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Eno, Brian

Category: Musician or composer

 all the pictures on this page are by or of Eno

Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI (born 15 May 1948 and originally christened Brian Peter George Eno) is an English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, and visual artist. Eno has composed some unusual music as well as so called ‘pop’ music.  He composed the six-second start-up music-sound of the Windows 95 operating system, "The Microsoft Sound". 

He is best known for his pioneering work in ambient and electronic music as well as his influential contributions to music in general.  He is also a columnist for the British newspaper The Observer and runs the Obscure Records label in Britain to release works by lesser-known composers.

In 2011 Belgian academics from the Royal Museum for Central Africa named a species of Afrotropical spider Pseudocorinna brianeno in his honour.

 

Work and philosophical approach

One of the saddest things about western culture is how passive people have become about music.  The vast majority say they are not musical, meaning they cannot play a conventional musical instrument.  But in reality everyone is musical, because they enjoy and can appreciate music.  The cultural elitism that entered the music scene in the 1700s-1800s with music exams and critics, constant criticism of musicians who break new boundaries, has formed a society in which few actually make music or participate, when making music is one of the most joyful activities one can get involved in. 

But in Brian Eno a figurehead arose for a new approach, because he is a self-described "non-musician."

The concept of the musical non-musician

 

Brian is a talented artist and was all set to pursue a career in art.  Whilst studying at the Winchester School of Art, however, he attended a lecture by Pete Townshend of the Who about the use of tape machines by non-musicians, and suddenly he realised that anyone could make music, you didn’t have to go to music school or be trained as a musician.  There was also an almost instant realisation that anything could potentially be a musical instrument, and as such anyone could contribute to making music. 

This idea is key in music therapy and has helped heal a great number of damaged people, thus the concept of music for all is very key to the health of everyone.  St. Joseph's College teacher and painter Tom Phillips encouraged Eno, recalling "Piano Tennis" with Eno, in which, after collecting pianos, they stripped and aligned them in a hall, striking them with tennis balls. 

Theory not practise

 

Eno has advocated a methodology of "theory over practice" throughout his career, in other words it helps to understand the theoretical possibilities – changes of pitch, mode, and so on, but the idea that you must master a specific instrument and practice, practice, practice is not a necessary step in making music. The availability of computers and electronic instruments has helped this idea enormously.  And Eno has helped to introduce a variety of unique recording techniques and conceptual approaches into contemporary music.

Eno’s skill at using "The Studio as a Compositional Tool" (the title of an essay by Eno) led in part to his career as a producer. His methods were recognised at the time (mid-1970s) as unique, so much so that on Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, he is credited with 'Enossification'!

The liberalisation of music from the constrictions imposed by music schools, music teachers and old style music theorists has the potential to unleash a wave of creativity in people who may never have realised they could compose or make music. Eno himself has helped a vast number of people do just this, as a record producer or collaborator.

It has also somewhat turned the idea of a fixed orchestra or fixed band with set members on its head. 

The fluidity of the music makers

 

Eno has helped or worked with Roxy Music, Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay, Laurie Anderson, James, Grace Jones, Slowdive, James Blake, avant-garde artists such as John Cale, Jon Hassell, and Harold Budd, guitarist Robert Fripp, David Bowie, and has collaborated with David Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). 

In 1975, Eno provided synthesisers and treatments on Quiet Sun's Mainstream album and contributed songs and vocals to Manzanera's Diamond Head album.  He sang backing vocals on Anna Calvi's debut album, on the songs "Desire" and "Suzanne & I". Eno contributed a composition titled "Grafton Street" to Dido's third album, Safe Trip Home.  In 1983 he collaborated with his brother, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois on the album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. Tracks from the album are also used as part of the musical score for the Al Reinert film, For All Mankind (1989).  

