Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet

A dozen remixes (2006) of Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)


In early 2006, musicians Brian Eno and David Byrne together took two different routes in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, their 1981 album that mixed found sounds and cut’n’paste techniques into arty, often danceable pop concoctions.

The first was standard procedure: they remastered the original album and reissued it on CD with bonus tracks, plus liner notes that made the historical case for the album’s groundbreaking approach to sampling.

The second was more open-ended: Eno and Byrne uploaded to a website, bush-of-ghosts.com/remix, the constituent parts of two tracks off My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: “Help Me Somebody,” a pulsating bit of ersatz African juju, and “A Secret Life,” a more languorous stretch of elegiac atmospherics. The website, launched on March 8, 2006, invited fans to upload their own versions of the material, and upload they did, almost 200 renditions of the two songs in the site’s first six months.

If the bonus matter on the reissued CD provided a glimpse into the album’s unusual recording process, the remix website opened the door to the studio and welcomed listeners in to participate.

The use of remixes for promotional purposes is far from unprecedented, but it has a certain trenchant quality in regard to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. When the album came out in 1981, it had already been several years in the making. Its backing musicians included the cream of the avant-rock world, such as bassists Busta Jones and Bill Laswell, percussionist David van Tieghem and drummer Chris Frantz (fellow member, with Byrne, of the band Talking Heads). More importantly, the vocals on the record’s 11 tracks were provided by a host of unwitting accompanists in the form, then a fairly radical concept, of samples, notably exotically non-Western ethnological documentation and inherently Western evangelists.

And more importantly still, the live and tape elements on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts meshed seamlessly, because Eno and Byrne chopped them all up in the process of producing the album. Well, “seamlessly” isn’t the correct word in this case. The elements meshed “seamfully,” given that the duo’s conceptual artifice was essential to the music’s flavor: multi-cultural to the point of kaleidoscopic, disinterested in narrative but packed with observations, the cacophony lending unfamiliar vibrancy to the rhythms.

Now, 25 years later, everything from hip-hop to mashups to Internet culture has made sampling a fact of daily life. Mass-market personal computers arrive preloaded with software that essentially allows anyone to make his or her own Bush of Ghosts. And thus, to commemorate the album’s re-release, Eno and Byrne turned their own music from subject to object, from composition to compost, from sampler to sampled.

For Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet, I contacted a dozen musicians whose work I admire; I wanted to hear what their renditions of the Eno and Byrne tracks might sound like, and none of them had yet joined in the activities at the bush-of-ghosts.com website. With only a few exceptions, these individuals already participate regularly in the loose community of musicians who post their own music for free download on the web, via netlabels, social networking services or their own websites.

The 12 graciously agreed to participate in this project and the resulting compilation ranges from tributes to reconsiderations, from distant reflections to associative interpretations. There are takes on “Help Me Somebody” that milk the funk in the preacher’s voice and there are takes on “A Secret Life” so quiet as to make the original sound like rock’n’roll by comparison.

As sequenced here, Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet opens with an entry, by AllThatFall, resembling what My Life in the Bush of Ghosts might have sounded like had it been created for the first time in 2006. It builds on our experience, as listeners, with music sewn from samples; what was once innovative to the point of confusion is now commonplace – the esoteric quality of the original’s haphazard construction has given way to music, like AllThatFall’s, that is comforting for all its ramshackle, jittery energy.

Several other contributions to this project likewise reflect the joyousness of the original. MrBiggs‘ track burbles with tiny effects that suggest the influence of hip-hop, a then-young genre that was toying with sample-based music coincident with Eno and Byrne’s late-1970s studio efforts. It also has a pure-pop melody that is entirely MrBiggs’ own.

Prehab‘s rendition, like AllThatFall’s, is very much what My Life in the Bush of Ghosts might have been like were the album first produced in 2006, not so much because of its timbre but because of its politics. With its sound-bite quotes from President George W. Bush, it also serves as something of a correction to the reissue. The 2006 CD excluded a track, “Qu’ran,” included on the original album, which used chanted bits of the sacred Muslim book. (In an feat of editing worthy of a Milan Kundera short story, the reissue doesn’t even mention the absence of “Qu’ran.”)

