BRIAN ENO - A BIOGRAPHY
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (born Brian Peter George Eno on May 15, 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk) is an English electronic musician, music theorist and record producer. As a solo artist, he is probably best known as the father of ambient music.
Eno was educated at the St. Joseph's College, Birkfield, Ipswich (where he adopted the names Jean-Baptiste de la Salle as the school was run by that order of Catholic brethren), Ipswich Art School and the Winchester School of Art, graduating from the latter in 1969. While at art school, he developed an interest in using tape recorders as musical instruments, and he experimented with his first (sometimes improvisational) bands. While at Ipswich, his interest in music was encouraged by one of his teachers, the painter Tom Phillips. Phillips recalls devising "Piano Tennis" with Eno in which, after having amassed a number of second-hand pianos they stripped them and lined them up in a hall striking tennis balls at them. Obviously, as Phillips suggests, "the scoring shots were the best noises." And it was through Phillips that Eno became involved in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra. The first released recording Eno was involved with as a musician is the Deutsche Grammophon edition of Cardew's The Great Learning (recorded in February 1971). Eno is one of the many voices to be heard in The Scratch Orchestra's recital of Cardew's Paragraph 7.
Eno started his professional musical career in London, as a member of the glam/art-rock band Roxy Music, working with them from 1971 to 1973. As a self-described "non-musician," Eno performed from behind the mixing desk at the band's earliest live shows, where his efforts went way beyond the usual balancing of the volume levels: he would alter the sounds by processing the other band members' instruments through his VCS3 synthesizer, tape recorders and other electronic devices, frequently singing backing vocals as well. Eno soon joined the rest of Roxy Music on stage, where his flamboyant costumes became a hallmark of the band's visual appeal. Eno left the group after completing the tour to promote their second album, the legendary For Your Pleasure. By Eno's later account, his departure was partially the result of disagreements with Roxy's lead singer and principal songwriter, Bryan Ferry, and partially due to his growing boredom with the life of a touring rock star.
Leaving Roxy Music in 1973, he began his solo career with the album Here Come The Warm Jets. Eno has released a string of critically acclaimed records, and over the years his work has been compiled on two 'Best Of's and three Boxed Sets. As well as Eno's own albums, he has collaborated with the likes of John Cale, Nico, Robert Fripp and the band James. His co-writing and playing on David Bowie's Low, "Heroes" and Lodger helped define the sound of this classic trilogy. After having produced U2's The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Zooropa, he formed a loose collective with members of the band and other artists (including Luciano Pavarotti and Howie B.) to write and record Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1, released in October, 1995.
Brian Eno is also one of the most significant record producers of our age. His ability to steer artists into radical new areas was first made obvious on the three albums he made with Talking Heads, culminating in Remain In Light in 1980. By this time he had also produced the seminal compilation of New York's New Wave, No New York, and Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. In the 1980s he applied his gear-changing skills to U2, helping an already great stadium rock band turn into the most original and creatively challenging mega-band since The Beatles. Other production credits range from Real World artist Geoffrey Oreyema to the band James as well as singer Jane Siberry and performance artist Laurie Anderson. In 1994/95 he resumed working with one of his most famous collaborations, playing on Bowie's 1.Outside.
A pioneer in tape-looping and other early forms of sonic manipulation, Eno's work with Robert Fripp in the early 1970s (No Pussyfooting and Evening Star), signalled a determination to look beyond the conventional song format. His unusual, strategic approach to music-making (more likely to involve drawing a diagram than writing down chord changes) was made clear with the 1975 publication of Oblique Strategies - a set of problem-solving cards for artists. Also in 1975, Eno released Discreet Music, naming the new genre he had discovered 'ambient'. Bringing the ideas of John Cage to a pop audience, the true significance of Eno's landmark ambient releases (including Music For Airports and Thursday Afternoon) only became apparent in the early 1990s when ambient exploded into the charts and into a range of new hybrid musical forms. Eno also pioneered sampling and the use of found sounds on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, a collaboration with David Byrne released in 1981; again it would be some years before the rest of the world fully cottoned on to these ideas. Eno's instrumental works continue, with The Shutov Assembly released in 1992 and the minimal masterpiece Neroli in 1993. His composition for Derek Jarman's Glitterbug soundtrack was processed by Jah Wobble and released as Spinner in October '95.
Like all good rock musicians, Eno went to art school. Unlike most of the rest of his peers, he continues to work in the visual medium as well as in sound. His video installations have been exhibited at galleries around the world, including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Venice Biennale; the Pompidou Centre in Paris as well as a permanent exhibition opened in October, 1995 in Austria's Swarovski Museum. Combining sound and cinema, Eno's works create an alternative environment for the gallery-goer, just as his ambient albums create a sense of space for the listener. Now visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, Eno collaborated with Laurie Anderson and some of his students earlier in '95 for the Self-Storage installation in Wembley, London.
Brian Eno's "generative music" came into fruition in 1996. His long-time interest in self-evolving compositions resulted in the creation of Generative Music 1 using Sseyo Koan software. Eno sees this as the most exciting of his musical outputs: it is never heard the same way twice.
During the late '90s Eno concentrated largely on his video and light 'sculptures'. The ensuing recordings - Lightness, Kite Stories, and I Dormienti - are edited versions of the various sound tapes and loops which he used as the aural accompaniment for his installations.
Brian Eno's collaboration with J. Peter Schwalm, entitled Music For Onmy-Oji, was released in May 2000, followed by Music For Civic Recovery Centre, from his installation at the The Hayward Gallery in England. 2001 saw the appearance of Compact Forest Proposal, from his installation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Drawn From Life, Eno's second collaboration with Schwalm.
Eno returned in June of 2005 with Another Day On Earth, his first major album since Wrong Way Up (with John Cale) to prominently feature vocals. The album is different from his '70s solo work, as musical production has changed since then, as is evident in its semi-electronic production.
What Eno brings to all his work is an ability to take ideas from one area of life and apply them to another. Thus, his ambient music resulted from applying ideas that were floating around the classical world and applying them to new instruments and recording technology.
Similarly his production technique is more akin to the way a management consultant works than the way a conventional record producer works; that is, rather than sit behind a mixing desk for months on end, Eno likes to pop in regularly, but only occasionally, enough to steer the project, but not so much that he can't hear the music with a fresh pair of ears.
Brian Eno is not, as most people seem to believe, some kind of a boffin. He has very little interest in new technology for its own sake, preferring tools that you can get a result out of now, this minute, without studying the manual.