All these interweaving collaborations should help to demonstrate the fluidity of music making today.  We no longer need or want one orchestra with its fixed musicians regurgitating a piece of music in a way the critics will applaud.  This passive model is the school model – not how creative can you be, but how much can you regurgitate to please the examiner and teacher.  It has no validity in a truly creative world.   Instead we have musicians and artists and maybe even the general public collaborating to produce genuinely creative music.  Stockhausen tried to involve people in spontaneous music, it is now for us all to follow his lead.  

It also shows that the idea of competition in music is a dead duck. 

Collaboration over competition

 

School and western society promote the idea of competition, endless competition, best this, best that, prizes, awards, grades, marks, titles and all judged by a single person.  This is totally and utterly counter-productive in any creative activity. 

It can also lead to massive disappointment as the person who has pleased the music jury fails to get any audience at all for their playing, and arts funding is diverted to people who perhaps only one person judges to be worthy.

It is not for one person to judge another on a supposed right or wrong style, or right or wrong approach to music making.  There is no right or wrong.  In the same way as there is no right or wrong way to produce art.  Some paintings appeal to some people, some don’t.  Music and art glide along cultural rails, both evolve together.  Thus music and art is a personal thing, entirely personal and although we have tried to put artists and musicians on this site who are spiritually inspired, their music and art is wildly different.

All creativity is spurred by the person’s own drive to be creative coupled by the need to work with great numbers of other creative people forming vast numbers of fluid ‘aggregates’, quickly forming and dissolving groups, all experimenting, innovating and improvising.  Every performance as a consequence is unique.

Co-operation and love instead of acrimony and conflict

 

There is also an important change in how the groups are formed.  In the old days, groups dissolved in acrimony, conflict appears to have been the mode by which they formed and separated.  But Brian has had no acrimonious splits, he continues to work with people he worked with earlier, when the opportunity arises.  For example, in May 2014, Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde released Someday World, featuring various guest musicians many of whom he had already worked with: Coldplay's Will Champion and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay to newer names such as 22-year-old Fred Gibson, who helped produce the record with Eno.

Music without borders

 
 
 

Another concept which is being made largely meaningless by the creative is that of ‘country’ and nationality.  Whilst cultural richness is important, the culture is not that of a fixed boundary piece of land.  Eno, for example, worked on the twelfth studio album by U2, with Daniel Lanois, and it was recorded in Morocco, the south of France and Dublin.  He has recorded with the Krautrock/Kosmische Musik group Harmonia at their studio in Forst, Germany.  He also appeared playing keyboards in Voila, Belinda Carlisle's solo album sung entirely in French.  Politics is thus at the moment a block on spiritual and artistic progress with its insistence on borders and controls, aggression, division, nationality and not culture.  It is worth noting that Eno worked with French–Algerian Raï singer Rachid Taha on Taha's Tékitoi (2004) and Zoom (2013) albums, contributing percussion, bass, brass and vocals and also performed with Taha at the Stop the War Coalition concert in London in 2005.

Everyone is a musician

 

Throughout his career, Eno has tried to demonstrate that the possibilities for music making by everyone are limitless.  During the 1990s, for example, Eno became increasingly interested in self-generating musical systems, the results of which he called generative music. The basic premise of generative music is the blending of several independent musical tracks, of varying sounds, length, and in some cases, silence. When each individual track concludes, it starts again mixing with the other tracks allowing the listener to hear an almost infinite combination. In one instance of generative music, Eno calculated that it would take almost 10,000 years to hear the entire possibilities of one individual piece. He has presented this music in his own, and other artists', art and sound installations, most notably I Dormienti (The Sleepers), Lightness: Music for the Marble Palace, Music for Civic Recovery Centre, The Quiet Room and Music for Prague.

Everyone should be given the chance to be a music maker and an artist.  And in order to reinforce this message, in early 2006 Eno collaborated with David Byrne, for the reissue of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. According to Wikipedia an ‘unusual interactive marketing strategy’ was employed for its re-release; except that it had nothing to do with marketing.  The album's promotional website features the ability for anyone to officially and legally download the multi-tracks of two songs from the album, "A Secret Life" and "Help Me Somebody". Listeners could then remix and upload new mixes of these tracks to the website so that others can listen to and rate them.  Everyone should be given the chance to be a music maker. 

