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January 17, 2010 9:14 AM   Subscribe


 
Recorded music equals whale blubber.

heh
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2010


So, Brian Eno is in a gospel choir and loves ABBA? And he kind of likes Steve Reich but finds Drumming to be a sterile recording? This is fascinating.

I always knew he was a hero of mine, but this is excellent! Thanks so much for posting.
posted by hippybear at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2010


On the Zune

"I spent the last three years in an underground Microsoft Research bunker developing its 23-minute bootup soundtrack. Ballmer and Bono stopped by every now and again with a stack of royalty checks for me to sign, and we would squirt each other with microsounds. What a bloody waste."
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dear Mr. Eno: The name of "the lower singer" in ABBA was Anni-Frid "Frida" Synni Lyngstad - now Princess Anni-Frid Reuss of Plauen.

Please made a note of it.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:32 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The name of "the lower singer" in ABBA was Anni-Frid "Frida" Synni Lyngstad

Oh... I thought he was talking about all of Benny Andersson's backing vocals!
posted by hippybear at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2010


An atheist in a gospel choir.

I read the article, I know what he says about gospel music and transcendence and all that.

I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:40 AM on January 17, 2010


In the 70s, no one would admit that they liked Abba. Now it's fine. It's so kitsch. Kitsch is an excuse to defend the fact that they feel a common emotion. If it is kitsch. you put a sort of frame around something – to suggest you are being ironic. Actually, you aren't. You are really enjoying it.

I'm not really sure if I agree with him here. I know plenty of people who actually do listen to music "ironically", and take these acts off of their iPods once the joke gets old. One of my best friends had a phase like this with Turbo Negro. Some bands employ a musical style ironically (Turbo Negro's entire act probably is, for example) and attract ironic fans, but then you have sincere acts like Tay Zonday that have legions of fans, most of whom are probably enjoying his material ironically.

Abba was a sincere act. The sincerity could make your teeth hurt. I still don't know if Tesco Vee's long-espoused love of Abba is ironic, but plenty of people do listen to them for the humorous aspect. Not everyone "really" enjoys them. But Dancing Queen was a pretty good song.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:40 AM on January 17, 2010


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

Hey, I sing heterosexual love songs written from the male point of view without changing genders all the time... It's really not that uncommon for people to sing for the sake of singing without having to own someone else's lyrics as their own personal creed.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

Eh, I don't think whoever performs the lead in Wicked thinks she's the wicked witch of the west, you know.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

Though repulsive, Britney Spears is not toxic waste; Johnny Cash is not a tectonic plate (nor Preparation H); and Bob Dylan will in fact not be your baby tonight.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Abba was a sincere act. The sincerity could make your teeth hurt... plenty of people do listen to them for the humorous aspect. Not everyone "really" enjoys them. But Dancing Queen was a pretty good song.

I'm pretty sure that the recognition of them as excellent performers and stellar songwriters has transcended irony. After all, they are being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year.
posted by hippybear at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

It's music?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mean to say, see hippybear's comment. You can enjoy songs for the music, even if the message is completely apart from who you are.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


hippybear: "I'm pretty sure that the recognition of them as excellent performers and stellar songwriters has transcended irony."

As well it should.

Contemporary critics hated ABBA for the same reason they hated Led Zeppelin: Too popular.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:00 AM on January 17, 2010


Bloop







Bloop









Ding!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Even if something is completely terrible, if people enjoy it (ironically or not), it must have some redeeming qualities. If it was truly nails-on-a-blackboard repulsive, you'd want nothing to do with it. But then again, people will pretend to like or hate all kinds of things if they're trying to be cool.

(I love Abba)
posted by emeiji at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2010


I found his comments about religion and engagement of ideas fascinating. I didn't grow up religious at all, and most of the religious people around me were from a Protestant tradition more associated with emotional attachment to faith than intellectual approaches. But it really makes sense when I think of a lot of culturally-Catholic atheists I know.
posted by immlass at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2010


His comments on the difference in attitude between experimental, process-oriented musicians and pop, results-oriented musicians are interesting:
What was interesting to [experimental musicians] was merely the diagram of the piece, the music merely existed as an indicator of a type of process. I can see the point of it in one way, that you just want to show the skeleton, you don't want a lot of fluff around it, you just want to show how you did what you did. As a listener who grew up listening to pop music I am interested in results. Pop is totally results-oriented and there is a very strong feedback loop. Did it work? No. We'll do it differently then. Did it sell? No. We'll do it differently then.
I find that interesting because I see that reflected in music fans as well. There are fans who are intensely interested in the process, and in authenticity — basically in following a particular process, or a particular tradition, or in making the process obvious on casual observation (not doing one thing in the studio and lip-synching while on tour) — and then there are people who honestly don't give a damn; the music could come from a computer, or a magic seashell, and it wouldn't matter or affect their enjoyment of the end-product in the slightest. It's not as extreme as the experimental-music/pop-music spectrum that Eno talks about, but I still think it's there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:09 AM on January 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


First positive response I ever noticed for Abba from "cool" people would've been 1978 (or 9) at a serious punk rock party. S.O.S. (still their greatest song) showed up on a mix tape and the place went nuts in all kinds of ways. Later, some stoned guy described their music to me as ... "Like taking a long hot bath, then going to bed with freshly cleaned sheets."
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


And ummm ... Eno is One spelled backwards.
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2010


Heh. I actually love Ventolin by Aphex Twin because it is nails-on-a-blackboard repulsive. As in it actually repels attempts to listen to it. Weirdly it's become a thing that I love to listen to almost because of that.
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


i hate abba. hatehatehate.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:13 AM on January 17, 2010


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

See: Slayer.
posted by NoMich at 10:14 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I still say that if you liked The Darkness then, yes, you straight up just liked hair metal. Your layers of irony do nothing.
posted by Artw at 10:15 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

Though repulsive, Britney Spears is not toxic waste; Johnny Cash is not a tectonic plate (nor Preparation H); and Bob Dylan will in fact not be your baby tonight.


Okay, I get what you mean, but still...this just seems a tad different to me. I could see him listening to gospel on his Ipod...but, okay, maybe his group is different but most gospel groups I would know of would be singing the music specifically to either worship God or to proclaim Him. It wouldn't be JUST music to them. (I'm in the South if that matters.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:21 AM on January 17, 2010




It wouldn't be JUST music to them

Operative word there is THEM. He says directly in the article that they know he's not participating in the music on that level, but that it's okay with them that he's there and being a part of the music nonetheless.

It may not be "the way you roll" with such things, but then, you're not part of their choir, and Eno is not singing in your church, so you don't have to be able to grok it, just let the man have his joyous experience with singing in multiple parts with a group of talented singers and move along.
posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I didn't say I MINDED him doing it, just found it curious.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:27 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll go out on a limb and say that there are probably plenty of gospel singing atheists already in choirs, as well as gospel singers who don't like the pastor, or don't agree with the Baptist church on this or that, et cetera. Some people just like to sing some gospel.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:27 AM on January 17, 2010


An atheist in a gospel choir.

