INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
National Post NOVEMBER 26, 2012 - by Dave Bidini
BRIAN ENO: LUX
Once, you and Tom Phillips, the painter, found some pianos. No one knows where they came from. Maybe you stole them. Maybe you conjured them. Maybe they were left in disgust by some rogue classicists fed up with diner food and the high price of what they called "petrol," at least in Ipswich, England. You hauled these great wooden vessels up the dusty staircase of the school and you set them on their edge. You stared at them through the day, pondering. You stared at them through the evening, pondering some more. Then, you thought: "No, that's not it."
You slept the night, then woke up in your tiny underpants. You dressed and shuffled small as a mole across the glen, past the pub, and through the village to the store. "I'd like as many tennis balls as you have at your disposable, please," you might have asked the begoggled clerk at the desk. The clerk fetched them, and you paid in neat bills laid across the counter. They came in a yellow mesh bag. Walking home, the balls jockeyed one against another, producing a soft nothingness. Climbing the stairs before dusk, you faced the pianos the way one looks in doubt at a strange painting, then you nodded confidently to Phillips, who was crouched in a corner near a reel-to-reel tape machine. You took one ball in each hand. You threw them at the pianos; a three-quarter delivery. Phillips pressed RECORD. You called it "Piano tennis." You invented that.
Once, you stood feather-necked and platform-booted, hips cocked and legs bent moving across the British Isles in your own private bus filled with delicious women. It was a living. Before all of this, you'd met a man named Andy Mackay on a subway platform holding a saxophone. It wasn't long after that you saw his gold instrument as a key to a door inside a world you'd never paused to measure: a hookah'd kingdom of lizardesque eyes and satin skin and the kind of drugs that made your spine fizz like Jolly Cola. The band was called Roxy Music and there was a fellow named Bryan in it and a fellow named Phil and, of course, Andy, whose saxophone you made sound like Neptune roaring from an enormous clam shell using tapes and wires and unusual metal boxes. In the beginning, you did this at the back of a hall named Hammersmith-that or Hippodrome-this, but after awhile, they pulled you from your desk and put you under the hot lights of the big stage. You loved it; you hated it; you hated it some more. Travelling with your own bus filled with women was the only way you could deal. And even then: too much diner food and the high price of what they called "petrol," at least in Ipswich. Before the tour was done, you'd delivered the VCS3 synthesizer to music. Plates shifted; planets whirred; seas hiccuped. You invented that.
Once, you made strange rock records - lots of them - and even if Neil Young was named, deservedly, the artist of the '70s by the Village Voice, anyone could have argued for you: Taking Tiger Mountain and Here Come The Warm Jets and Another Green World and Before And After Science, all released within four years. Your albums teemed with ideas and with songs, too; songs that were "songwritten", not just pasted together with jigsaw pieces and cut-out letters, devices to which you were naturally inclined. These songs had a verse and a chorus and then another part. After this, there was producing and writing with David Bowie, and after that, Devo, and even after that, a band called Talking Heads. Some of the musicians were pissed at you. But David Byrne didn't care. Remain In Light and Fear Of Music. You were Barry Gordy to a generation of nerds. And The Edge's guitar sounded like skyscrapers plucking banjo strings seven hundred feet above the Earth. You invented that.
You made music for airports and films and more airports, and, last week, you released another record, Lux, after turning sixty-four. The snakes and lizards and boas and unusual metal boxes are now stuffed away in even bigger boxes, and, these days, everyone and their cousin with big pants and starburst glasses plays a synthesizer. But the great thing about Lux - which evolves in four parts or, I suppose, four movements - is that almost nothing here represents that which you've done before. At times, the sound of your incidental music is evoked, but Lux is mostly a very human recording, which is a silly thing to say to a human, but still. If you're reputation is based - however erroneously - on your sonic, or electronic geometry, Lux is a breathing work that slides like dew across the speakers. It's a moist soundscape that weaves about with a sublime power delivered through piano figures and the long bowing of violins. The sound is spare, but not lacking in body. Instead of settling listeners into your space, the pieces here seem to follow you around. It's a sort of shadow music, informing the listening process using the suggestion of a moving hand rather than a bolt of dynamite. In this way, Lux is a very friendly recording, which is the last thing me and Tom Phillips or Mackay the sax player would have expected.
You invented that.