INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Telegraph NOVEMBER 21, 2011 - by Sarah Crompton
BRIAN ENO: 'ARTISTS ARE WORRIED THEY WILL BURST THE BUBBLE IF THEY THINK TOO MUCH'
Sarah Crompton talks to Brian Eno and Ben Frost as part of the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative in New York.
Brian Eno has been my hero since his earliest days with Roxy Music, and all through his subsequent journey into experimental and ambient styles. I admire not only the music he has made but the way he has worked so tirelessly with other musicians, asking them questions about their own music and challenging them to change their ways.
He is, as he himself says, an artist who likes talking. "I like thinking about what I am doing. A lot of artists don't, they are very worried that they will burst the bubble if they think about it too much."
This liking for collaboration, allied to a gift for analysis and discussion, made him a perfect participant in the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative, which pairs famous and established artists with rising stars in the same field for a year of creative conversation.
The international scheme, which started in 2002, has attracted mentors including William Forsythe, Martin Scorsese, Mario Vargas Llosa, David Hockney and Jessye Norman. The 2011 scheme ended with Eno joining his fellow mentors Peter Sellars, Anish Kapoor, Trisha Brown, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger and their young disciples at a glitzy arts weekend in New York.
Eno's protégé was Ben Frost, a musician who has established quite a reputation with his visceral compositions, such as 2009's By The Throat, his score for Wayne McGregor's Far, and for Julia Leigh's movie Sleeping Beauty.
On one memorable night last weekend, his Music For 6 Guitars (2008) in which brass and electric guitars combine to ear-bleeding effect, was performed in the unlikely setting of the Reading Room of the New York Public Library. It perfectly illustrated Eno's belief that art should encourage a kind of surrender. "I think artists should give you a place where you stop being you and start to become part of something else," he said in a talk. That evening Frost's performance battered its audience into a kind of wonderful, helpless submission by the sheer force of its sound.
Frost, an Australian who lives and works in Iceland, explained: "I am interested in music as a physical entity." Eno added: "You must remember that music has always been loud. I went to art school in Winchester which had this huge cathedral organ and I used to think about what that must have been like for people. Apparently peasants coming in from the countryside would run in terror when they heard the thing."
As this exchange illustrates, the men are very much on the same wavelength. One of their collaborations enabled Eno to explore the music scene in Iceland, and to create a visual landscape for a new score inspired by the film Solaris, which Frost made with the classical composer Daniel Bjarnason.
How is their relationship different from the one Eno has with bands such as Coldplay and U2?
"When I collaborate with bands they usually have a specific objective in mind. They've got to make an album. But sometimes when they are not in that mode, I just try to set up some exercises for us - like playing a silly tune on the wrong instruments, or sometimes more sophisticated things. They are really just ways of loosening up a little, of expanding the envelope. Sometimes we do something really ridiculous so the envelope expands to a far-off place" - he demonstrates by holding his arm out - "Now you don't necessarily want to work there, but you want to know that territory exists."
In this sense, Eno is more like a scientist, putting propositions out to be examined. "I think it is a problem in the art world that there are so many inarticulate artists. Scientists do talk about things, but artists aren't encouraged to talk about how they arrive at what they do." He, of course, is the exception that proves the rule.