I'm an atheist and I perform Jewish liturgical music regularly for our temple. Lack of belief doesn't mar my appreciation of the music; hell, I'm not even Jewish. It's the melodies and the feeling of awe inherent in the music. For the same reason, my secular band (with mostly Jewish members) performs gospel bluegrass tunes in venues where it's appropriate.

I'm seriously considering having the Ralph Stanley version of Angel Band played at my funeral. Great song.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:28 AM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm seriously considering having the Ralph Stanley version of Angel Band played at my funeral. Great song.

Indeed.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:30 AM on January 17, 2010


Contemporary critics hated ABBA for the same reason they hated Led Zeppelin: Too popular.

These two bands both make me tear my hair out, and for the same reason. They each made an overwhelming, terrific sound, which matters a great deal. You put them on and the skin-level sensation of listening is just so great at first listen, a real burst. For an instant you feel: "This is just the greatest music ever."

But then the next thing, the thing that happens with great music, doesn't quite happen. The lyrics are vague, yes, but also the music doesn't go to the next place it could (actually, I think it does in the handful of greatest Led Zep songs, but not in the rest). The music isn't challenging itself; the depth of feeling is missing. It just struts around and feels great in its own ego. It's like Mick without Keith, or Paul without John. (Or vice-versa?)

Don't bother telling me that pop music is all about feels-great and sounds-great. It is, mostly. Maybe even 95%. But there has to be an extra spike in it. That extra spike just wasn't there with either band.
posted by argybarg at 10:31 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey Brian, I like Frank Zappa.

More than I like you.
posted by Splunge at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


argybarg: I don't know how much ABBA you've listened to over the years, but they really did have that extra spike in MANY of their songs. Usually with the standard device of "key change for last chorus", but often that's all that pop music has to offer. In 3.5 minutes, you really can't accomplish ALL that much. If you haven't recently, sit down and give their catalog a listen. I think you'll be surprised.
posted by hippybear at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still, "The Song Remains the Same" is one of the most perfect rock songs I've ever heard. It's one of those pieces that makes me miss the feeling it gives me the instant the song ends.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ever since it became the de rigeur saxophone solo of shitty pop / r&b, the gospel choir breakdown has ranked a shade below collegiate a cappella in sheer annoyance. I would rather every air molecule just fled to a corner of the room and abandoned me to slow strangulation than that they follow thermodynamics into a chorus line of Like A Prayer or River of Dreams.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The gospel backing vocals that pervaded a lot of pop songs were pretty annoying, that's true. Still not as annoying as frat ska.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2010


Ska living on beyond the 80s and finding a home in the US is so weird to me.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on January 17, 2010


Is Sublime frat ska?
posted by kid ichorous at 10:52 AM on January 17, 2010


Metafilter: The Guardian's Digest.
posted by surrendering monkey at 10:54 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sublime was pretty much its own animal, but did have ska/reggae overtones. I'm talking about the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Pie Tasters et al. That they managed to somehow mesh with the brief and embarrassing swing revival (featuring the unfortunately named Cherry Poppin' Daddies) made it even more surreal.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:59 AM on January 17, 2010


I'm glad Paul Morley is still around. I loved his stuff back when I still read the NME.

Reading David Sheppard's recent book on Eno left me with some mixed feelings about the degree to which Eno takes credit for the results of some of the albums he worked on, particularly the Bowie ones.
posted by minimii at 11:01 AM on January 17, 2010


When I was 10 and first heard "Take a Chance On Me," I thought it was the most awesome song ever.

I haven't really changed my opinion, either.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


The first time I heard Steve Riech's Drumming was a broadcast on CBC's 2 New Hours of a live performance by Nexus Ensemble. It had a real kick to it.
posted by ovvl at 11:05 AM on January 17, 2010


I developed new appreciation for "Voulez Vous" after hearing it covered by Icelandic metal band HAM.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:06 AM on January 17, 2010


hippybear: "[ABBA] really did have that extra spike in MANY of their songs. Usually with the standard device of "key change for last chorus"..."

"S.O.S." - which is their second greatest song after "Dancing Queen" - is a perfect example of this.

When, in the last chorus, the ladies speed up to fit in the extra word "and" to sing "AND the love you gave me...", it is - as Robert Christgau once described the long-delayed arrival at the bridge in James Brown's "Sex Machine" - like the spirit of God moving on the face of the water.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:14 AM on January 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????

St. Alia, I do that. I sing alto in the Sacred Harp. I love the music, and the passion of it, and the insight that the songs give into the lives and religion of the people who originated the music. Also, although I am not a Christian, I am a person of faith, and singing in the Sacred Harp is a worshipful experience for me.

At the same time, I half-joke that it's a risky undertaking--there's only so long you can belt out those songs with all your heart without converting. I have joked that it's a good thing we don't have an altar call in the afternoon at a singing.

I remember Michelle Shocked saying in an interview that she became a believer because she started attending a black gospel church for the music.
posted by not that girl at 11:15 AM on January 17, 2010


In 3.5 minutes, you really can't accomplish ALL that much.

Can't agree with this, not with "Mystery Train," "God Save the Queen," "Street Fighting Man," "Hellhound on My Trail," "Waterloo Sunset," "Wang Dang Doodle," "Cold Sweat," the best singles by the Beatles or Muddy Waters or the New York Dolls or the Kinks or Dylan or Michael Jackson and so on. Not to mention all the great soul records. Not to even bring Chopin or Schubert in for a guest spot. You can live with that stuff for a lifetime and never really get to the bottom of it. Of course, it's top-shelf stuff (with plenty of disagreements about who gets on the top shelf) and few musicians get there. But it's worth noticing the difference between when they do get there (or try) and when they don't (and don't try).

I think critics of ABBA's time overreacted but mostly had them right: Very pleasant, even thrilling sometimes, but still missing something important. Just my opinion.
posted by argybarg at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Pie Tasters et al.

