INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sounds FEBRUARY 9, 1974 - by Martin Hayman
DANCING WITH MISTER E
Martin Hayman has words (endlessly) with Eno and decides he's really a very serious person
Brian Eno: slender, lissom and hermaphroditic. Photogenic in a Machiavellian way, every foxy lady's favourite pin-up (we don't all long to grab hold of pudgy puppy fat). A ladies' man in a man's world. A determinedly intellectual non-musician and elegant self-promoter. An artist of constant and restless imagination untrammelled by detail and uninterested in means.
Eno, the leader of The Warm Jets (a pub group called The Winkies will be the Warm Jets), who has yet to prove himself - has yet to debut his new "act" despite the yards of sycophantic words that have been expended on him. For some, an exponent of all that's fake in the music business, an overeducated, over-promoted and overestimated fiddler with tape machines, lacking his apprenticeship in music and the skills to master the tools of his trade. A dabbler whose only creative work so far consists in adding some bleeps and whistles to Bryan Ferry's songs, and distorting Robert Fripp's guitar solos.
Yet he's popular, and interesting, and not a few people await with excited anticipation his first solo appearances, some with confidence, some with foreboding.
But then Eno would be a pop figure whether or not he trod the boards again. A Scott Fitzgerald figure perhaps, risen like a rocket to his apogee too early in his career and merely surviving as he slips into a premature middle age, his interviews increasingly harking back to the brief days as a celebrity, each facet worn smooth and shiny by constant telling and avaricious recounting until he became a mere parody of himself, like the bar-room bore who button holes you every night.
Excuse my flight of fancy. But such are the dangers that confront those who don't put their money where their mouth is in this business, where images are not useful in themselves but only in their marketability.
Eno is not interested in the music business, as far as I can see. I've never seen him in a studio: never talked to him about the usual old stuff: What direction do you think your music will take? When will your new album be released?
I don't even think Eno is very interested in promoting himself as a bedroom Silver Surfer though he is as well endowed with narcissism as the rest of us (only one picture of himself in his apartment, though poster-sized and featuring, breathing down his neck, in contrast to Eno's gaunt blondness, two dark haired, peachy lipped femmes fatales).
But he is or can be an extremely good talker on the things that are closest to his imagination. It makes interviewing him both difficult and easy: if you are prepared to sit down and transcribe exactly what he says, he is quite willing to use you as a mouthpiece - one of the advantages of being a rock star is that people record what you say, even down to the minutest trivia. In this respect his choice of medium is obviously canny for the views which he expounds would scarcely command the same scrutiny if he were working within the conventions of his former subject painting. Obviously the cultural transfer - thinking like a painter and presenting himself as, let us say, a rock figure - means he will he something out of the ordinary in a scene which is largely characterised by lack of imagination and restatement of mediocre ideas. But, as Eno says himself, "I'm not really an original thinker". It's just that his ideas are taken from eclectic sources and presented in a very striking brief.
The scene is Eno's apartment in Maida Vale, the decor is tasteful to the point of blandness, the windows of the medium-sized room are blocked off with natural coloured hessian which filters off the daylight into a diffuse twilight, the room is empty but for several cushions to sprawl on and an electronic device which modulates single tone sounds into an approximation of various instruments. The temperature is equable, there are no pictures on the wall to distract your attention and the thick walls of the mansion block exclude the few sounds from the quiet road outside. It's like one of those sensory deprivation tanks where, for lack of sensory input, you rapidly start to hallucinate.
The idea of the interview was to feed Mister Eno with some keywords - mostly abstract - which Eno could then speculate upon. Not quite free association as I'm no amateur psychiatrist, but enough to cue Eno's speculations in a manageable form. Unfortunately the cassette ran out long before we started to get to the philosophy-in-the-boudoir keywords: girls - boys and girls - all girls together - hermaphrodite and so on. Another day perhaps. Also, as I expected, Eno brought in some specific non-abstracts.
Eno spoke initially of dreams and recounted that at one point he had made a concerted attempt to record all his dreams, by transcribing them the moment he awoke, "but it took about twenty-five minutes and was incredibly tiring, like smoking twenty cigarettes when you first get up". One song on Here Come The Warm Jets was transcribed from a dream, and he counts as one of his most persistent recurring dreams one of jumping, gravityless, over the rooftops but realising, as he reached the apogee of the jump, that he was about to fall. At this point he awakes.
Recounting this he was suddenly reminded of a dream he had had only that night where he and The Winkies had been riding horses and singing a kind of chant. He cast around for a pen and paper to note it down but it eluded him. From time to time during our talk Eno would pick up a pen and attempt to present in diagrammatic form what he was trying to say.
"I've never been able to work successfully under the influence of drugs except in one small department of things, which was occasionally lyric writing. But musical ideas are completely out.
"I've got quite a high wastage rate. I don't use about eighty-five per cent of what I do. I store it all - I never erase anything. I found something quite interesting which is that you often don't like something when you do it and then discover they're really quite interesting a long time afterwards. I've found a lot of old tapes which I can't even believe are me, they're so unlike me - which is presumably the reason I didn't like it when I did it.
"My earliest things arc about 1965, which is when I first started using a tape recorder but the main concentration of things is within the last four years. The tape recorder's definitely my principal instrument. It's the one I understand best, and also the one I enjoy using. The thing that's really nice about a tape recorder is that you can collage different moments of time. That's what the whole process can do something now, leave it and come back six days later when the rest of you has changed a little bit.
"It seems to me that every invention this century has been to do with seeing things in terms of processes, not statics."
This last assertion is one of Eno's particular concerns - the major innovation in the twentieth century's approach, not only to art but to science and psychiatry has been its rejection of stases, static positions, and the substitution of dynamic processes. In this he has evidently been influenced by Henry Bergson's book On Becoming.
"When you first mention style it's the thing that people would first tend to dismiss as the less relevant part of art work. People tend to describe things in terms of concept, and then style, which is something that's said to change merely with fashion, as though fashion wasn't an important indicator of the way things were. I don't think I can distinguish style from content - I don't think it's a superficial quality. One piece of rock music and another piece of rock music is usually a difference of style, because I don't think there are that many differences of content. There are cases again where style is the content. I suppose one could say that fashion was pure style really. But style doesn't just occur randomly. You could predict, given a certain condition in the society and given all the variables, exactly the style they would use.
"Behaviourism is my philosophical standpoint really. It's two linked ideas. First, that everything can ultimately be known - that if you know all the variables within a situation you can make predictions about that situation. It's an anti-religious view because it says that there isn't a force external to us that we can't control. And the second, to me at least, is that man is perfectible. If you follow through a behaviourist view you can see why anyone does anything. If it were possible, and eventually I believe it will be possible, to know every variable affecting a person, then you could predict exactly what they do - and it would be certain that they wouldn't do anything else.
"In terms of getting ideas I associate more with painters - but the painters I associate with say they get their ideas from musicians. If it's a cross-cultural area you're working in, just because you use different tools you're going to avoid all those questions of technique and if you're going to talk at all it's got to be on the level of concepts rather than tools because you don't share the same tools. The trouble with talking with musicians is that so much of the time is spent talking about minor questions like what studios you use and what fuzz-box you use. I don't mean to say that this is unimportant, but the area where ideas are generated is not there."