Everyone is an artist

 

My husband says he’s not artistic, but his photos are extremely good – the compositions are always good and he has a very good eye for what is beautiful.  He also likes art.  So he is actually artistic, he just can’t draw – copy an image in other words and that is a technical not an artistic skill.  From this we can see that art is much the same as music, everyone is artistic and everyone is capable of producing art, it simply depends on which medium you choose.  Eno has produced a number of videos that challenge the way we view art.  Eno’s videos, such as Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan (1980) and Thursday Afternoon (1984), were labelled as 'Video Paintings.' He explained the genre title in the music magazine NME:

"I was delighted to find this other way of using video because at last here's video which draws from another source, which is painting... I call them 'video paintings' because if you say to people 'I make videos', they think of Sting's new rock video or some really boring, grimy 'Video Art'. It's just a way of saying, 'I make videos that don't move very fast."

Eno continued his video experimentation through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, leading to further experimentation linking with his generative works such as 77 Million Paintings in 2006.

All art is art, all creativity is creativity

 

The intellectuals have, over the years, segregated subjects into areas of specialisation.  One does geography, or history, or languages; one does art or music as ‘subjects’ in school.  But the landscape – the geography -  is affected by its people’s history, its language, its politics, its science, its religious beliefs, its culture art and music.  The split into subjects is not just meaningless, it is deeply harmful.  The world is a synthesis not a fragmentation.  We now have a population filled with specialists whose lack of understanding of the wider picture – renders them not just useless to society as a whole, but dangerous.  They think they are clever but are actually extraordinarily ignorant.

Brian Eno has taken the ‘arts’ as a whole – music, dance, painting, literature, poetry, film, sculpture, games and so on and shown how all can and should be integrated. Eno has done a great deal of work with David Byrne, who shares Eno’s philosophy.  They produced the musical score for The Catherine Wheel, for example, a project commissioned by Twyla Tharp to accompany her Broadway dance project of the same name.  He released Drums Between the Bells, a collaboration with poet Rick Holland.  He provided a film score for Herbert Vesely's Egon Schiele – Exzess und Bestrafung, also known as Egon Schiele – Excess and Punishment.  Eno's music was featured in a movie adaption of Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance and Eno scored the music for Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lovely Bones.

From the late 1970s to the present Eno, has also created art installations accompanied by his music.   In 2006 the software program 77 Million Paintings was developed and released for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. The program displays artwork by Eno, full screen, while his music plays. Eno also participated, as composer, with Chilvers as consultant, in the creation of the score for the video game Spore (2008) by Electronic Arts.

Thus via both collaboration and demonstration Brian seeks to explore creativity as a unity, not as a set of ‘subjects’.

 

Life

 

Brian Eno was born in 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, the son of Catholic parents William and Maria Eno (née Buslot), a Belgian-born woman whom William had met during his World War II service. The unusual surname Eno, long established in Suffolk, derives from the French Huguenot surname Hennot. Maria had already had a daughter (Brian's half-sister Rita), and together William and Maria would have two further children, Arlette and Roger.  Eno was educated at St Joseph's College, Ipswich, which was founded by the St John le Baptiste de la Salle order of Catholic brothers (from whom he took part of his name when a student there).

Catholicism can be a force for good or bad, as can all religion.  The retained ritual and ceremony, the continued use of symbols and the moral underpinnings are forces for good and it appears Brian absorbed what was good. 

