INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Suono JULY 9, 2005 - by Sergio d'Alesio
BRIAN ENO: THE CYBER MELODY
With Another Day On Earth the genius of ambient music has created the sonic form of cyber-melody: liquid, adaptable to every artistic endeavour, a dimension of sound where the human voice, treated electronically, is simply an instrument within an imaginary world.
The inventor of ambient music, almost surprisingly, is back on the scene; the non-musician par-excellence, the theorizer of new approaches to musical material and the long-time legendary producer of David Bowie, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, U2, David Byrne and Talking Heads. Brian Eno is all this and more as evinced by his diary, A Year (With Swollen Appendices) published by Faber & Faber. In 2005 he has presented two new recordings: The Equatorial Stars in line with his occult strategies shared with Robert Fripp; and the astonishing Another Day On Earth, a minimal work, subtly melodic, enriched by ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones, Annie Lennox, Robert Wyatt, Robert Fripp, Leo Abrahams, Aylie Cooke, Nell Catchpole, Barry Andrews of XTC, John Hopkins and many others who help him in his search for new musical solutions.
BRIAN ENO: The Equatorial Stars belongs to the area of experimental work. The album is a stellar map dedicated to the southern constellations such as Meissa, Lyra, Tarazed, Lupus, Ankaa, Altair and Terebellum. It's a minimal reflection of the brilliant lights that have accompanied mankind since the dawn of civilization. The lulls and the accelerations identify the motor and the energy of life that is propagated within the universe. Today's technology is not comparable to that of thirty years ago and to that that gave birth to No Pussyfooting. The Equatorial Stars has met with praise and curiosity but there are also those who describe it as a dose of minimalist banality and sonically inconclusive. Its release into the marketplace has been low-key.
After all this time what caused you to return to the song format?
Another Day On Earth is the first CD of songs that I've released in about thirty years. The art of song-writing is the most difficult to change. Composing music is relatively simple but the lyrics always represent a problem that is difficult to resolve. When I think of lyrics I connect with a very particular part of the brain if I desire to express provocative concepts or tell a story: but all this must never be explicit. I have never thought of popular music in a traditional sense but, rather, as an imaginary world inviting people to play with these new dimensions... Another Day On Earth is a project which communicates to the listener emotions tied to joy, surprise and continual changes. I hope that it is satisfying and worth the long wait.
What is the connection that ties technology to the human voice?
Twenty-five years ago technology created thousands of new opportunities to create music for the cinema, for multimedia installations and for the art world. This seemed much more interesting to me than limiting myself to song-writing. The paradox is evident in that music has changed but the process for writing songs has remained the same. Today songs are still considered to be a direct expression of the personality of the singer and because of this are treated with a conservative attitude. The recording of the voice is still a process that hasn't been explored very much. On the new album the voice doesn't represent me but someone who I have placed within a world that I've invented. For at least ten years technology has made it possible to change the pitch and gender of the human voice and to transform it into an electronic sound. This approach stimulated me to interact with layered voices like the instruments of a cybernetic orchestra. Generally, lyrics tend to limit the possibilities of expression. They render songs smaller and they're like a cage. Brilliant lyrics are needed for a song to be more powerful. The message is in the music, not the words. In the studio we arranged the music with lyrics that had no definite meaning in order to understand in what ways the voice could be utilised to create the mood of a song. Apart from Dylan, I don't know of anyone who writes the words before the music. In my case the lyrics always come last, blooming like flowers in a land full of colours.
What do you think of the fact that some of your fans on the internet have collected hundreds of interpretations of your lyrics?
This is an interesting aspect of the music. No official version exists of my lyrics. The multiplication of interpretations has always been a phenomenon which has effected every cultural form. The effects of art are always beyond those intended by the musician, by the painter or the writer. Arto Lindsay said that art remains the only place where it is still possible to believe in magic. My CDs never carry lyrics. I don't wish to give them importance or to communicate something specific. It would be like spending the whole day talking about yourself and then realising how boring you are.
How did you choose the title and the image for the album?
I adore the ambiguity and values of a word that has many meanings such as This (the original title of the project) which I then changed to Another Day On Earth. Maybe it's about a day like any other or maybe a particular day. Titles are like little windows into what is being expressed. The image is simply a photo I took in a Peking street. It resembles a photographic set with all the lights in the right place, but it was completely spontaneous. From this perspective the values of a two-fold reading appear.
Under was part of My Squelchy Life, a legendary album recorded in 1991 that has never seen the light of day: why did you decide to offer it again?
It's a song to which I've returned many times, and the moment came to concretise it on the record.
Confided to the voice of Aylie Cooke, the theme of Bonebomb reflects a particular story: can you say something about it?
The song was born during the reading of a page in a newspaper on which was told the story of a young female Palestinian suicide-bomber who left a few phrases behind, almost like a testament, to try to explain the reasons for her gesture. On the same page there was an interview with an Israeli doctor who recalled that one of his most difficult experiences was to extract the bone-fragments of the suicide-bomber from the flesh of the victims of the event. It seemed to me a very cruel metaphor for integration. David Bowie wrote to me saying that he thought that this is the best piece that I've ever done.
As a producer, what kind of relationship do you tend to establish in the recording studio?
In the studio the most important thing that a producer must do is to maintain a high level of emotional interactivity. It doesn't matter if it's positive or negative. You need to have the strength to tell an artist that they've done something splendid but also to tell them that they've done something horrible. The most tasty fruits grow from this dynamic.
And in respect of technology?
You need to try to understand what can be done. Focus on cheaper, on faster, on better. Each technological innovation satisfies, in a more efficient way, a necessity or a pre-existing wish, but at the same time it creates new expressive possibilities. The development of personal computers could give life to new forms of art like mini-films produced on DVD that anyone with a minimum of equipment could put together and market.
What projects do you have for the future?
I am preparing a series of audio-visual installations in Lyon, Munich, St Petersburg and in China. I am recording an album called Musical Palette with Paul Simon and I'm writing a book about cultural ecology and an essay called Impossible Futures. I am preparing an orchestral version of The Shutov Assembly with the London Symphony Orchestra and I've been asked to write the music for the opening ceremony for the next World Cup of football... Many things will happen in the future: some of them will be terrible, others will be wonderful. I can't wait to see it.