My college, right at the tail end of the whole ska thing, had a concert where Tonic opened for the Bosstones, and to be honest the frat types (half the crowd) mostly left after Tonic. IOW I didn't get the impression at the time that '90s ska/punk was frat music, although I may not have been in the right places to see it. But that's just an anecdote in a tangent to a tangent.
posted by graymouser at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2010


As an atheist who has performed gospel music professionally (albeit as a guitarist, rarely ever did more than harmony vocals, but once in a while did sing a lead, actually, if you count "I Saw The Light," "Precious Memories," and "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," etc.) all I can say is:

They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer
But boy you've got a prayer in Memphis

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would --
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said --
"Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said "Ma'am I am tonight"


I recognize religion as a vital human experience, just one that mistakes social effervescence for divine spark. Some very happy moments of my atheistic life have been spent singing words of faith with people I have cared about, feeling perfectly sincere that my words of praise and confession were aimed at my fellow worshippers, as sincerely as they felt their words were directed at their God. In fact, I would venture to say that every one of them also entertained doubts, as is the nature of belief, in the sincerity of their own sentiments in any given moment of their expression.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:25 AM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Dude, fourcheesemac, Walking in Memphis is such a good song. So Good. Thanks for reminding me of that fact.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:29 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


ABBA has this mysterious ability to, with the very first notes of a song, reach straight into the pleasure cortex--most pop songs make you wait until at least the chorus or bridge for that. I don't know how the hell they did that. They're like the Hitachi Magic Wand of pop groups. And yes, in many ways it's not as good or satisfying as music that will seduce you the old-fashioned way. But for a a quickie musicgasm, they were superb.

(the opening of "Dancing Queen", in particular, is like joining someone mid-orgasm. Astonishing).
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 AM on January 17, 2010 [9 favorites]


but how does he feel about Ace of Base?
posted by ennui.bz at 11:36 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh. I was just at my corner bar while witing for a prescription to be filled at the CVS. There was this incredibly drunk Irish guy with his dog hanging out. He was talking a lot and buying shots for people. He bought me a Cafe Patron and a Jager, so when I was loading up the jukebox (one of those newfangles internet ones) he hollered for 'Walking In Memphis.' It's a good tune so I put it on. I followed it with Tom Waits' "Bad Liver & a Broken Heart."
posted by jonmc at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently he also likes Chinese Revolutionary Opera (the pictures here are worth a gander).
posted by stinker at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2010


I love Paul Morley. I was going to say that I was hoping this interview resulted in some kind of collaboration between Eno and Morley, but I kind of imagine that the two collaborating on a project might end up functioning like noise-canceling headphones or polarized lenses, the conceptual ideas and implementations of each somehow canceling the ideas of the other out, resulting in a very rich, referential, innovative silence.

On irony in music: consider that it's completely possible to enjoy something ironically and unironically at the same time, as nearly any recorded music is constructed from multiple components.

Case study: Making It In Rockford, from the Rockford album released by the Rockford Chamber of Commerce in the 80s. I love this song for reasons both ironic and sincere.

Ironic: It's a song from an album released by the rather unhip Chamber of Commerce of my rather unhip home town. The singer rhymes the phrase "what are your intentions" with the phrase "vacations and conventions," which is uproariously funny to me. The singer's vocal performance isn't bad, but falls outside of what one would consider a "good" vocal performance. It falls within the uncanny valley of professional and amateurish.

Unironic: It kind of sounds like Stereolab to me, and has a distinctive, beautiful, unique sound. It's actually catchy, and I find that I actually get it stuck in my head. I love songs that aren't about romance, but are about places, things or about music itself. It's got some good harmonies.

And here's the thing: I appreciate it more than the average song, given that rather unique mix of the elements I appreciate ironically and the ones I appreciate unironically.

One can also react differently to the different elements of Abba's music and appreciate it ironically and unironically simultaneously. You can appreciate the vocal performances while thinking the lyrics silly, and walk away singing those same lyrics when they get stuck in your head. Someone can quite seriously appreciate the skillful instrumentation and arrangements while also finding the sense of drama in the song's changes very campy. One can react badly to 70s disco nostalgia while feeling the urge to whistle the melody.

Music is a complex language, an interleaving of genres, references, interplay between instrumentalists, language, recording techniques, technology. Even the most simple pop song isn't just one thing, it's an arrangement of ideas, tones, words, techniques.

On that level, an atheist singing in a gospel choir doesn't seem that weird, nor punks coming around to Abba's S.O.S.
posted by eschatfische at 11:47 AM on January 17, 2010 [11 favorites]


There was this incredibly drunk Irish guy with his dog hanging out.

You crazy New Yorkers.
posted by found missing at 11:57 AM on January 17, 2010


I think I need to find a new title for my Brian Eno related posts.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on January 17, 2010


I know plenty of people who actually do listen to music "ironically", and take these acts off of their iPods once the joke gets old

So they don't listen to music they actually like. They listen to music because they want to make an impression on other people. How incredibly cool.
posted by flarbuse at 12:00 PM on January 17, 2010


ABBA has this mysterious ability to, with the very first notes of a song, reach straight into the pleasure cortex

Funny, I was just thinking this. I mean, take the opening note of Eagle (one of their later songs, and highly underrated). That whole intro is goddamned beautiful. And all pre-computers & bullshit & cheating.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:03 PM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


So they don't listen to music they actually like. They listen to music because they want to make an impression on other people. How incredibly cool.

A humorous impression, in fairness to them, like "Oh, check it out - Spice World! Lemme put it on." And people groan, or laugh, some might even get into it, but the ironic listener is trying to be funny. I don't understand it myself. But there you have it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:05 PM on January 17, 2010


Brain Eno coined "Ambient Music" and hand a large hand in popularizing the particular type of music, but he gets a lot of undue credit for inventing it. Love me some "Another Green World" though.
posted by milarepa at 12:05 PM on January 17, 2010


Well, I'm not usre well all love Mental Note for their music merits... On the other hand, people carting stuff around with them and "ironically" listening to it put's me in mind of Evan Dorkin's The Northwest Comix Collective, where one of the characters flips out and starts ripping into the other posing indie comics tupes by shouting, amongst other things, "Superhero parody comics are still fucking superhero comics!" ...which is painfully true, if you look at some of those "alternate" takes on superheroes over the year. Me, I say just embrace it, admit you love superoes and ABBA, screw trying to be "cool".
posted by Artw at 12:12 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually not a later song ('77), but their 5th album.

As for their best song? Hard call. Chiquitita is pure awesome. The harmonies in Fernando slay me. S.O.S. is like someone took the fruits of the Pop tree, boiled them down into a syrupy goo and slathered it all over my body.

And I'm not even gay.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:19 PM on January 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Some music you like because it's fun.

Some music you like because it's "real."

Some music you like because it's technically good.

Some music you like because even tho it's none of the above....you just do. And have no clue why.

And that's ok.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:20 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Amen to that. I will never shellac my love for Duran Duran's "Rio" with a thick coat of false irony. I love that song so much.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:21 PM on January 17, 2010


S.O.S. is like someone took the fruits of the Pop tree, boiled them down into a syrupy goo and slathered it all over my body.

You just HAD to post that link, didn't you. I'd totally forgotten about that song's very existence. I'd totally forgotten I liked it.

GRR.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:23 PM on January 17, 2010


Oh, we were talking about Eno. Sorry. In that case, his collaboration with John Cale (Wrong Way Up) is Pop-perfection. One of those rare albums you can listen to straight-through. The lyrics are beautiful, the sound has an almost timeless quality to it. Take Spinning Away for instance. What year would you say that comes from?