Ego Response Technician tweaks the original fairly beyond the realm of recognition, pushing it onto the dance floor, while Roddy Schrock strikes out across the rhythmic territory of the source material, but with an ear for its minimalist tendencies.

Pocka and doogie separately find a tension between rhythm and texture. Both hint at something that might suddenly gain momentum, but revel instead in the available sounds.

Like Ego Response Technician’s, the pieces by Mark Rushton and My Fun are far enough removed from the original album to constitute something entirely their own, something with narrative intent. What’s interesting is how their use of field recordings touches on the chance rhythmic occurrences in the original, which most of the other tracks don’t necessarily have to their credit, due to the way that digitally mediated sampling today routinely incurs metronomic precision.

At the more atmospheric end of the continuum, several musicians aim for a spaciousness that My Life in the Bush of Ghosts only hinted at. Stephane Leonard unearths a formidable drone before violently exploding it, (dj) morsanek mixes in additional musical sources for a track whose detail-oriented effort is masked by its continuity of tone, and john kannenberg emphasizes a level of quietude that Eno and Byrne, in their pre-digital studio, likely hadn’t dreamed of.

These dozen tracks represent the individual musicians’ various journeys through the bush of ghosts.

Marc Weidenbaum Disquiet.com September 2006 The 12 Remixes: The following links go to 192Kbps MP3 files of each of the 12 tracks. For additional bitrates and file formats, visit archive.org/details/OurLivesInTheBushOfDisquiet.

  1. “Help Me Help Me” – AllThatFall (MP3)
  2. “If You Make Your Bed in Heaven” – Roddy Schrock (MP3)
  3. “Leftover Secrets to Tell” – Pocka (MP3)
  4. “Secret Life Remix” – Stephane Leonard (MP3)
  5. “The Black Isle (Byrne/Eno Remix)” – (dj) morsanek (MP3)
  6. “Hit Me Somebody (Help Me Somebody Remix)” – MrBiggs (MP3)
  7. “Being and Nothingness (A Secret Life Remixed)” – john kannenberg (MP3)
  8. “Somebody Help Us” – My Fun (MP3)
  9. “Hey” – Mark Rushton (MP3)
  10. “My Bush in the Secret Life of Ghosts” – Prehab (MP3)
  11. “Not Enough Africa” – Ego Response Technician (MP3)
  12. “Helping (Help Me Somebody Remix)” – doogie (MP3)
Also available are a front cover (JPG) and back cover (JPG), designed by boon/Brian Scott (boondesign.com).

Information on the 12 Contributors:

Act: AllThatFall

Musician’s Name: Kevin S. Gipson

Residence: New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

Track Name: “Help Me Help Me”

Track #: 1

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: allthatfall.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: I did a bit of manual splicing and truncating of the samples in Goldwave, particularly with the percussion. This introduced some transients into the samples that give the beat its wonderful clickiness. I also did some sound-design in Max/MSP, primarily with a feedback patch I wrote to interface with my Berhinger BCR2000 control surface. This patch granularizes live input, and allows me to filter and manipulate the resultant sound in real-time. I hope to post this patch to my website, though it’ll be largely useless to someone without the lovely BCR. I then imported these sounds into Frooty, where I do all my sequencing. In between these steps, I did a ton of note scribbling. I like to write little play algorithms to guide the compositional process, though they’re only half-followed.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I decided very early to use the original samples exclusively. I’m not a purist about remixes (I’m working on a remix for Sebastian Krueger right now, and gleefully adding all sorts of new material to his already-lovely track). I suppose I just felt like being arbitrary, but ultimately the stricture helped keep the remix terse and textually coherent. Also, “Help Me Somebody” seems to me to be just one big building-up. So I gave my remix a very pared-down, ABACAB structure. Again, a totally indefensible and arbitrary move on my part, though I have been doing it a lot in my tracks lately. My track on the forthcoming LuvSound.Org compilation is another ABACAB construction, though the sound design is completely out there. It’s a fun disjunction, I think. And my stuff has been really dense lately, so I decided to try and be a bit minimalist with the remix. I wanted to do something Matthew Dear-ish. I probably ended up filling all the blank spaces with little micro-edits despite myself, though. So there are all these abstractions and pseudo-algorithms; the final product is always more a thing of happy accident than anything else.

