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Obscure Records is a U.K. record label which existed from 1975 to 1978. It was created and run by Brian Eno who also produced the albums (credited as executive producer in one instance). Ten albums were issued in the series. Most have detailed liner notes on their back covers, analyzing the compositions and providing a biography of the composer, in a format typical of classical music albums, and much of the material can be regarded as 20th century classical music. The label provided a venue for experimental music, and its association with Eno gave increased public exposure to its composers and musicians.

In their original editions, all albums used variations of the same cover art of a collage by John Bonis, covered up by an overprinting of black ink. The picture beneath the ink can be seen somewhat clearly under a strong light. Each volume except the seventh has one small window in the black overprint to reveal a different portion of the picture on each album. The red and white label design is a blurred photo that appears to be spires on roofs of buildings.

Brian Eno's album Music for Airports (1978) was intended as the eleventh Obscure album, and has catalogue number OBS-11 written and then scratched out in the matrix area on original UK copies. But this album became the first volume of a new Ambient series ("Ambient 1") instead, and this decision marked the end of the Obscure label. The Ambient series consists of four albums issued from 1978 to 1982, which are also described in this article.



Listed by title first (because all albums have one title, but some have multiple artists), artist(s), year of release, and original label name and catalogue number.


Obscure Records

  1. The Sinking of the TitanicGavin Bryars – 1975 – Obscure no. 1
  2. Ensemble PiecesChristopher Hobbs / John Adams / Gavin Bryars – 1975 – Obscure no. 2
  3. Discreet MusicBrian Eno – 1975 – Obscure no. 3
  4. New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments – Max Eastley / David Toop – 1975 – Obscure no. 4
  5. Voices and Instruments – Jan Steele / John Cage – 1976 – Obscure no. 5
  6. Decay MusicMichael Nyman – 1976 – Obscure no. 6
  7. Music from the Penguin Café – Members of the Penguin Café Orchestra – 1976 – Obscure no. 7
  8. Machine MusicJohn White / Gavin Bryars – 1978 – Obscure OBS-8
  9. Irma – an opera by Tom Phillips, music by Gavin Bryars, libretto by Fred Orton – 1978 – Obscure OBS-9
  10. The Pavilion of DreamsHarold Budd – 1978 – Obscure OBS-10

Obscure 4 names David Toop first on the cover, but his tracks occupy side two. Toop's tracks are listed in backward order on both cover and label of Island and Polydor editions. Obscure 7 names Simon Jeffes as the artist on the label only, on Island and Polydor editions.

Ambient Records

  1. Music for AirportsBrian Eno – 1978 – Ambient / Polydor / EG AMB-001
  2. The Plateaux of MirrorHarold Budd / Brian Eno – 1980 – Editions EG EGAMB-002
  3. Day of RadianceLaraaji – 1980 – Editions EG EGAMB-003
  4. On LandBrian Eno – 1982 – Editions EG EGED-20

Releases and editions

The first seven albums were issued on the Obscure label in 1975 and 1976, manufactured and distributed in the UK by Island Records whose name appeared at the bottom of the label. These have a catalogue number expressed as "Obscure no. 1" through 7 on the covers, or "OBSCURE-1" etc. on the labels. All albums use the original mostly-black cover art.

Only two of these albums were issued in the USA in the 1970s, on Antilles Records, a division of Island: album 3 as AN-7030, and album 5 as AN-7031. This edition of Obscure 3 uses new cover art.

In 1978, manufacture and distribution in the UK was resumed by Polydor Records who re-issued the first seven albums and three further volumes as OBS-1 through 10. These continued to use the original cover art. Polydor were able to obtain left-over covers made for Island Records, and issued their new editions of albums 1 through 7 with these covers marked as Island Records editions. Collectors seeking original editions are therefore advised that Island covers may contain Polydor manufactured records within. Later copies of albums 3, 4 and 7 with covers printed with Polydor markings and catalogue numbers have been confirmed. Record labels for the Polydor manufactured editions are similar to Island's, but do not mention Island or Polydor.

Also in 1978, Ambient 1 was issued. Originally intended as Obscure OBS-11, it came out instead as Ambient / Polydor / EG AMB-001. This record has a new label design for the Ambient series, but it was not used on subsequent volumes. An American edition was issued on PVC Records (distributed by Jem Records) as PVC-7908. This edition has a picture label that is taken from the cover art (a different label from the UK edition, although both are similar in appearance), and is therefore a custom label design.

The next two Ambient releases were issued by EG Records in 1980 in the UK as EGAMB-002 and 003. They were also issued in the USA (together with a re-issue of Ambient 1) as EGS-201 to 203. At the same time, Obscure 10 was issued in the USA as EGS-301, and Obscure 3 as EGS-303. All of these editions in both countries have white, non-picture "Editions EG" labels. Both USA re-issues of Obscure albums use alternate cover art, Obscure 3 being the same as the earlier USA edition, and Obscure 10 using a similar, matching layout. Editions EG was distributed by Polydor in the UK, and by Jem in the USA.

