INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Australian Broadcasting Commission MAY 31, 2009 - by Andrew Frost
ANDREW FROST: Brian Eno, thanks for joining me. How do you organise something like Luminous Festival? Where do you actually start?
BRIAN ENO: Well, first of all, you have a lot of help. I'm happy to say that the Opera House has been very helpful and I've had my own team working in London on it. So, it started actually, with a very simple request - which was to build the big installation that I have downstairs, that you may have seen. And then, things started to get added to that. So, a lecture got added. Then, a sort of more complicated lecture kind of lecture got added. Then, the idea of actually having some friends playing got added. And then, suddenly, it became... a festival.
ANDREW FROST: It sounds like a very organic process of organising it, but was there a guiding principle that you were working with?
BRIAN ENO: I think the principle was that I wanted to put together things that I felt were pushing some kind of cultural edge, were doing something that people here might not have heard about. Something that I've felt personally interested in and something that seemed to be pushing the envelope in some way or another. So, a lot of these people, I've... well, several of these people I've either worked with or have some sort of musical kinship with. Others are just people who've had a very big influence on me, whose music doesn't seem to have any connection at all necessarily. For example, the African, Seun Kuti, who's the son of Fela Kuti, Fela was probably my biggest influence throughout my musical life, though, I don't think it's clear in my music where that influence... it doesn't show as music, it shows really more as an approach to music, I think. So, Seun is coming and I'm sure he's slightly baffled as to why he's here as part of this festival, but I think it will become clear to him.
ANDREW FROST: It's interesting too, that I guess when I first heard the idea that you were doing this festival that it occurred to me that it would all be music, but there are lectures and talks and things like that. What are their purpose? What are they there for?
BRIAN ENO: Well, I think the other thing I want to show is, apart from using my own show here to try to indicate that there's a new area between music and visual art, where the two seamlessly cross and quite happily marry together. So, that was one boundary I want to finally get rid of. Another boundary I wanted to question was the one between artistic work and intellectual work, if you like. So, the idea that they shouldn't cross. I think there's a terrible prejudice in the arts against articulacy, actually. There's a something of suspicion of if people can talk well, or think about their work, they couldn't be proper artists, because artists are supposed to be, sort of, passionate, inarticulate people who dredge things from the primitive centre of their being. And, you know, well, I think that is part of being an artist. I don't think that's the whole story, by any means.
ANDREW FROST: I would have thought that the contemporary art world is over-articulate, in a sense.
BRIAN ENO: Well, it's it's over-inarticulate. I mean, the worst writing in the world comes out of the contemporary art world, without any doubt, there's nothing worse in terms of sheer, er... incoherence, actually. First of all, the inability to express a thought clearly, and secondly, the lack of any thoughts. So, you have no thoughts inarticulately expressed. It really is the worst writing you can get. So, that's the kind of articulacy I don't trust.
ANDREW FROST: And who for you is the visitor to Luminous who is the ideal visitor to these talks and also to the music and so on.
BRIAN ENO: Well, that remains to be seen. I think that... there's such a range of material here that it's going to attract a lot of different people. There are people who'd come to one thing who would never go to that thing, you know. So, what I'm hoping a little bit is that people who would come to that might now consider going to that because they're all placed under the same umbrella.
ANDREW FROST: Is curating an art form? Is it a creative act?
BRIAN ENO: I think curators have become... I'd make no claims as a curator, by the way, this is the only time I've ever done it. But, good curators really are the...a new form of storyteller, in that what they're doing is saying - "Here's a group of cultural objects, I claim that they're related in some way." That's what curation is. It's claiming a relationship between things. So, you know, the history of art is full of stories of art developing linearly, like, you know, Braque led to Picasso and Picasso led to this person and that person, da da da. As if there was a sort of cause and effect, a chain like that. But actually, the interesting thing about modern art is that that clearly isn't the case. There's a whole field of things going on and that field includes, you know, photography, ceramics, performance, painting, sculpture, music, sound art, whatever. And the job of the curator is to try to say, "I think this story is interesting, to weave one pattern through all of that field and another curator weaves that pattern.
ANDREW FROST: I read an interview with you many years ago, where you said you didn't much like reggae, but...
BRIAN ENO: That's not true.
ANDREW FROST: Not true.
BRIAN ENO: No. What I said, I have to make this clear.
ANDREW FROST: OK.
BRIAN ENO: I think I was one of the first people who was really into reggae, especially dub reggae. And, in fact, I remember playing it in 1973, playing, or '74, playing Bucky Skank, which is a Lee Perry, one of his most extreme experiments. I remember playing it to a group a journalists who absolutely didn't get it. They were completely scratching their heads and thinking, "What is this music, where does it come from?" Who, only two years later, were smoking trumpet-shaped joints to the very same record. So, what happened was that then, in the late '70s, a few groups came out that were, sort of, white boys doing reggae. What I said is that I don't particularly like that kind of reggae.
