"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

New Musical Express MARCH 10, 1973 - by Ian MacDonald


Brian Eno speaks about his musical progenitors.

LA MONTE YOUNG: X For Henry Flint. This was the first piece of music I ever performed from a score - and the first piece that, having performed, I felt really convinced that I'd made music. In terms of technique it's very simple to play but it's extremely beautiful to listen to. I don't think it's been recorded.

EARLY '60s AMERICAN MOODY ROCK: I'd like to mention the following records under this heading -

Easier Said Than Done by THE ESSEX
The Mountain's High by DICK AND DEE DEE
The Lion Sleeps Tonight by THE TOKENS
Mission Bell by THE DELLS
Little Star by THE ELEGANTS

For me these records amalgamate into a general set of experiences I was having at the time; they're very much connected with my adolescence and form the first body music that had an emotional meaning for me. The quality of sound is very strange and elusive - possibly due to the primitive recording techniques of the time.

BUDDY HOLLY: Wait Til The Sun Shines Nellie. For many years he was easily my favourite performer and this track epitomises the kind of mood I liked to get from him. It's quite a difficult record to obtain and has the same peculiar sound shared by the previous category: completely anti-natural, very electronic, and full of echo. In particular, these records tend to use percussion as a tonal, rather than a rhythmic element - by putting echo on it which is something nobody seems to do these days.

CORNELIUS CARDEW: Schooltime Compositions. As with X For Henry Flint, it's unrecorded. I went to a performance of it which spanned two nights and was impressed that Cardew had got eight or nine different scores being performed at the same time, each of which represented a compositional system in modern music.

SYSTEMS MUSIC: In this category I include that sort of music constructed to a strict and fairly simple system which is concerned with the phasing of sets of musical events over one another. A good example is In C by Terry Riley, where a number of musicians move independently from repeating separate bars moving in and out of phase with each other and this creating an infinite variety of combinations within a finite piece. I use the same ideas myself - and there's another piece by Steve Reich I'd like to mention in this context which is called It's Gonna Rain. Here a tape of a preacher speaking the title is played back on two recorders at fractionally different speeds by means of loops - so they begin to get out of phase with each other. And, within twenty minutes of the piece, there's every kind of configuration of the basic material: those three words.

Which is another reason I like this kind of music - sheer economy of means. But the main point of interest is that the more simple and repetitive the elements of a piece of music, the more works the brain does in investing it with meaning. Most people would call a lot of the music I like monotonous because of this characteristic of repetition, but what actually happens is that the ears being to reject the common elements of a repeated sounds so that you aren't hearing the repetition, but the minute differences which happen every time. After sufficient time has elapsed, it's as if your brain has systematically rejected what's obvious and mundane, and you're hearing it in a way far more acute than that engendered by much of the more conventionally 'interesting' music.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: Self-titled third album. This is my favourite album ever. It was a turning point in my appreciation of all kinds of music and, in terms of rock, it was the first thing that turned my head since Holly and Moody Rock. I find it so overpowering that I've never been able to bring myself to buy it - I only listen to it when I visit someone who owns a copy. Again, it's incredibly economical in terms of material - but it's also very adventurous in terms of sound qualities and possesses a unique ambiguity as regards its own purpose. I've never been sure what it's about, although I'm aware of all the theories that have gone around. I prefer to leave the original ambiguity untouched. Finally, it's a further example of the sort of repetition I've been talking about - for example, the repeated instrumental chorus at the end of What Goes On. Anybody else would have felt obliged to put a guitar solo over the top of it, instead of letting it go on and on with nothing happening - particularly since the two earlier choruses left open for a solo have got three separate solos taped over them simultaneously. I love than kind of thing. It's so bland.

The thing that The Velvet Underground took from their whole experience with Warhol and The Factory was that you didn't have to force things to happen - and you didn't have to think of music in terms of progressing. You could be making the same statement over and over again. And the fact that it happened before made it different. And the number of times that it had happened before made it different. Which is what Steve Reich and La Monte Young and Terry Riley are completely hip to, and which is a cornerstone of their music: the fact of repeating something changes it.

BEETHOVEN: The Late Quartets. The first classical music I ever listened to. Subsequently I got into the rest of classical music via these quartets. Beethoven interested me because of his reckless ambitiousness, inasmuch as he frequently seems to be on the borderline of danger as a composer - particularly in his later works.

JIMI HENDRIX: Little Wing. Hendrix was the first person to think of what he was playing in terms outside those of the instrument he was holding - like, he thought of what was happening with the floor pedals, the mixer, the speakers, the tape recorder. He thought consequentially, and his sound really is his music - whereas it's theoretically possible to distinguish sound from music (in terms of notes) in the playing of other guitarists. He was the first person to humanise an important part of rock technology, in other words. Electric Ladyland is another example of this.

KEVIN AYERS: Song From The Bottom Of A Well. For Mike Oldfield's guitar solo and as an extension of the preceding view of Hendrix. This is the only time I've ever heard anyone apart from me playing snake guitar. Snake guitar requires no particular skill, though Oldfield is very skilful, and essentially involves destroying the pitch element of the instrument in order to produce wedges of sound that can be used percussively or as a kind of punctuation. He does that brilliantly and that's one of the best guitar solos, if not the best, to have been recorded for several years.