Hear a pair of revelatory versions featuring Brian Eno on “splintered” Minimoog.
Last week two David Bowie tracks recorded during the Low sessions in 1976 showed up on YouTube, a noteworthy turn of events shared on Twitter by Bowie expert Chris O’Leary. Recorded during Bowie’s series of albums featuring collaborations with Brian Eno, the two pieces are revelatory under-the-hood looks at what Bowie, Brian Eno, producer Tony Visconti and band built during a particularly inventive period.
Bowie had retreated from Los Angeles, where he had become desperately addicted to cocaine, with his friend Iggy Pop, who was also in L.A. and had become desperately addicted to heroin. It would be an amazing script for a biopic: Bowie and Pop tag-teaming their way toward being clean by moving to Berlin and meeting up with Eno and immersing themselves into the Krautrock capital of the world.
The first Bowie album to come from these collaborations, Low was a huge departure for him. Long driven by his aim at being a pop star, in Berlin he tapped whole new creative portals. Bowie scholar O’Leary, whose two books, Rebel Rebel and Ashes to Ashes, present detailed, song-by-song analyses and insight, writes in the latter book that “[t]the story of Low is that of a depressed, worn-down man seeing if he could write songs again, half wondering whether he wanted to.”
Here’s the instrumental for “What in the World,” which O’Leary notes might have been written during the sessions for Pop’s album The Idiot, which Iggy had finished a few days prior to the start of Low at the same studio.
The other newly uploaded instrumental is for “Breaking Glass,” Bowie’s coke-den snapshot of destruction. It’s driven in part by Eno’s use of the Minimoog, and further propelled by guitarist Carlos Alomar’s lead guitar run and rhythms generated by bassist George Murray and percussionist Dennis Davis. According to O’Leary’s “Ashes to Ashes,” after the band laid down the track, “[t]hey packed off, leaving Bowie and Eno to scribble over the tracks. The latter’s contribution to ‘Breaking Glass’ is a descending three-note bleat on ‘splintered’ Minimoog, panned right-to-left, then left-to-right, as if he was doing a stereo placement test.”