ANDREW FROST: It wasn't a blanket condemnation of the...
BRIAN ENO: No, no. I... it's one of the most extraordinary musical forms that has developed over the last fifty years.
ANDREW FROST: I would have thought that a lot of your music would share a lot with Perry in terms of production, the use of space and sound and that sort of thing.
BRIAN ENO: Well, he's one of the... sort of icons of this idea that I go on about of understanding the studio is the musical instrument of the time. Just like the orchestra was the musical instrument of the eighteenth century. The recording studio is the musical instrument of the late twentieth century. And Lee Perry is definitely one of the five top people in understanding that, I think.
ANDREW FROST: It would seem to me then, that Battles are the complete antithesis of that kind of music. You know, it's called math rock. But it's almost regimented and orchestrated In a way that reggae doesn't seem to be.
BRIAN ENO: Well, but I'll tell you what is interesting about Battles, is that their work is very, very much centred around the technology that evolved from recording studios. For instance, they use these little loop boxes, line 4s and line 6s and so on, there's this whole little family of digital instant recording devices, which they use as performance devices. As does Reggie Watts, funnily enough. The comedian. So, what they're doing comes directly out of the recording studio experience, and they do a sort of dirty model of it. So, I would say I bet you if you asked anyone in battles what they thought of Lee Perry, they'd all kneel down immediately. They're very much in his tradition, I think.
ANDREW FROST: For Luminous you'll be projecting colours and patterns onto the sails of the Opera House. You've said that this idea of painting with light comes from European tradition of light shows on buildings, that cities are no longer about architecture, cities are about atmosphere. What did you mean by that?
BRIAN ENO: Well, I think it became clear to me when about twenty years ago the Lloyd's Building in London, which was designed by Richard Rogers, was opened, and everybody absolutely loved it. But what they loved, funnily enough, was not the architecture so much but the fact that the whole building was bathed in a deep blue light. And it was stunning. Nobody had seen a building lit like that before. And if you ask people, "So, what does the building look like?" they couldn't remember except that it was deep blue. And I thought, "Yeah, this is really a future of architecture," that you build, I'm not saying his was a non-descript building, but you make a building as a place where something can happen, not as a kind of monument standing on its own, but as a screen, effectively. And then you show things on it and in it. And so I think that when people go to a city the old way of going to a city is, "You go to the Vatican and take pictures of St Peters, and you cross off the Trevi Fountain and so on," you religiously sort of walk around and take your pictures of everything. That's finished. I think what people want now is to have an experience of immersion of some kind. They want to be somewhere and feel they're in it. And light is the best way of doing that, actually. Light's a very cheap way of completely changing the feeling of a place, as any theatre director will tell you.
ANDREW FROST: Your installation work 77 Million Paintings is in Luminous, and it's one of a number of works you've done over the years using generative processes, could you explain what you mean by 'generative' in this context?
BRIAN ENO: Yes. So, I suppose what I mean by it is that the responsibility of the artist becomes inventing a system that produces his work rather than just producing the work. So, for example, I could do one painting. I have done in the past. Or I could invent a system of producing lots and lots and lots of paintings, which is sort of what I've done here in this work. So, all of the original material in that I made by hand, or photographically or the computer. And the machine which is the software that runs this, essentially is re-combining those things, shuffling together, so it's producing a huge variation. I mean, in one day that thing will produce more separate pictures than an artist could produce in a lifetime. So, that artist might say, "Yeah, but they're not as good as mine." Which may be a good argument.
ANDREW FROST: What sort of reactions have you had to the work? I mean, does it depend on whether you view it in a gallery setting or at home on your computer?
BRIAN ENO: Well, these big shows of course are always in a public setting because you can't really do them at home unless you have nine plasma screens.
ANDREW FROST: I mean, there is sort of DVD version?
BRIAN ENO: Yeah, there's a home version. There's a home version which you can run on your computer. In fact, this really started with the home version. I was walking home from my studio one evening in London's fashionable Notting Hill, and I looked in a window and there was a dinner party going on, twelve people at the table, and on the wall was a huge plasma screen that big, and black of course, there's nothing you can show. You're not going to have the news showing or the television. And I thought, "That should be a painting there." So, that was the first intention - was to make something that would occupy that new cultural space. Just like music for airports, you know, this was occupying a new cultural space. And so here's a space, why aren't we artists making use of it? I mean, this is very obviously connected with some of the music I've been doing, which is intended to install into a house or into a space, and create an atmosphere there. So, I think of these things really as visual music. So, the first intention was to make something that would become a slowly changing painting in your room, so you wouldn't have to watch television any longer. Which of course is the aim of most of my work - to persuade people there's something else they can do with their screens.
ANDREW FROST: Brian Eno, thank you very much.
BRIAN ENO: Thank you.