t’s never easy when it comes to choosing a revision playlist. Depending on how far away your exams are, some songs may be entirely useless.
If you play Sigur Ros too early into the process, you’ll be lulled into a sense of false calm and relaxation. If you play Dragonforce’s ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ too late, then you won’t get the exhilarating push you need just before you move into the final ambient tunes. However, there are some songs that stand alone: the ones that you can play over and over again and never lose your appreciation, the ones where you can focus on your revision and rarely get distracted. These tunes stand in the pantheon of greatness, unrivaled by their inferiors. Brian Eno’s ‘Ascent’ is one of these tracks.
Having listened to this song, and this song only, several thousand times during my A-level revision, I can confirm that it’s a fine piece of music that won’t wear thin with repeated listenings. One of its key advantages is the complete absence of lyrics. You don’t need to get distracted working out any abstract meanings or symbolism. All you need to do is let Eno’s synth chords wash over you.
Despite a lack of dramatic progression, change in structure or even a conventionally repetitive melody, ‘Ascent’ still manages the difficult balancing act of engaging the listener while also allowing them to hold a clear focus on other activities. Eno’s frequent use of dissolves allow each chord to flow into the next one, creating an other-worldly sound that’s ideal for the stressed student.
It allows you to lift off into a different atmosphere. The song was originally composed for the 1989 NASA documentary For All Mankind, so it’s not surprising that Eno strives to evoke such a moving, ethereal awe in every chord. ‘Ascent’ has also been used in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later to create similar atmospheres of calm and relief. It forms a universal connection with listeners because of its transcendent synth tones, and Eno’s DX-7 synthesiser feels like the perfect instrument to create the mesmeric beauty of space, time and existence.
So whether you’re trying to absorb a lengthy quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses for English,
revise some inscrutable logic for Philosophy, or craft an exemplary piece for Fine Art, there’s no doubt that ‘Ascent’ will help you break through barriers and realise your full potential.