Act: doogie

Residence: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Track Name: “helping”

Track #: 12

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: fluxed.net

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: This remix utilizes somewhat archaic, but digital, sampling techniques. The software and plug-ins used are not especially important and I did not rely on software alone to complete the remix. It was simply a vehicle. The important technique, and one becoming more prevalent in my work, is allowing the song to become part of the environment.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: My overall goal with this material was to inject minimalism into the song to highlight what I felt was most important. Society moves exponentially faster every hour and the goal of the entire doogie project is to slow it down to the point where people can again see themselves moving. This is currently being accomplished by stripping down a song and adding layers on top that also seem to decrease speed.

Act: Ego Response Technician

Musician’s Name: Shawn White

Residence: Denton, Texas, U.S.

Track Name: “Not Enough Africa”

Track #: 11

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: xtrasauce.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: Cubase VST, CoolEdit Pro 2000, AmazingMidi, microKorg, Dr. 202.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I wanted to create something that was connected to the original song in some way, but not in any conventional sense. I used the original tracks to generate midi via AmazingMidi and then inserted sounds I’d programmed myself.

Musician’s Name: john kannenberg

Residence: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Track Name: “Being and Nothingness”

Track #: 7

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “A Secret Life”

Website: johnkannenberg.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: Bias’s Peak and Apple’s Soundtrack on a 12″ G4 Powerbook.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I intentionally made sure not to re-listen to the original version of the track before producing my remix, as I wanted the chance to approach the material in a completely detached way. Although Bush of Ghosts has always been an incredibly influential album for me, I have not listened to it for several years and have not yet purchased the re-release. My goal was to pick and choose elements of the sound sources that felt similar to sounds I would collect or create for my own work and use them to create something that wholly represented my current sonic aesthetic. While I heavily manipulated a select few of the sounds, most of them were kept relatively intact but their relationships to each other were (in my view) radically changed.

Musician’s Name: Stephane Leonard

Residence: Berlin, Germany

Track Name: “Secret Life Remix”

Track #: 4

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “A Secret Life”

Website: stephaneleonard.net

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: I am mostly using the sampler and audio-processing tools that I build myself in Max/MSP. The final arrangements, mix and mastering are done in different sequencer programs: Logic, Tracktion…

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: For me doing a remix is to (almost) completely rely on the material that comes from the original tracks. I don’t mind when people include their own things but to me the music that I choose to remix is already so rich and diverse that I feel like I have plenty of challenging sounds and tones to work with. (In the remix of “A Secret Life” I have to admit that I did use one of my own field recordings.) I don’t remix because I think that the original track is missing something or because I feel like I could do better… I remix out of respect. It is a way to show others where you come from and what inspires you.

Eno and Byrne have always been a great inspiration for my work. On the Bush of Ghosts record one can hear how careful they mix music and samples taken from all over the world to create a very peaceful balance and a unique atmosphere that seems easy for us to understand nowadays, but back in 1981 this record introduced a lot of people to a complete new style of music. Since I work with field recordings and samples that I collect from all over the world myself I especially enjoyed working on that remix project.

I chose to work with “A Secret Life” because I have always loved that Arabic sample and the synthesizers in the background. My remix is almost completely based on these synthesizers and the Arabic singing. Just like Eno and Byrne, my aim was to knit together different musical styles — in my case: ambient and noise.

