One Brain to record them all
May 15, 2018 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno turns 70 today. Rolling Stone has a nifty tribute, as does Pitchfork, but I've used my copy of Oblique Strategies to put this together. Don't blame me, blame 15 year old me.

What are you really thinking about just now? "In August 1992, Eno drew a crowd of 1,500 to Sadler's Wells for a lecture, washed down with music and slides, entitled "Perfume, Defence and David Bowie's Wedding". The first part was about smells and how to mix them, a longstanding interest; the second was about the defence industry ("this is increasingly the way that governments explore new technologies"); the third was a firsthand account of the blessing of David Bowie's second marriage, to Iman, in a church in Florence. "You couldn't tell what was sincere and what was theatre," Eno reported. "It was very touching." In that lecture, Eno gave his definition of culture: "everything you don't have to do." Thus cuisine is culture, but eating is not; fashion is, but clothing isn't. The great thing about the definition is that it covers both the common senses of the word - culture meaning art, and culture as in the ways that a group of people have in common." (50 Eno Moments)

Give way to your worst impulse: Live version of Seven Deadly Finns. So seventies. Much beret.

In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly: "In January this year I had an accident. I was not seriously hurt, but I was confined to bed in a stiff and static position. My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 18th century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realized that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn't the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music ..." (notes) (music)

Lowest common denominator: "The aesthetic theory that underlies the work of Brian Eno is to be found here. In his work, the music is slowed down to almost reach the immobility of painting, while this is moved along, almost magically, to the element of time. So, in the intermediate point between music and painting, in that center that always escapes to the structuring of the composition, the magic happens. Charmingly, certainly unexpected, music and painting meet. ..." (Light Music)

Define an area as "safe" and use it as an anchor: "Grotesque Tables II, itself an anagram of Oblique Strategies, are now available through a website created by New York based artist and conceptual musician Noah Wall. Taking 50 of the original 113 strategies, Wall reworked these helpful ideas into blissful abstractions. The results of his work are pretty wild, altering Eno and Schmidt's suggestions such as "Use filters" and "Breathe more deeply" and "Be less critical more often," into wonderfully bizarre phrases like "Let fissure" and "Elope by mere thread," and "Be frictionless latecomer." The cards even come with a Eno-approved blurb: "Let the Oblique Strategies fissure into a million wonderful variants, of which this is the first." (OS rebooted)

Simple subtraction: "In July 1975, Brian Eno found himself a few days and several thousand dollars into a studio booking with nearly nothing to show for it. It wasn’t that he had too few ideas, but too many. ..." (Pitchfork review of Another Green World) (music)


Repetition is a form of change: "All of our musical experience is based on the the possibility of repetition, and of portability, so you can move music around to where you want to be, and scrutiny, because repetition allows scrutiny. You can go into something and hear it again and again. That’s really produced quite a different attitude to what is allowable in music. I always say that modern jazz wouldn’t have existed without recording, because to make improvisations sound sensible, you need to hear them again and again, so that all those little details that sound a bit random at first start to fit. You anticipate them and they seem right after a while. So in a way, the apps and the generative music are borrowing from all of the technology that has evolved in connection with recorded music and making a new kind of live, ephemeral, unfixable music. It’s a quite interesting historical moment." (2017 Pitchfork interview)

Emphasize the flaws: Wilhelm Tell Overture with the Portsmouth Sinfonia.

Discard an axiom: I couldn't find a good match for this one that wasn't gracelessly repetitive, so I'll stop here.
posted by maudlin (30 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Simply love it.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 2:31 PM on May 15, 2018

Eno's first four vocal albums from the 70s are each remarkable works and inexplicably unknown except among the self-defining set of "musical hipsters who obsessively follow Brian Eno."

They are: and they're filled with bizarre sensibility, clever wordplay, and terrific musicianship from Eno and a killer group of friends. They've aged astonishingly well compared to other avant-garde music from that era and still sound pretty fresh today. If you haven't ever checked them out but have only heard music that he has produced I recommend giving them a try.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:35 PM on May 15, 2018 [24 favorites]

Oft-used in crosswords....clever wordplay indeed.
posted by chavenet at 2:42 PM on May 15, 2018

I really enjoyed reading his book A Year With Swollen Appendices, a diary of the year 1995 published in 1996.
posted by larrybob at 2:43 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding A Year With Swollen Apendices.

Happy birthday Eno!
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:53 PM on May 15, 2018

I'll throw in my vote for Wrong Way Up as another wonderful and oft-overlooked album of Eno's (with John Cale).
posted by dylanjames at 3:01 PM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic. Well done!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:03 PM on May 15, 2018

Nice one. Thanks maudlin!
Happy Birthday Mr. Eno!
I'm pretty sure all of my favorite tracks are already linked.
So here's a link to Thursday Afternoon
posted by evilDoug at 3:05 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Was just listening to Ambient 1/Music for Airports. (SL YouTube) Simple and beautiful.
posted by young_simba at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2018

Here Come The Warm Jets remains my favorite Eno album. I was listening to that a lot while getting into postmodern literary theory and they went well hand in hand. As well as Einsturzende Neubauten.

I recall reading about how the sessions were more or less what would have happened had Bryan Ferry left Roxy Music rather than Brian, and in particular the song Dead Finks Don't Talk leading one of the musicians to explain something along the lines of, "are you trying to get us fired?!"