Supposedly they nearly killed each when they were recording it (thus, no follow-up). Pity more people haven't heard of the album.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:26 PM on January 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


For years I've puzzled over the following quote from Eno did in Wired:
Do you know what I hate about computers? The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them. This is why I can't use them for very long. Do you know what a nerd is? A nerd is a human being without enough Africa in him or her. I know this sounds sort of inversely racist to say, but I think the African connection is so important. You know why music was the center of our lives for such a long time? Because it was a way of allowing Africa in. In 50 years, it might not be Africa; it might be Brazil. But I want so desperately for that sensibility to flood into these other areas, like computers.
Man alive, I just checked the date and that issue ran 15 years ago. You can jump into the article in context here. Every so often I think I get close to understanding it, only to have it elude me again. Perhaps I need to be more oblique in my strategizing.
posted by jquinby at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


An atheist in a gospel choir.

I read the article, I know what he says about gospel music and transcendence and all that.

I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????


My grandfather sang for decades in the local church chorus although, like me, he never otherwise set foot in church save for weddings and funerals. His love of the music outweighed his distaste for the rest of the package.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:46 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


jquinby:

For one thing, traditional West African music is non-hierarchical. There is no lead instrument. There is no single time signature or lead musical phrase. The instruments interlock and tumble. Some instruments are playing 3 beats in the time others are playing 2 and others are playing 4, with no one time in the lead. The really deepest stuff, like some of the Ghanan drumming, you cannot predict where the patterns are falling, although it isn't random.

There's also no idea of performers separate from an audience. There's no obedient listeners, no applause when a song stops, because the music just goes and goes. Everyone sings or dances or drums. Sometimes a single dancer steps forward but then so do others, and it's spontaneous.

It's very much the opposite of a planned, programmed music with a sense of order. It's very comfortable with an emergent, informal kind of order. And it's true computers don't operate on those principles.
posted by argybarg at 1:03 PM on January 17, 2010 [4 favorites]



the opening of "Dancing Queen", in particular, is like joining someone mid-orgasm

Previously.

posted by gimonca at 1:37 PM on January 17, 2010


Brian Eno doesn't like computers because they allow a sixteen year old with a pirated copy of Ableton to upstage him.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:43 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Brian Eno doesn't like computers because they allow a sixteen year old with a pirated copy of Ableton to upstage him.

Citation please?

I have a hard time seeing any sixteen year old being able to create music with the same sophistication that Eno's decades of experience in manipulation and production have granted him, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong.
posted by hippybear at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "there are people who honestly don't give a damn; the music could come from a computer, or a magic seashell, and it wouldn't matter or affect their enjoyment of the end-product in the slightest."

But the the target audience for music that is lip synced do care about something other than the sound: for them the sound has to come from someone sexually attractive.

I personally find this much sillier than being concerned with the process behind the music.
posted by idiopath at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2010


Citation please?

Aw, I'm just griping at him because of a remark he once made about the advantages of studio hardware over soft synths - something about how the prohibitive expense of hardware had put it out of reach of amateurish teenage noodlings. I thought it had been in Sound on Sound, but I can't find the interview now.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:07 PM on January 17, 2010


argybarg: "It's very much the opposite of a planned, programmed music with a sense of order. It's very comfortable with an emergent, informal kind of order. And it's true computers don't operate on those principles."

The history of computer music, especially '60s and '70s computer music, and livecoding / computer improvisation today, is full of counter examples to this claim.

Computers are very good at emergent complexity and barely human perceivable patterns.

That most computerized music we hear is repetitive and 4/4 and formulaic has more to do with the tastes of the audience than limitations of the technology.
posted by idiopath at 2:08 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


But idiopath, it isn't...for lack of a better word, organic.

There is something unique about having a group of musicians together playing, no written music in front of them, maybe just a chord chart in front of them, maybe not even that....playing and playing and playing...BECOMING the music.

I like the fact we have computers and can do unique and different effects and things with them, don't get me wrong. But some things computers simply cannot grok.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:21 PM on January 17, 2010


I still say that if you liked The Darkness then....

You mean Ortho Stice? Yeah, I still like The Darkness.
posted by localhuman at 2:23 PM on January 17, 2010


You don't have that with synthesisers yet. They are a very new instrument. They are constantly renewing so people do not have time to build long relationships with them. So you tend to hear more of the technology and less of the rapport. It can sound less human. However ! That is changing. And there is a prediction that I made a few years ago that I'm very pleased to see is coming true – synthesisers that have inconsistency built into them. I have always wanted them to be less consistent. I like it that one note can be louder than the note next to it."

I'm not sure where he's coming from here. Synth's can be incredibly expressive:

Just a couple of examples:

Trentemoller - Miss You
Goldfrapp - Lovely Head

And of course eno himself:

An Ending (Ascent)
posted by empath at 2:28 PM on January 17, 2010


Reading David Sheppard's recent book on Eno left me with some mixed feelings about the degree to which Eno takes credit for the results of some of the albums he worked on, particularly the Bowie ones.

I don't know about that. Eno seems pretty straight about his role in the Bowie albums, it's lazy journalists who insist on giving him more credit than he's asking for (and slighting Tony Visconti's contribution in particular), and with so little original research going on, once the meme got started, it was then copy pasted by every hack out there ever since.

On topic, while it's fun to see an Eno FPP, anybody who is familiar with Eno's "views & interviews" would be hard pressed to find anything new in this particular article. For all that, it's enjoyable, as always, so thank you Artw for this FPP.
posted by VikingSword at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2010


I have a hard time seeing any sixteen year old being able to create music with the same sophistication that Eno's decades of experience in manipulation and production have granted him, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong.

There are some teenagers-with-laptops that are making some pretty great trance right now

Mat Zo -- Fractal Universe (19 years old)

Juventa - City On Clouds (15 years old)

Breakfast - Air Guitar (21? 22? He was only 19 when he first got signed to Ferry Corsten's label as a producer, though)

I think this actually might say more about how easy it is to make trance particularly, but if you listen to the production quality, it's top notch. And all done with software synths, entirely on PC.
posted by empath at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2010


Civil_Disobedient - you're absolutely right. "Wrong Way Up" is a great, mostly ignored record that more people should hear. "Spinning Away" is a beautiful merging of music and lyrics that truly captures the wonder of our place within something we barely understand. It's an amazing song.
posted by davebush at 2:43 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


empath: I certainly get what you're saying... and I agree that computers have simplified production greatly and are letting even youngsters create great music.

But seriously... UPSTAGE Eno? With those trance tracks? I'm not sure Eno ever even DID trance, and I certainly don't hear much upstaging going on in any of those (admittedly excellent) tracks you link to. And only one of them falls into the rubric established by kid ichorous anyway. I listen to Eno an awful lot it seems
posted by hippybear at 3:23 PM on January 17, 2010


No Metafilter love for this bit then?

"Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you'd be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history's moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:26 PM on January 17, 2010


I have a hard time seeing any sixteen year old being able to create music with the same sophistication that Eno's decades of experience in manipulation and production have granted him, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong.

If memory serves, I'm pretty sure that Aphex Twin's Richard D James was about thirteen when he came up with this little ditty.
posted by philip-random at 3:33 PM on January 17, 2010


No Metafilter love for this bit then?

You mean, aside from the very first post in the thread?
posted by hippybear at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2010


Richard D James is special.

Also pretty sure Xtal is all hardware of various kinds.
posted by Artw at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2010


Paul Morley also interviewed Eno about twenty years ago - Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

And I've had much fun today (fairly coincidentally, actually, as I didn't go looking for it) watching his chat with Will Wright at Long Now.

May I put in a word for the wonderful records he made with Cluster (The Belldog, Base and Apex, Broken Head, Tzima N'arki from After the Heat) which I've been listening to for twenty years - they didn't sound ten years old then and they don't sound thirty years old now. Timeless.
posted by Grangousier at 3:47 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mainly I'm now really wanting a new Aphex Twin album.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on January 17, 2010


I have a hard time seeing any sixteen year old being able to create music with the same sophistication that Eno's decades of experience in manipulation and production have granted him

There are some teenagers-with-laptops that are making some pretty great trance right now


You're both wrong, in a sense (even though, hippybear, technically you're not wrong at all, obviously - I'm sure you do have a hard time imagining it if you say you do).

empath, regardless of how old those people were when they made that music, it's derivative, unoriginal crap. Let's leave aside for the moment whether you or I like trance, the fact is that that music is just so easy to make, both in terms of the technology (free software specifically created to make this kind of music, built-in samples, preset effects, plug-ins etc) and in terms of the ideas (everything in that music has been done countless times before for countless years). There is no leap, no progression from 2007 trance to 2009 trance. Given that trance exists, and has rules to identify it, people will churn it out, and it takes no skill or effort to churn it out. In the same way that it takes no skill or effort to paint a whole series of canvases the same colour, but it takes real creativity and inspired genius to have initially recognised that this was a viable proposition in the first place. If 15 year old Juventa had taken us straight from big band jazz to arpeggiated synths, I might be more impressed.

Yves Klein's IKB work is so brilliant because it was unprecedented. As much as people can be outraged and say 'I can do that!', well, they can, but they didn't. If they take a canvas and paint it blue, or red, or leave it blank, the hard work has already been done by someone else, they'e copying Yves Klein, and they are not displaying any talent or originality, no matter how well covered the surface is.

Your examples to prove that teenagers are capable of great sophistication and creative intellect are like me showing you some 15 year old's Flickr page full of macro photos of flowers in an attempt to disprove the claim that teenagers are not capable of the same sophistication in photography as Cartier Bresson. The world already has too many macro photos of flowers, and if the colours are lively and the boke is nice, well, that's because the DSLR they used for the picture has a macro preset.

As it happens, I don't rate Eno's music much, generally speaking. But I'm aware that, in the 70s, much of what he did was groundbreaking enough that he deserves credit where it's due, in terms of his ambient music, in terms of his witty and literate art-pop, and in terms of his thought processes. So one of the reasons I say you're wrong, hippybear, is because I'm not too convinced that any of Eno's work from the last 25 years is particularly sophisticated at all. So while, statistically speaking, the average 16 year old is not going to be producing the 21st century equivalent of Discrete Music, Thursday Afternoon or Taking Tiger Mountain, there are some out there capable of some pretty amazing things. Many of which I'd take over bland dross like Nerve Net or his vacuous tinklings on Slowdive's Souvlaki any day of the week.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2010


Well, I'll retract the "upstage," but I read a certain note of old-guard partisanship in his remark about soft DSP vs hard. To me, the abstract not enough Africa in computers is less imminent than the lots of computers in Africa, and the flattening of the costs of and access to the arcana of studio production. It's true that granting everybody and his sister access to the same tools as Brian Eno reaps a lot of mediocre music, but it produces far, far more competition than he's ever been used to before.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:58 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stockhausen: (Aphex Twin) would immediately stop all these post-African repetitions, and he would look for changing tempi and rhythms, and he would not allow to repeat any rhythm if it were varied to some extent and if it did not have a direction in its sequence of variations.

The nested repetitions of dance music are at once the fault of too much and too little of the same continent.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2010


May I put in a word for the wonderful records he made with Cluster (The Belldog , Base and Apex , Broken Head , Tzima N'arki from After the Heat) which I've been listening to for twenty years - they didn't sound ten years old then and they don't sound thirty years old now.

Oh man, I heard Cluster for the first time two weeks ago - a little community radio station that streams over the net played their track "In Der Sud", and I thought it was some new ambient-shoegazer band I hadn't heard of before. So I fired up Soulseek to see what I could find from the band, and discovered that track was recorded in fucking 1972! Now I'm addicted.
posted by Jimbob at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2010


Aphex Twin’s Equipment And Technique

Aparently* "Analord" in this conversation is actually Richard D. James, he doesn't seem like too much of a fan of emulation.

Then again I remmebver him saying in interviews around about the time of the Drukqs album that he could do everything on his laptop now.

* Well, according to Wikipedia. Hmm.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2010


I love that Broken Head track - must track it down the CD with it on again and rip it.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on January 17, 2010


I didn't truly understand the Zen of ABBA until I had moved to the Netherlands in the early 90s and was at my drummer's parents house with its inground swimming pool his father built himself over a period of ten years, the wind howling across the empty, frozen polder, and three beautiful, naked women (one of whom became my wife) emerged from the sauna to dance by the pool when Dancing Queen came on.

And that Eno quotation about Africa has haunted me for years; every iteration of tech seems to get closer to bringing the body into it.

And more alsoer, synths can be highly expressive in the right hands.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not, by the way saying these kids are geniuses. Just saying that 15 year olds with computers can produce professional quality songs, with a minimum investment in equipment.
posted by empath at 4:49 PM on January 17, 2010


And i'll put up Oxford student James Holden's (at age 19, made 10 years ago) gorgeous Horizons against anything Eno did. And that was done entirely with a free soft synth called Buzz Jezkola.

Point being, you can make gorgeous music with a computer, and at a young age, and it's been possible for a decade now.
posted by empath at 4:58 PM on January 17, 2010


And i'll put up Oxford student James Holden's (at age 19, made 10 years ago) gorgeous Horizons against anything Eno did. And that was done entirely with a free soft synth called Buzz Jezkola.