In 1982, EG Records re-issued all ten Obscure albums on their "Editions EG" label in the UK as EGED-21 through 30. Albums 3 and 10 use the alternate American cover art in these editions, and album 7 uses new cover art as well. At the same time, the Ambient series was re-issued in the UK with a fourth and final volume added, as EGED-17 to 20. The new volume was also issued in the USA with the same catalogue number, EGED-20.

No complete re-issue of the entire Obscure series has appeared since 1982, and given that Gavin Bryars has re-recorded his two pieces on Obscure 1 as two separate albums, it is likely that he and other composers are unwilling to consent to future re-issues of the Obscure editions in their original form. However, selected volumes have appeared individually from time to time. Albums 3 and 7 have been in print continuously, but are now regarded as parts of the regular catalogues of Brian Eno and the Penguin Café Orchestra, respectively. These two albums, along with all four volumes of the Ambient series, were first issued on CD in the 1980s on the Caroline Records label, which was the USA imprint of Virgin Records. The complete Ambient series is still in print, now on the Virgin label.


John Adams

Rory Allam

  • clarinet, bass clarinet on Obscure 9

Phil Ault

  • engineer on Obscure 2
  • engineer on Obscure 9

Roy Babbington

  • bass violin on Obscure 9

Derek Bailey

  • guitar on Obscure 1
  • guitar on Obscure 2
  • steel stringed acoustic guitars on Obscure 8

Michael Beinhorn

  • synthesizer on Ambient 4

Steve Beresford

  • bass guitar on Obscure 5

Richard Bernas

  • piano, percussion on Obscure 5
  • celeste, electric piano on Obscure 10

Guy Bidmead

  • engineer on Obscure 5

Martin Bisi

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Carla Bley

  • voice on Obscure 5

John Bonis

  • cover art on Obscure 1 to 10 (original editions)

Michael Brook

  • guitar on Ambient 4

Marion Brown

  • alto saxophone on Obscure 10

Angela Bryars

  • music box, back cover illustrations on Obscure 1
  • chorus voice on Obscure 9

Gavin Bryars

  • piano, composer, conductor on Obscure 1
  • reed organ, triangles, wood blocks, cymbals, double bass, composer on Obscure 2
  • conductor, arranger on Obscure 3
  • double bass, metronome, jew's harp, bottle, concert guitars, composer on Obscure 8
  • composer (music), conductor on Obscure 9
  • glockenspiel, celeste, voice on Obscure 10

Phil Buckle

  • percussion on Obscure 5

Harold Budd

  • electric piano, voice, composer, conductor on Obscure 10
  • acoustic and electric piano, composer on Ambient 2

Paul Burwell

  • 3 bass drums, large lorry hub, 2 string fiddle on Obscure 4

Margaret Cable

  • chorus on Obscure 10

John Cage

  • composer on Obscure 5

Greg Calbi

  • mastering on Ambient 4

Cornelius Cardew

  • cello on Obscure 2

Mark Caudle

  • tenor violin on Obscure 9

The Cockpit Ensemble

  • performs on Obscure 1
  • performs on Obscure 3

Ursula Connors

  • chorus on Obscure 10

e e cummings

  • lyrics used in John Cage compositions on Obscure 5

Howard Davidson

  • director of the Cockpit Ensemble on Obscure 1

Hugh Davies

  • grill harp on Obscure 4

Rhett Davies

  • engineer on Obscure 4
  • engineer on Obscure 5
  • engineer on Obscure 8
  • engineer on Obscure 10
  • performer, composer, engineer on Ambient 1

Stuart Deeks

  • violins on Obscure 2
  • descant violin on Obscure 9

Muriel Dickinson

  • chorus on Obscure 10

Susan Dorey

  • bottle on Obscure 8

Max Eastley

  • hydrophone, metallophone, centriphone, elastic aerophone, composer on Obscure 4

Kevin Edwards

  • vibraphone on Obscure 5

Brian Eno

  • producer on Obscure 1
  • vocals, producer on Obscure 2
  • synthesizer with digital recall system, composer, producer on Obscure 3
  • prepared bass guitar, voice (as a member of David and the Cetaceans), producer on Obscure 4
  • producer on Obscure 5
  • producer on Obscure 6
  • executive producer on Obscure 7
  • bottle, electric guitars, producer on Obscure 8
  • producer on Obscure 9
  • voices, producer on Obscure 10
  • performer, composer, producer, engineer, concept, design on Ambient 1
  • performer, treatments, composer, producer on Ambient 2
  • producer on Ambient 3
  • performer, composer, producer, artwork design and text (liner notes) on Ambient 4

