INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo NOVEMBER 2003 - by Andrew Male
THE MOJO HALL OF FAME 100
#79: Brian Eno
Between 1973 and 1975 something altered in Brian Eno's relationship to music. Studying the work of such experimental artists as John Cage and Steve Reich, and listening to his friends' compilation tapes of similar sounding music, the former Roxy Music keyboardist noticed that everything was shifting to a background realm of 'mood' music. As a result, Eno began experimenting with the studio as instrument, crafting extended atmospheric pieces that the listener could enter or leave at will. With these new sound pictures and emotional documentaries Eno slid the idea of ambient electronic sound into the mainstream. Eventually, whether on KLF's Chill Out album or with such modern artists as Röyksopp, Zero and Aim, the mainstream caught up.
Recommended listening: Another Green World
BRIAN ENO CONSIDERS THAT WHOLE 'INVENTOR OF AMBIENT MUSIC' TAG
Where did your ambient music idea come from?
Well, there were two thoughts behind this. One was the idea that there was a lot going on in experimental music at the time - John Cage, Steve Reich - that I was interested in and could listen to it in the same way as pop music. I didn't have to put on a different set of ears. But the other thing I think is very important was that around the turn of the '70s it was the first time you could really start to think of the studio as a musical instrument. That really was the centre of all this.
But didn't your friends' listening habits have something to do with this?
Well, records were still coming out with a fast track, a slow track, fast track, slow track, yet more and more what people wanted to do was compile long cassettes of very similar sounding music. They wanted long moods, something they weren't finding on records.
Wasn't this also about shifting music from the foreground to the background?
That was a continual issue. One of the things you could do with a recording studio is have quite different ways of integrating instruments with one another. You could change the hierarchy, the timbre and spatial location. I wanted to try and make it so that the voice didn't have to be so focal.
So, did you invent ambient music? Do we owe 'chill out' to you?
I was certainly grateful for the name-check. I just knew from my own experience that people listen. Those things meant a lot to me, even though the albums made little impact on music until the late '80s. I knew a lot of people who played them all the time, as atmosphere for working. Critics, people who write about popular and rock music didn't see it as part of the story at all. But the people that I knew, the listeners I knew, had no trouble at all in listening to so-called ambient records.