Oh boy. Talk about completely - but completely - missing the point. That track is pretty good (and I say that as someone who is generally bored stiff by house/trance/clubbeats). In fact damn good - as far as that goes. But you are not only missing the forest for the trees, you are missing the entire planet. Since another poster did such a good job explaining it, I'll just quote him/her:

Given that trance exists, and has rules to identify it, people will churn it out, and it takes no skill or effort to churn it out. In the same way that it takes no skill or effort to paint a whole series of canvases the same colour, but it takes real creativity and inspired genius to have initially recognised that this was a viable proposition in the first place. If 15 year old Juventa had taken us straight from big band jazz to arpeggiated synths, I might be more impressed.

Yves Klein's IKB work is so brilliant because it was unprecedented. As much as people can be outraged and say 'I can do that!', well, they can, but they didn't. If they take a canvas and paint it blue, or red, or leave it blank, the hard work has already been done by someone else, they'e copying Yves Klein, and they are not displaying any talent or originality, no matter how well covered the surface is.

Your examples to prove that teenagers are capable of great sophistication and creative intellect are like me showing you some 15 year old's Flickr page full of macro photos of flowers in an attempt to disprove the claim that teenagers are not capable of the same sophistication in photography as Cartier Bresson. The world already has too many macro photos of flowers, and if the colours are lively and the boke is nice, well, that's because the DSLR they used for the picture has a macro preset.
posted by VikingSword at 5:25 PM on January 17, 2010


I don't know much about the kind of music that Brian Eno or some of these opposing examples here show, but I'll tell what my untrained ears find in Brian Eno's and ABBA's music that these others don't: sympathy with the pain of life. They're from people who've got a real understanding of something, perhaps love.
posted by niccolo at 5:30 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm still scratching my head, kinda. Because he's singing things he doesn't believe, and he's doing it on a regular basis....????
All those members of the local choir singing hymns at the holiday concert? Not all believers. Probably not even Latin speakers!

And the members of the local folk dancing club aren't actually Balkan villagers!
posted by deanc at 5:36 PM on January 17, 2010


"THE INVENTION OF AMBIENT" (note the quotes) as I recall hearing Brian Eno describe it:

Early-mid 1970s. He was quite sick with a fever and a friend put on a side of fairly light classical music for him, then left the room. But the volume was set quite low so Eno wasn't actually hearing everything, just the louder swells which were nevertheless very soothing at low volume. At first he was frustrated by it, yet too weak to actually get up and adjust the volume. So he just lay there and slowly "got it", the exquisite place that music can put you when it's not concerned with dominating your sonic environment, merely augmenting it.
posted by philip-random at 5:39 PM on January 17, 2010


argybarg - that's some terrific insight, and I'll probably chew on that for another 15 years. I've tossed the Africa quote to other people I know, people who also spend a lot of time thinking about these sorts of things, and they have the same general reaction.

Which is to say that there is general agreement - almost at a visceral level - coupled with an inability to articulate exactly why. I don't think he meant to limit the shot to computer-created music. His quote takes dead aim at capital-C-Computers, and their not having enough Africa in them. I tend to agree; I just wish I knew why.
posted by jquinby at 5:47 PM on January 17, 2010


Goddamn I miss the 70s.
posted by JanetLand at 6:18 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember reading that Wired interview when it came out... might even have the mag lying around somewhere... and it seemed fairly straightforward to me - I think he even elaborated on it in context. What I took it as meaning - and maybe I'm just paraphrasing the interview- was that he found the input and output- the whole means of interaction - to be incredibly limiting.

That is, he was wanting some more visceral, physical, holistic means of interaction, where you'd use your whole body instead of just your fingertips, and maybe where you'd sense stuff in more than a tiny glowing rectangle in front of you. When I read it, I thought of some kind of system where you could gesture at the machine (wherever it was, preferably not just in a little box in front of you) or you could dance at it, maybe slap it around some, reach out and stroke it reassuringly or erotically. Where there'd be some rhythmic/somatic/multi-sensory component to it... and it would be *funkier*, and a much less restrained/constricted/white-people-compute-like-this experience.

I don't know how much applicability it'd have to someone trying to write C++, but in general, I always thought he was right-on about that, and wish things would somehow go in that direction, even if I can't imagine how it'd work.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:46 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given that trance exists, and has rules to identify it, people will churn it out, and it takes no skill or effort to churn it out.

*Rolls eyes*

I've tossed the Africa quote to other people I know, people who also spend a lot of time thinking about these sorts of things, and they have the same general reaction.

Well the crazy thing is that actual Africans have computers and are making music with them:

Township Funk
Sound of Kuduro
posted by empath at 6:49 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Far as that atheists in the choir thing goes, I mind one apocryphal story that Bertrand Russell and his buddies would sit around singing Negro spirituals because "They made you feel better."
posted by tspae at 7:54 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given that trance exists, and has rules to identify it, people will churn it out, and it takes no skill or effort to churn it out.

*Rolls eyes*


Maybe this will help your eyes stop spinning and stabilize - think of the analogy between academic painters and revolutionary painters. There were/are some amazingly skillful academic painters - they can paint within the confines of the prescribed form in an exceedingly fine way. We admire their skill, their devotion, their mastery of the form. But no matter how amazing, they remain academic painters, unable - or unwilling - to break the confines of their form. Now comes along someone who may or may not have superior technical skills within the discipline, but who has something the others don't exhibit - and that is creativity which demolishes the confines of the category, someone who invents a whole new way of seeing. Or in the case of musicians - hearing. That is something we recognize as far more rare - and valuable... these are the people who make history, whole new chapters of history, while the exceptionally talented academic painter, at best, rates a footnote. This is a fundamental distinction between the track you cited and Eno's body of work - their accomplishments are not even on the same plane.
posted by VikingSword at 8:19 PM on January 17, 2010


God, I hate posts like this one. It is now 22:19 on a Sunday, I've just read through the entire thread and now have over 20 Firefox tabs on new music to listen to. I hate you all.
posted by Cobalt at 8:20 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Abba was a sincere act. The sincerity could make your teeth hurt. I still don't know if Tesco Vee's long-espoused love of Abba is ironic, but plenty of people do listen to them for the humorous aspect. Not everyone "really" enjoys them. But Dancing Queen was a pretty good song.

Every songwriter needs to listen to ABBA. You might not be into what they are doing, but is indisputiable that they are able to fully execute musically what they set out to do. That is the difference between the great and the rest. At their best, it is the most well-executed pop music ever made--fufilling pop's primary goal--mass accessability. Think of "SOS." There's a reason both John Lennon and Pete Townshend considered it to be the greatest pop song ever written. The chorus uses the international signal for distress for its centerpiece. You don't have to know a lick of English to get the gist of the song--romantic troubles.

Take the song's parts and how they fit together. As the verse moves to the chorus, the music climbs in pitch, there is a big keyboard run and the dynamics get real loud and speed up, all the instruments kick in--they are signalling to even the most musically ignorant amongst us that a big, important change is comin g up. And the change hits hard. All four voices at full throat harmonizing the chorus. You don't have to know a damn thing about music or any English at all to follow along. So accessible--no wonder it was a gigantic, world-wide hit and ABBA was the absolutely biggest band on the face of the Earth.