I enjoy Music For Airports but have increasingly turned to Bang On A Can Allstars live version of it as soothing nighttime music.
posted by Candleman at 3:44 PM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Even Library Journal appreciates Brian Eno and ambient music.

Eno is also an eloquent supporter of unconditional basic income as a potential facilitator of creative genius - or, as he calls it, "scenius".
posted by velvet winter at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2018

Another post which could have done with a preëmptive “this is not an obituary” flag.
posted by acb at 4:01 PM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

C'mon you had to post Portsmouth Sinfonia, but didn't choose Also Sprach Zarathustra?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Only yesterday I was listening to this talk to the Edinburgh College of Art from 2016.

Also, recently, Adam Buxton's interview - part one, part two

And the programme The Thing Is... an Interview, where Paul Morley simultaneously deconstructs TV interviews and talks to Eno. A lot of Channel 4 was like this once, and I miss it, frankly.
posted by Grangousier at 4:20 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was legit obsessed with Eno's 70s albums when I was a teenager, but eventually lost them to media migration. I should see if I can pick them up reasonably.
posted by tavella at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2018

One of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona last year was to see his lightboxes and other assorted works with light and music (some of them interactive) at Arts Santa Monica. He's another one (like Bowie) whose name I knew of but didn't recognize how much of his work I'd known until I was ~15 or so.

And did Nam June Paik work on this one with him in '73? It's one of my favorites.
posted by droplet at 4:29 PM on May 15, 2018

As a teenager I was completely in love with his music in that way only a fervent teenage girl can be. A few years ago I posted about my teenage-self meeting and having a conversation with him in the pitch black during one of his Art Installations in San Francisco called Latest Flames. It was the highlight of my teenage life & I cannot believe that was 30 freaking years ago.

He still makes me happy. Happy Birthday, Brian.
posted by trixare4kids at 4:44 PM on May 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

That's an odd thing - it's a shock to realise how long ago various seminal Eno moments were - hearing Warm Jets for the first time, or John Peel playing Music For Airports when it came out (yes, he did. I think he played one track a night for four nights, but that could be me inventing a more congenial past). Hearing Deep Blue Day and An Ending (Ascent) from Apollo on a Saturday afternoon when it was released. Or his return to songs on Nerve Net and Wrong Way Up. And Another Day on Earth, which is the new one in my mind, and it's already thirteen years old.

I met him once, sort of. He was an external examiner at the art school I went to. I probably only went to art school because of him, but sadly I was very shit at it. He bummed a terrible art-student cigarette off me. He's quite small.
posted by Grangousier at 4:59 PM on May 15, 2018

Happy birthday! And, thank you for three great Talking Heads albums and DEVOs first album.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

When my youngest daughter was an infant, we found we could get her to sleep using Brian Eno’s Bloom app by plugging an iPod Touch into the stereo. I will always be grateful.
posted by 4ster at 5:30 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

/me Draws Oblique Strategies card:

What to increase? What to reduce?
posted by grimjeer at 6:27 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sheppard's bio is swell if you need further Enossification, lots of fun trivia. 2 points to note, he is very good at melody; and he sets limits to noodling.
posted by ovvl at 6:33 PM on May 15, 2018

6 1965: aged 17, becomes a time traveller.
posted by unliteral at 7:11 PM on May 15, 2018

Oops! just realised that is from the Eno turns 50 article.
posted by unliteral at 7:13 PM on May 15, 2018

I, too, have a copy of A Year with Swollen Appendices, and I have just found this missing entry (via EnoWeb):
31 June: Woke with a slight headache after dinner with David and Iman last night. Evening followed the usual pattern: everything cooked with a generous dash of Tia Maria and then David insisted on a game of Strip Pictionary. I had shed three camouflage jackets and he was down to his frilly clown costume when one of the waiters came over with the manager, and we were asked us to leave. Only David could get thrown out of his own flat by the caterers. ...
Full PDF is here. Oh my God, just keep going through the Tangents item in the top menu of EnoWeb. Why did I not find a place to put this site in my original post?
posted by maudlin at 7:26 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Who's that shuffling off to the congo?
Who's that playing snake guitar?
Who's the man who might find himself?
Everyone knows it's ENO!
posted by onesidys at 8:16 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Golden Hours", from Another Green World, is quite possibly the greatest music ever written for when you're coming down at 4am.

Seriously. Go try it next time.
posted by aramaic at 9:07 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Concurring opinion on Nerd of the North, above: Those albums' reputation as "avant garde" does them a disservice. Not only are they beautiful, but they are far more accessible than that descriptor implies.
posted by whuppy at 9:22 AM on May 16, 2018

Eno's first four vocal albums from the 70s are each remarkable works and inexplicably unknown except among the self-defining set of "musical hipsters who obsessively follow Brian Eno."

I was a teenager in the late 1970s, and these are the Eno albums that I know best of his work! I seem to recall reading that the Robert Fripp guitar solo in "Baby's On Fire" was voted the best guitar solo of the 1970s by somebody or other.

My favourite quotation of his: "Instead of shooting arrows at somebody else's target... I make my own target around wherever my arrow has happened to have landed."
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:29 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Happy Birthday you "Ol' Sour Puss".
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:39 AM on May 17, 2018

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