I am also trying to refer to the theme of the ghost by creating tones and atmospheres that could sound like ethereal voices or chanting out of a different universe. It became a dark piece that has probably a little more to do with Eno’s ambient work… but I didn’t mean to be unfriendly… maybe a little spooky — I guess that is how I feel right now — sitting here in Berlin surrounded by German flags, soccer fanatics and this new sense of German patriotism that I have a hard time understanding…

Act: (dj) morsanek

Musician’s Name: Mark Morse

Residence: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Track Name: “The Black Isle (Byrne/Eno Remix)”

Track #: 5

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: elements of both “A Secret Life” and “Help Me Somebody”

Website: offbeater.blogspot.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: I assembled 37 “tracks” of audio (18 of which were Bush of Ghosts tracks) in Sony (formerly Sonic Foundry)’s ACID Music Studio. For VSTs, I used mda DubDelay, Sinus FreeVerb, and Arguru Software’s Stardust Mastering VST for a little compression (all freeware…thanks!). As for the non-Byrne/Eno sounds used, I’m lucky enough to be part of a community of composers and improvisers who regularly record and release solo performances, so I have an unusual amount of amazing raw material to work with from a sample perspective. For any gaps that need filling, I use AudioMulch to process my guitar or build sequences with Image-Line’s FL Studio.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: Since I wasn’t very familiar with the original versions, it wasn’t a question of trying to highlight or retain anything special from the original mixes. I was mostly trying to apply this kind of story/collage-building process I’d been using to Bush of Ghosts: find raw materials I liked (exploiting coincidences between tracks from both Bush of Ghosts songs, and avoiding events that are too idiomatically charged because they break the illusion a lot of times), and then just start putting sounds next to each other and seeing what means something. And once you get one compelling coincidence, then you can look for a second, and the direction or the narrative of the mix starts to determine itself.

Act: MrBiggs

Musician’s Name: Brian Biggs

Residence: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.

Track Name: “Hit Me Somebody (Help Me Somebody Remix)”

Track #: 6

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: mrbiggs.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: Apple iMac G5 and MacBook Pro, Ableton Live, Propellorhead Reason & Recycle, Audacity, RadioShack microphone, various sampled whistles and clicks.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I didn’t have much in the way of “intent” in working on this, my first musical piece of more than one minute long. Rather, I spent some time making a series of interesting-sounding (to me) noises and loops that in some way came from the original tracks, then started laying them out in a sequencer to see what happened. I attempted to keep the piece “recognizable” to a point. For example, the main synth loop mirrors pretty closely the finger-picked guitar in the original, and the congas and high hats were based on the congas and hats from the original tracks.

Act: My Fun

Musician’s Name: Justin Hardison

Place of Residence: London, England

Track Name: “Somebody Help Us”

Track #: 8

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody” (but there may be elements of both)

Website: thelandof.org

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: Sony mic/MiniDisc recorder, Ableton Live, Reaktor and various plug-ins.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I wanted to approach it as I would with any My Fun track and pick sounds I was fond of and process/re-process them. Once I got started I found that I had field recordings that were very similar to the sounds of the original recordings (preacher and bird sounds etc.) and decided to include them. Since some of the sounds are similar, I’m not sure if it’s really a continuation of Byrne/Eno’s loose concept of combining disparate sources and creating a musical piece from it, but I think it somehow keeps with this rough outline. Overall I wanted to create a track that was both musical and yet sounded like a raw field recording as well.

Act: Pocka

Musician’s Name: Brad Mitchell

Residence: New York, New York, U.S.

Track Name: “Leftover Secrets to Tell”

Track #: 3

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “A Secret Life”

Website: kikapu.com/pocka

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: I kept it very simple for this remix; aside from a handful of samples that I loaded in a sampler and played live through some distortion pedals, everything else was manipulated and sequenced in Ableton Live. These distorted samples were overdubbed while playing through the already sequenced sections.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I really wanted to strip “A Secret Life” down to its basic elements and re-build it into something instantly recognizable when compared to the original, yet less busy than the original. It ended up becoming a simplified remix, but still very dense. Minimal yet intense was the overriding theme here.