The real problem with that level of accessibility--it wrecks the feeling of having knowledge others lack--which is unfortunately at the center of much of what goes for musical appreciation these days. So it is so easy to dismiss ABBA as being kitsch--it is Schlager musik, after all. But it is Schlager made perfect.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


if you don't get ABBA, you either don't get music or you haven't given them a chance.
posted by paperzach at 11:47 PM on January 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


While I don't enjoy the music he makes under his own name I find his ideas always stimulating.
Thanks for an interesting read.
posted by joost de vries at 11:49 PM on January 17, 2010


Educated people use their cultural preferences as shibboleths (are you part of 'us' or 'them'?) and as intellectual one upmanship (I'm more discerning than you and thus I reject what the masses value).
Some say that this use of culture is the hallmark of the middleclass distinguishing themselves from the working class. It's certainly true that the few members of nobility and very well to do that I've encountered in my life were more interested in estates and country homes etc.
Also it plays an important role in finding a mate as an indicator of mental prowess.

It's easy to see how expressing an appreciation for music that everybody likes poses the threat of being perceived as common to the middle-class aspirational.
When popular music moves out of the spotlight for the large masses it becomes acceptable again to like it.

That raises the question: what's todays popular music that's extremely popular but will be liked by us in 30 years?

I'll admit to intellectualising my appreciation of some extremely popular music by saying that I'm a fan of the hit producer Max Martin f.i. and that the singers are just part of his changing instrumentarium.
But the truth is that I often like well produced mainstream pop because I'm a human animal just like most of us. And that bypasses intellectual and social mechanisms.

Of course there's little informational value in saying that you like mainstream pop. So I usually just skip the indie cred bragging fests on mefi.
posted by joost de vries at 12:50 AM on January 18, 2010


So many good quotes. I liked his comments on the silliness of the acoustic guitar, being scared of putting the same track on a U2 and a Coldplay album, and yes, the whale blubber.

Brian, I'll come running to tie your shoe.
posted by painquale at 1:23 AM on January 18, 2010


Or in the case of musicians - hearing. That is something we recognize as far more rare - and valuable... these are the people who make history, whole new chapters of history, while the exceptionally talented academic painter, at best, rates a footnote.

Usually they're a dead end, and nobody cares about them a year later. Meanwhile, all these anonymous kids making generic music are advancing the genre forward one small step at a time. You start off with a few untalented kids in Chicago trying to make Disco and Kraftwerk, and in a few years, you have acid house, techno, trance and D&B. Not one of them set out to create a new genre of music.

Same goes with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones trying doing blues and R&B covers. They didn't set out to make history.

Sorry, but you're completely full of shit. Eno didn't even invent electronic ambient music. Tangerine Dream and other German producers were doing it years before he came out with Music for Airports.

Until recently, the kinds of synths you need to make professional quality audio have been exclusively a toy for the rich. Now all you need is a $400 computer and you can make sounds that wouldn't have been even possible 20 years ago without thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment. And to put out an album, you don't NEED a producer and a studio and a record label. Shit, you don't even need a band. You can do everything yourself.

It's cheaper now to be an electronica producer than start a rock band, which has not been true until recently. I honestly can't wait to see what the generation of kids that are 12 or 13 now just learning how to use this stuff are going to be putting out in a few years.
posted by empath at 1:41 AM on January 18, 2010


@Niccolo

Spot on, and I'm glad you opened this up, because I was embarrassed to attempt to make the point earlier that I think that ABBA precisely delivers that extra *spike* that music needs, just because of what you say.

It's embarrassing to make the point that ABBA's lyrics are actually somewhat dark and often heartbreakingly direct -- mainly because it's like saying "Well, listen to SOS after a significant breakup and see how *you* feel". Nevertheless. Maybe their lyrics are only meant as schmaltz, simple cliches to fill in the vocal lines... but I don't think so, somehow, for most of their songs. The words they sing, they seem to mean. It's the conflict between the words and the melodic richness and gaiety of the music that gives their songs that extra something.

(Not to say that there's not also melancholy in the music itself, sans lyrics...)
posted by Bayey at 2:07 AM on January 18, 2010


This Friday on the BBC...
posted by peterkins at 6:21 AM on January 18, 2010


> In my house in Oxfordshire, we have this big, beautiful Andrew Logan sculpture of a lovely
> Pegasus with blue glass wings. When I get a taxi from the station, a driver will always
> comment on it because it is so striking. What they often say is, 'What does that stand for
> then?' Or, 'What does that mean?', based on the idea that something exists because it has
> to tell you something, or it refers to something else, and I realise that this notion is foreign
> to me.

"What does that mean?" does not mean what you think it means.
posted by jfuller at 7:06 AM on January 18, 2010


Sorry, but you're completely full of shit. Eno didn't even invent electronic ambient music. Tangerine Dream and other German producers were doing it years before he came out with Music for Airports.

Well, there IS a major difference between Eno's ambient work and the Tangerine Dream song you link to here, in that Eno was making his work explicitly without musical shape or intent or build. It is music as atmosphere, not atmospheric music. As Eno himself says in the liner notes to the 1978 release of Ambient 1, "it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." I doubt TD ever recorded anything with the stated intent that it be ignored.

Anyone who has any doubts about Eno's modern work should certainly check out his project with Paul Simon from a few years ago, and his more recent reunion with David Byrne. Comparing/contrasting these two projects in the context of either artist's earlier work brings to the fore rather quickly exactly what it is that Eno contributes to a recording.

These two albums are as much about invention and exploration as a Rick Rubin project is about getting back to an artist's core sound. Ever since Peter Gabriel allowed "Enossification" of his voice on Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, I've always been pleased to see Eno listed on an album's credits. It means, at the very least, that I will find something within the tracks which my ear does not immediately understand and which reveals itself slowly, like a flower unfolding its petals. In my book, that's a wonderful thing.
posted by hippybear at 7:47 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyone who has any doubts about Eno's modern work should certainly check out his project with Paul Simon from a few years ago, and his more recent reunion with David Byrne.

As Paul Morley points out in his intro to the interview, it's entirely arguable that Eno owned the 1970s like no other artist. From the pop-sonic genius of his Roxy Music contributions to his "invention" of ambient (all he really takes credit for is naming it) to his collaborations with David Bowie, Robert Fripp etc, not to mention his production of Devo and Talking Heads and his own shockingly fresh solo albums, the guy's touch was pure magic.

Since then, it just hasn't been the same. Not even close. No, I don't blame U2 for this, or even something as unavoidably toxic as fame. If anything, I point my finger at the digitization of sound. As long as most of the instruments and recording techniques out there were analog and thus "limited" in their abilities, he was THE master, a genius at pushing boundaries, making deliberate "mistakes" and then surfing on their implications. But then along came digital and something happened. Perhaps, with ANYTHING suddenly possible, it just wasn't as much fun anymore.