Christa Fast

  • voice on Ambient 1

Fred Frith

  • guitar on Obscure 5
  • double-headed electric guitars on Obscure 8

Celia Gollin

  • vocals on Obscure 2

Christine Gomez

  • voice on Ambient 1

Axel Gros

  • guitar on Ambient 4

Miss Eva Hart

  • spoken voice on Obscure 1

Jon Hassell

  • trumpet on Ambient 4

Sandra Hill

  • double bass on Obscure 1
  • double bass on Obscure 8

Christopher Hobbs

  • tubular bells, triangles, cowbells, toy piano, reed organ, piano, composer on Obscure 2
  • bassoon, percussion, piano, jew's harp, bottle on Obscure 8

David Hutchins

  • engineering on Ambient 1

Utako Ikeda

  • flute on Obscure 5

Simon Jeffes

  • electric guitar (as a member of the Penguin Café Quartet), bass, ukelele, quatro, spinet, elecric piano, mouth percussion, vocals, cello, cheng, ring modulator, composer, producer on Obscure 7

Alden Jenks

  • engineer on Obscure 2

Phil Jones

  • voice (as a member of David and the Cetaceans) on Obscure 4

Stuart Jones

  • solo guitar on Obscure 5

James Joyce

  • lyrics used in a John Cage composition on Obscure 5

Jo Julian

  • vibraphone, marimba on Obscure 9
  • marimba, vibes, voice on Obscure 10

Peter Kelsey

  • engineer on Obscure 3

Tim Kraemer

  • baritone violin on Obscure 9

Danny (Dan) Lanois

  • live equalization, engineer on Ambient 4


  • performer (dulcimer, zither), composer on Ambient 3

Julie Last

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Bill Laswell

  • bass on Ambient 4

Helen Leibmann

  • cello (as a member of the Penguin Café Quartet) on Obscure 7

Andy Lydon

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Alison Macgregor

  • chorus on Obscure 10

Andy Mackay

  • oboe on Obscure 2

Martin Mayes

  • piano on Obscure 5

Dominic Muldowney

  • viola on Obscure 5

Chris Munro

  • voice (as a member of David and the Cetaceans) on Obscure 4

John Nash

  • violin on Obscure 1

Graham Naylor

  • technical assistance on Obscure 1

The New Music Ensemble of San Francisco Conservatory of Music

  • strings on Obscure 1
  • performs on Obscure 2

Mike Nicolls

  • drums on Obscure 2

Paul Nieman

  • trombone on Obscure 2

Steve Nye

  • electric piano (as a member of the Penguin Café Quartet), engineering, mixing, producer on Obscure 7

Michael Nyman

  • organ on Obscure 1
  • piano, percussion, composer on Obscure 6
  • jew's harp on Obscure 8
  • piano, marimba, glockenspiel on Obscure 9
  • marimba, voice on Obscure 10

Fred Orton

  • composer (libretto) on Obscure 9

Penguin Café Orchestra / Penguin Café Quartet

  • perform on Obscure 7

Frank Perry

  • 3 Japanese resting bells on Obscure 4

Tom Phillips

  • chorus voice, composer on Obscure 9

Conny Plank

  • engineering on Ambient 1

Jon Potoker

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Howard Rees

  • director of the Cockpit Ensemble on Obscure 1
  • marimba, vibraphone on Obscure 10

Leslie Reid

  • chorus on Obscure 10

Neil Rennie

  • ukelele, words on Obscure 7

Lynda Richardson

  • mezzo soprano, chorus on Obscure 10

Arthur Rutherford

  • percussion on Obscure 5

Janet Sherbourne

  • voice, piano on Obscure 5

Nigel Shipway

  • percussion on Obscure 6
  • percussion on Obscure 10

Adam Skeaping

  • alto violin on Obscure 9

Lucy Skeaping

  • vocals (as the part of Irma) on Obscure 9

Roddy Skeaping

  • sopranino violin on Obscure 9

Howard Skempton

  • vocals (as the part of Grenville) on Obscure 9

Rodney Slatford

  • contrabass violin on Obscure 9

Cheryl Smith

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Dave Smith

  • tenor horn, vibes on Obscure 9

Jan Steele

  • flute, piano, composer on Obscure 5

Neal Teeman

  • engineer on Ambient 4

Maggie Thomas

  • harp on Obscure 10

David Toop

  • voice (solo and as a member of David and the Cetaceans), flutes, water, prepared electric guitar, bowed chordophone, composer on 4

John White

  • tuba on Obscure 1
  • reed organ, toy piano, triangles, drums on Obscure 2
  • tuba, metronome, percussion, piano, jew's harp, bottle, composer on Obscure 8
  • tuba, marimba on Obscure 9
  • marimba, percussion, voice on Obscure 10

Keith Winter

  • technical assistance on Obscure 1

Gavin Wright

  • violin (as a member of the Penguin Café Quartet), viola on Obscure 7
  • treble violin on Obscure 9

Robert Wyatt

  • voice on Obscure 5
  • acoustic piano, composer on Ambient 1

Emily Young

  • vocals, back cover painting on Obscure 7

Inge Zeininger

  • voice on Ambient 1

External links

Brian Eno discography with detailed notes on editions


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