Act: Prehab

Musician’s Name: Michael Ross

Residence: Manhattan, New York

Track Name: “My Bush in the Secret Life of Ghosts”

Track #: 10

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “A Secret Life”

Website: I am the last human, pet or institution without a website but can be contacted at [email protected]

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: I used Ableton Live. I picked the tracks that appealed to me from the site and edited them into clips. I mapped some of them (synth sounds and chanting) across some keys of an M-Audio Oxygen 8 keyboard and went for a performance, playing them against a bass loop made from one of the sound files and fattened with a free plug-in called Camel Phat. I added a loop made from the woodblock file, which was re-pitched, run through a free filter plug called Ohmygod and ping-ponged with a Live plug. I then played guitar with a eBow through Amplitube 2, duplicated the track and pitched one of them up an octave. The George W clips I got from a website online.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: I fear that anyone who hangs in through the glacial beginnings of the mix will soon divine the all too obvious intent. When the original was recorded, the Muslim chanting used by Byrne and Eno was a bit of innocent exotica at best, a little cultural imperialism at worst. Either way it worked beautifully. Post-9/11, the cries of these Islamic people have developed a whole other resonance. Whether or not Eno and Byrne had any idea what those voices were singing (I suspect not), we the audience did not. Thus I felt that chopping up those chants emphasized our use of them as “color” rather than any real understanding.

Not convinced that my reassessment of the chilling emotional effect of those chants would be shared by enough listeners, I decided to ram the point home with the Bush clips (the “bush” pun only occurred to me later — I swear). Having added those, I realized that my emotional reaction to them was mixed; I despise the man, but nothing that he says in those clips from 9/11 is untrue, or anything less than what most Americans, Red or Blue, were feeling at the time.

I tried to emulate the cultural shift by starting with the “lonely desert” effect and building to the cacophony of the angry Muslim world with which we now must contend. Unsubtle perhaps, but hopefully emblematic of how we may no longer have the luxury of charming exotica.

Act: Mark Rushton

Residence: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Track Name: “Hey”

Track #: 9

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: markrushton.com

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: About half of the “Help Me Somebody” loops, Acid Pro, Sound Forge, a MiniDisc recorder, binaural microphones, and voicemail.

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: In my version, I wanted to change the tone of the “Help Me Somebody” sample from that of a preacher delivering a sermon to somebody actually in need of help.

I was in downtown Cedar Rapids this spring recording trains, vehicles going over railroad tracks, and the sound produced by an interstate highway beneath an overpass. When I was recording the interstate sounds, I happened upon a place where a couple of homeless people had been living under a bridge. They had been sleeping directly under the roadway, so I recorded what that sounded like. It was a deafening roar. If anybody’s sleeping just a couple feet under concrete that’s being traversed by cars and semi-trucks then they’re obviously in need of some help.

The storyline for the track is this: A character is walking around downtown, muttering sounds and knocking on doors. Traffic, trains, and the instrumental samples blend together to illustrate a sense of movement, wandering, and psychedelia. When the character finally calls out for help after the wailing of the train’s brakes, traffic keeps driving by anyway. Fade out…

Act: Roddy Schrock

Residence: San Francisco, California

Track Name: “If You Make Your Bed In Heaven”

Track #: 2

Original Bush of Ghosts Track: “Help Me Somebody”

Website: fundamentallysound.org

Software, Equipment and Other Processes Employed in the Production of Remix: Ableton Live and SuperCollider

Aim in Producing This Rendition of the Original Source Material: To find another way to musically handle those crazy preacher-man vocals.

4 thoughts on “Our Lives in the Bush of Disquiet

  1. Hello. Great job all of you did with the Eno/Byrne source. I have used the track # 5 – The Black Isle (Byrne/Eno Remix) as soundtrack of my video about Sayano-Shushenskaya accident. Now i’m planning to make another video using the track # 10 – My Bush in the Secret Life of Ghosts. Perhaps in this case i’m going to add some additional sounds. Well, Thank you for sharing this nice and interesting job. My best regards.

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