Eno is deeply involved in what might be termed moral concerns and ‘good works’.  In 1996, he and others started the Long Now Foundation to educate the public about the very long-term future of society.  Between 8 January 2007 and 12 February 2007, ten units of Nokia 8800 Sirocco Brian Eno Signature Edition mobile phones, individually numbered and engraved with Eno's signature were auctioned off. All proceeds went to two charities chosen by Eno: the Keiskamma AIDS treatment program and The World Land Trust.  In 2013, Eno became a patron of Videre Est Credere (Latin for "to see is to believe"), a UK human rights charity. Videre describes itself as "give[ing] local activists the equipment, training and support needed to safely capture compelling video evidence of human rights violations. This captured footage is verified, analysed and then distributed to those who can create change."  And on 3 December 2015 Eno appeared in a filmed public forum in London, England, titled "Basic income: How do we get there?" about the benefits and need for a basic income. It was hosted by Basic Income UK and also included economist Frances Coppola and anthropologist David Graeber.

 

He describes himself as an ‘Evangelical atheist’, but it is clear from the interviews that this is actually something of a joke. What one believes is actually a private affair, and Brian is saying, back off.  Eno appeared, for example, as Father Brian Eno at the "It's Great Being a Priest!" convention, in "Going to America", the final episode of the television sitcom Father Ted, which originally aired on 1 May 1998 on Channel 4.  This is a comedy show, for those who do not know, which provides an affectionate dig at Catholicism.

 In one key interview, [in the observations] he describes the need to abandon ‘control’, to surrender to something bigger than oneself in order to achieve transcendence.  Brian Eno is thus an extremely spiritual person – not a ‘spiritualist’ – but a person who understands the source of all true inspiration.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in his use of ‘ambient music’.  While not the only inventor of ambient music, Eno is seen as a major contributor to the genre.

The Ambient Music Guide
Eno has brought from relative obscurity into the popular consciousness fundamental ideas about ambient music, including the idea of modern music as subtle atmosphere, as chill-out, as impressionistic, as something that creates space for quiet reflection or relaxation.

Or to put this more simply, music by which can promote the environment needed to have a spiritual experience, to meditate, to relax, to heal and be inspired.

He is also a ‘family man’.  In 1967, at the age of 18, Eno married his first wife Sarah Grenville. They had a daughter, Hannah, born in July 1967, before divorcing. But in 1988, Eno married his manager Anthea Norman-Taylor; they have two daughters, Irial and Darla and are still happily working together.

"I've often eulogised Eno's musical abilities," remarked Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, "but alongside his talent he's also a very nice guy. Sickening, isn't it?"

 

 

References

Solo studio albums

  • Here Come the Warm Jets (1973), Island
  • Taking Tiger Mountain (1974), Island
  • Another Green World (1975), Island
  • Discreet Music (1975), Obscure
  • Before and After Science (1977), Polydor
  • Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), Polydor
  • Music for Films (1978), Polydor
  • Ambient 4: On Land (1982), EG
  • Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983), E.G.
  • More Music for Films (1983), E.G.
  • Thursday Afternoon (1985), E.G.
  • Nerve Net (1992), Opal
  • The Shutov Assembly (1992), Warner Bros.
  • Neroli (1993), All Saints
  • The Drop (1997), Thirsty Ear
  • Another Day on Earth (2005), Hannibal
  • Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010), Warp
  • The Ship (2016), Warp

Ambient installation albums

  • Extracts from Music for White Cube, London 1997 (1997), Opal
  • Lightness: Music for the Marble Palace (1997), Opal
  • I Dormienti (1999), Opal
  • Kite Stories (1999), Opal
  • Music for Civic Recovery Centre (2000), Opal
  • Compact Forest Proposal (2001), Opal
  • January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now (2003), Opal
  • Making Space (2010), Opal
  • Lux (2012), Warp
  • The Ship (2016), Warp

Books and autobiographies

  • Eno, Brian, Russell Mills and Rick Poynor More Dark Than Shark (1986)
  • Eno, Brian A Year with Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno's Diary (1996)

Eno also wrote a chapter to Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture, edited by Paul D. Miller. 

Observations

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