to think of a track to compare to Brilliant Adventure. Blur closed their 13 album with this (Optigan 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W666AJR2zJ0. It has a similar feel in that I think both would sound good in a horror movie soundtrack; disconcertingly quiet music over a graphic tableau.

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