INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds DECEMBER 22, 1973 - by Martin Hayman
ENO AND THE ENDLESS ARC
Eno is a man of prodigious imagination and genuinely speculative intelligence. All of which can militate against spectacular success in the music business were it not allied with an instinctive way of working
How do the two go together, the spontaneity and the analysis? For often, as Eno is well aware himself, the use of any kind of analytical intelligence on rock music condemns the perpetrator to a critical limbo-land of calculating over-awareness. But, he stresses, if you have the power to comprehend or attempt to comprehend, your own creative response to external stimuli, why not make use of it?
I popped around the corner to see him one afternoon last week and found him sitting in the chaos of a friend's room (the long-suffering Simon Puxley, with whom Eno is billeted at least part of the time) and playing his own album with Robert Fripp, No Pussyfooting, at half the usual speed - 16rpm. "I love it at this speed," he said by way of introduction, "for a start it lasts longer. And you lose the linear progression - you become more aware of its vertical structure."
I'm not sure how much of this interview is of any use to the likes of you folks out there. For most of the afternoon Eno declaimed his own interview to me, mostly on his own theories of the parallel between rock music and the late (mid-'50s) of Abstract Expressionist painting. And while I must confess I was very absorbed, these theories may have only a limited interest.
"You won't have to ask me any questions, though I'll give you room for them if you like. I wrote the interview over lunch. You know I'm going to start a fan club magazine for this kind of thing!" A mighty esoteric kind of a fan club I should have thought. The idea of producing such a mag occurred to him, he recalls when he lectured the other day at Watford School, "and I thought to myself, I'm a pretty intelligent bloke."
If we may cut Eno's argument down in size a little, one main point emerges, a point which is occupying his attention at the moment: Is rock music, as it stands, a complete artefact in itself, with its own internally self-consistent images (like the conventional work of art, contained by a frame) or does it overspill into real life?
A piece, he thinks, need not have a beginning and an ending. There are too many behavioural assumptions - and it is these he thinks, which are impending its progression. A piece which is complete in itself is a way of imposing the performer's behavioural patterns on the audience. But take the fade-out ending - or, as in the cased of The Velvet Underground's I Heard Her Call My Name, a fade - in beginning - postulates that the song is only part of an arc (assuming, for the moment, that space and time are curved), and that what is implied has at least equal validity to the listener. Only trouble is, it's not there and has to be imagined, throwing the weight of the piece on to the listener. His is the onus of discovering his own behavioural pattern within the piece. It's like reading between the lines.
A good example of this is a piece called X For Henry Flynt by La Monte Young. "X" is a number chosen at random before the performance. Eno himself has twice performed this piece, once at sixty minutes, one at ninety-five minutes. It consists of the performer crashing his folded arms down on the keyboard of a piano, covering as many notes as possible. This continues until the end of the piece.
"At first it's very boring, for about the first fifteen minutes when you're still responding to it in a conventional way. Then you become aware of the differences between each crash. What you start to hear is a tapestry of errors rather than a tapestry of intentions. You hear the things that weren't intended.
"I'm interested in anything that attempts to create a behavioural pattern in me rather than presenting a behavioural pattern. That's why I like repetitious, some would say boring, music. What I like about The Velvet Underground is that they have that sort of feeling. I'm interested in monotonous things because they throw the weight on the listener to do the work."
It may readily be perceived that this requires very little specific skill, and is the antithesis of virtuosity. Eno's all for that. Skill, he feels, acts like a kind of barrier to real innovation. For a long time he was blocked by the simple idea that rock songs should have two ideas - an opening, a middle eight, and a return to theme. For this reason he now works with musicians who are either beyond the point of skill as its own reward - Fripp is one of these - or who are musically naive.
But finally what interested me the most of Eno's many ideas was his reversed process of lyric writing. On Here Come The Warm Jets, which will be out, circumstances permitting, in February, Eno is heard doing a lot of scat singing. The lyrics, although real words, will be nonsensical. This for two reasons. Firstly, he finds it difficult to compose lyrics in the vein of, say, his old friend and former colleague Andy Mackay, though he's a great admirer. He finds it too great a responsibility.
Secondly, he sees words as having only a vocal function. They need not be directly representational. To what end? The human voice is the most important part of rock music, right, the the concepts it carries can be as irrelevant as you like.
It's just like Eno's approach to interpreting the conflicting data of life. You stumble through, making your best decisions based on an instinctive basis. Afterwards, when the events have occurred, you sit down and analyse the data so far accrued. Thus reprogrammed your responses may be broader, more informed, but no less distinctive. Good one, chief.