Neroli oil comes from the white blossoms of the bitter orange tree, and is an expensive pale yellow oil used in fragrances. Neroli is also the name of a 1991 ambient work by Brian Eno that is as exotic and ethereal as the fragrance.
Neroli oil is known to have therapeutic effects, including as being a sedative and anti-depressant. It has also been used to counter anxiety and insomnia. It’s probably most commonly used as a bath oil for relaxation. Eno’s Neroli is a delicate minimal work, that has many of the properties of its namesake. It has the ethereal quality of perfume – it doesn’t seem like music so much as pleasurable sounds that drift by your ears.
The music is one of Eno’s generative ambient works. Eno creates generative works by putting together systems that generate the art that he wants to hear. This sounds like a sort of factory, but his approach is less manufacturing than experimentation. Many of his ambient works are created using sounds that are looped. Unlike most loop-based music, Eno uses very long loops, so that sounds are repeated only after long pauses. His approach also differs from most loop-based music in the way that loops are used asynchronously – his loops vary in length, so that the sounds don’t play against each other in the same way twice.
On Neroli, Eno uses a very limited palette. Notes are very sparse, and all are generated from a piano or electric piano, treated with a very long reverberation. Each soft note played reverberates for ten or fifteen seconds. The melodic phrases Eno uses, reverberant effects, and overall sparseness give the music an exotic vaporous quality, like incense wafting through the air. It’s some of the most minimal ambient work that Eno has ever done.
Eno says that “I wanted to make a kind of music that existed on the cusp between melody and texture, and whose musical logic was elusive enough to reward attention, but no so strict as to demand it.” Neroli exists “at the edge of music”, rewarding your attention, yet encouraging you to think about other things. Eno subtitles the work “Thinking Music Part IV”. If you want to clear you head and reflect, give Neroli a listen.