INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Del Rock JUNE 27, 2005 - by Riccardo Bertoncelli
RICCARDO BERTONCELLI INTERVIEWS BRIAN ENO
Not all of Brian Eno's many album releases are an event, but this one is. This may be his most important record since 1992's Nerve Net, even if it's for completely different reasons. Then he was celebrating the new music of a new world, savage, dissonant, fluid, evanescent, unbound; now he has returned to the much-maligned song format.
This is Another Day On Earth, eleven songs - not all new (Under, for example, has been floating around in his archives for ages) - that the creator wanted to present to Italy in the fairy-tale setting of the Albereta, the ralais & chateau in Franciacorta that hosts, amongst other things, Gualtiero Marchesi's restaurant. Eno is in brilliant form, positive and open, even if a birth-year of 1948 makes him close to being able to claim a pension. In fact he has never been more active and full of ideas. As he will tell us, in terms of his satisfaction with the album he found it accurate but not really memorable, at least not when compared to his best work. If comparisons are made with his previous collection of songs (1990's Wrong Way Up, in collaboration with John Cale), the results are positive, given how pale that forgotten little work was; but if we're looking for something to compare to his albums from the '70s with a young, arch, on fire Eno hunting mountain tigers, well, then we've got problems. That musician was far more fanciful and unconstrained, like a chemist working with test-tubes in his laboratory who occasionally made fabulous discoveries.
Maybe in those early days Eno found it easier to merge music with words or maybe, simply, he believed in it more; because these days the words he expends within the song format are of skepticism if not profound diffidence. Music has changed enormously in the past decade but songs haven't, they've remained the same; the model used today is tired, old-hat, somewhat infantile. Think of how the sounds and timbres of instruments have changed in the past fifty years: the guitar, the drums. The voice hasn't, the voice has stayed the same. Songs are still seen as an expression of the singer's personality; well, I find that this is not a very interesting road to take, artistically. I do not want to express my personality, neither do I wish to express a message. Moreso, in a song I want to create a setting for my fantasies. I want to interpret various parts like an actor in a theatre, on that little stage that a record can be. And whoever listens has to listen to a voice, not me.
Listening to Another Day On Earth one becomes aware of a small obstacle, a non-naturalness. Music and words are not effectively fused but only superimposed, because I'm not Bob Dylan, I think that he's the only one capable of strumming chords and writing lyrics at the same time; I design the music first, what I call my three-minute worlds, then I write the words being careful not to be explicit but moreover allusive. I have to pay a lot of attention: words render the music much smaller. They imprison, they take away power. However, there's a lyric that seems to be an exception to the rule and it's no accident that Eno has put it at the end of the album. It's called Bone Bomb and it evokes the dramatic story of a Palestinian suicide-bomber. It's a part of the human tragedy of our times, says Eno, struck by the unresolved paradoxes of these sombre events. The female bomber's bone fragments that strike the body of the victim are a terrible example of integration, in the most shocking and violent way.
Bone Bomb might be the first single from my album of songs, explains Eno, with a malicious air that couldn't be more cutting. His agenda is full, at least for the next few months. There are, naturally, sound installations to attend to in various parts of Europe and elsewhere: at the Biennale of Lyon, in Monaco, in St Petersburg and even in Peking, a city which intrigues Eno very much and where, by chance, the photo for the cover of Another Day On Earth was taken. There are various lateral projects: a spoken-word album with sound montages, then an orchestral version of a neglected record which he rates highly, The Shutov Assembly, and also a surprise collaboration with Paul Simon for his new record, provisionally titled Musical Palette - lift your hand up if you were expecting that! It could be one of the discographic events of the coming season. Amongst the projects in the works is also the music for the opening ceremony for the next World Cup of football, Germany 2006. A fascinating challenge that perplexes him somewhat. I wouldn't want to be an accomplice to the imbecility that's part of sport and that has fed it in recent years. I'm not anti-sport as such but it amazes me that people can spend an entire day talking about football and football only. Where I come from is like that: the youth spend their time gathered around a TV discussing the players and managers. Football today is what someone once said of religion: the opium of the masses.
But it seems it's for outside of the strictly musical sphere that Eno is reserving most of his energy. He is working on an update to his legendary book of the mid-'90s, A Year (With Swollen Appendices), and is preparing an essay (a little one, though, a small book that can be read in a single night) about contemporary art and what defines cultural ecology.
It's an area in which, to make a comparison to science, we're still in the pre-Darwinian era. We're stuck in old categories and hierarchies, obsolete classifications. It's necessary to find a model that reconnects all the elements in a new way. Curiosity and community engagement have pushed Eno to the borders of politics. With a work group that operates primarily on the Internet, New Experiments In Democracy, he is involved in a campaign to introduce a proportional representation system to England. That's the way of the world: for years we've been obsessed with the opposite idea of importing the British majority voting system into Italy. When I tell him, his eyes open wide and he lets out a big laugh.
The sky above the Albereta has darkened and Eno has a dry throat from all the talking; since early in the morning he has patiently subjected himself to a round of interviews. His manager, a courteous, steely Saxon resembling Miss Rottermeier, invites him to close the interview. But a moment, a final question - a fundamental one. Is it possible to ask of the inventor of ambient music if he feels responsible for so much useless, even embarrassing music of that type that is currently in vogue? A smile escapes him and the hint of a nod. Ah, he limits himself to saying, I respond only from my music, the rest is someone else's business.