Not that any of his recent stuff has been BAD; just not fucking brilliant.
posted by philip-random at 9:15 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


if you don't get ABBA, you either don't get music or you haven't given them a chance.

And they specifically asked you to take a chance on them, too.
posted by gimonca at 9:59 AM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry, but you're completely full of shit. Eno didn't even invent electronic ambient music. Tangerine Dream and other German producers were doing it years before he came out with Music for Airports.

Err, no. Eno did something rather different from Tangerine Dream, or German producers/musicians. He explicitly abandoned musical structures in ways that the Germans never approached. I also suspect you are not very familiar with Eno's work, because you seem to boil it all down to "ambient", whereas some of his greatest contributions have been to re-conceptualize production and what is possible to do in a studio, and the new ways of thinking about music in his seminal collaborations with people like Fripp.

Usually they're a dead end, and nobody cares about them a year later.

This is so bizarre, I don't know how to respond - this is about the direct opposite of the case here. Eno's influence on music and music production has been profound since the 70's - it is hard to think of any one figure who has had as great an influence on production techniques and musical approaches that are used widely today.
posted by VikingSword at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was in Ghana last year, I heard folk music that was texturally similar to the Velvet Underground and plenty of sythpop Hip Life that was absolutely sublime.

Shortly after I came home, I tripped across a Guardian.co.uk interview with Eno and David Byrne that dropped a pile of laurels at the feet of Nigeria's Fela Kuti (yes, the guy in that musical featured on The Colbert Report this past December).

As an art schooler during the mid- to late-80's, Eno's fingers were on 90% of the music I was listening to.Fela's music has become a major retcon for me, given that much of that art school muzak -- Talking Heads to U2 -- owe plenty to Fela's drummer, Tony Allen. If you listen to the tympani in an early U2 song like "Rejoice" or the Byrne's "Remain in Light", it's all there.
posted by vhsiv at 10:40 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny what he says about synthesizers not coming with all the musical history that say a piano does. I got my first analog synth this month (a 1981 Moog/realistic MG-1). It is a blast, but no matter how much fiddling I do, it always seems to sound like something that's been done. I keep running into "Cars", "Neon Lights", "Blue Monday" and a million other analog synth touchstones of the past 40 years. I guess it didn't take very long to develop a history of synthesizer "classical" music baggage.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:48 PM on January 18, 2010


I guess it didn't take very long to develop a history of synthesizer "classical" music baggage.

...and if you have ever listened to the first two Synergy albums, you begin to realize that even the outlying sounds made by synths were already used 35 years ago.

Isn't a lot of Eno's schtick that he manipulates sounds already produced, rather than necessarily coming up with new synth / electronic sounds? I've long thought that what really was the Eno touch was that he would take that track of a piano playing and do stuff to it until it became a background sound wash, you know... studio wizardry. Is he doing all that backwards now, developing the sound and then hitting the keys to get it to play, or is he still creating aural lunarscapes out of mundane recordings?
posted by hippybear at 2:08 PM on January 18, 2010


Thanks for this post. I've always been an Eno freak. For those who want more, this site has tons of stuff about him, going back to the Roxy Music days.
posted by metagnathous at 5:07 PM on January 18, 2010




As a synthesist and a long-time Eno fan, the best things he's had to say about making music come down to articulation, control, and lack of control.

Synthesizers are very, very good at making the same sound twice, in an identical way, whereas an instrument like a guitar can't do it at all. A guitar, on its own, isn't an instrument that sounds good, which is why guitarists spend so much time and attention on fine-tuning, on tracking down the exact chorus pedal from 1979 with a certain transistor, or changing their pickups and picking particular strings. Where guitars are vastly superior is in the articulation of the sound, in the way fingers make different harmonics in different places, in how a pick can be plucked or snapped or dragged, in integral feedback structures in a resonating object.

In the early days of synthesizers, you didn't even have velocity control over your notes, so every single note sounded at the same volume as the next. Where a single note on most acoustic instruments can be shaped by a physical gesture that's visceral and instinctive (with practice), the synthesizer, as commonly sold, lacks that simple connection. For a while, things were getting good, with polyphonic aftertouch (where you can alter the characteristics in a held chord by varying the pressure of a given note) and D-beam interfaces and whole new genres of MIDI controllers, but that's largely faded again, and most synthesizer players are now content to twist a frequency cutoff knob to visit a familiar musical trope instead of taking the time to learn their instrument.

Eno famously maintained a half-broken VCS3/Synthi, an already-unstable instrument of such iffy design and build quality that it largely played itself anyway, and his claim was always that, when he would have it serviced, he would leave little notes on it to prevent the technician from repairing the broken things that made interesting sounds. There's been a big return to analogue synthesis, but it's all seemingly guided by a desire to accurately capture a beloved synthesizer sound we've heard before, not to give us the ability to push our instruments until they break in musically-rewarding ways, which is what so many of the best sound-oriented musicians have done over the years. Where Eno was genius, and where he's really influenced some of the best musicians at work these days, was in pushing us to relish those unstable systems, and to create the instability and then tame it, as a way of producing sounds as good as more limited, but inherently more expressive, instruments.
posted by sonascope at 8:17 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


to push our instruments until they break in musically-rewarding ways

Interesting that such a willfully chaotic approach to "organized sound" has ultimately given us Ambient, our most peaceful, contemplative, spiritually transcendent genre. And the man behind it is an atheist.

I guess God believes in paradox.
posted by philip-random at 8:41 AM on January 19, 2010


most synthesizer players are now content to twist a frequency cutoff knob to visit a familiar musical trope instead of taking the time to learn their instrument.

You know it hadn't actually occurred to me that he was talking about actually PLAYING A SYNTHESIZER.

Everyone I know that uses them barely touches the keyboard, except to lay down some notes. All the work is done in the sequencer.
posted by empath at 8:57 AM on January 19, 2010


Isn't a lot of Eno's schtick that he manipulates sounds already produced, rather than necessarily coming up with new synth / electronic sounds?

Don't think so - during the eighties he put a lot of work into learning how to programme patches for the DX7, an infamously tricky thing to do, and came up with an awful lot of interesting sounds (rather than the bad piano sound that everyone else seemed to favour).
posted by Grangousier at 9:43 AM on January 19, 2010


Abba is exactly like Led Zeppelin, except that nobody in my High School had "ABBA" scrawled in marker on their denim jacket.
posted by ovvl at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2010


"Bono commits the crime of rising above your station. To [MetaFilter], it's the worst thing you can do. Bono is hated for doing something considered unbecoming for a pop star – meddling in things that apparently have nothing to do with him. [...] They don't mind in Italy. They like larger-than-life people there. In most places in the world they don't mind him. [On MetaFilter], they think he must be conning them."
posted by straight at 3:56 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


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