"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno


Opal Information was a publication that discussed the on-going work of Brian Eno and other artists released by his Opal Music label. Produced by Opal Ltd., it appeared on an irregular basis from 1986 until 1996. Each of the twenty-seven issues was comprised of approximately fifteen to twenty pages. The following is the complete text of Number 18, featuring Brian Eno -

Opal Information: Number 18Opal Information: Number 18 (back cover)


Looking through our old cuttings we came across a cover story on Brian in Melody maker. Conducted by Richard Williams, it appeared on January 12, 1980.

On reading this eleven years later we found his thoughts to be just as applicable today as they were then. We therefore thought it would be interesting for our readers to see extracts from this article, in light of Brian's more recent interviews.

Melody Maker interview:

On April 23, 1978, Brian Eno flew to New York. He planned to master Talking Heads' second album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, at a cutting-room in the city, and to finish a chapter for a book of essays being edited by his acquaintance Stafford Beer, the cybernetician. It was his intention to leave New York within three weeks - by his birthday, May 15.

Seven months later he was still there, having been seduced into staying by the vigour of the local art-scene and also (it must be admitted) by the way that the scene's members feted him.

On Christmas Day, 1978, he flew to South East Asia. Arriving in Bangkok, he checked into a hotel. He planned to stay there for several months, hoping to sort out his tactics for the future.

In April, 1979, Eno returned to New York, having failed to resolve his future. He produced the third Talking Heads album, Fear Of Music, embarked on several albums for his Ambient Music label, started recording some music of his own, and began working with videotape. In October he returned briefly to England, seeing friends and doing some recording. The following conversation took place during that stay in London.

Richard Williams: I thought we might start by talking about why you went to America to live in the first place.

Brian Eno: I went there to do a couple of specific things, and I thought if I go back to London I'll get distracted, so I'll just find a place there for a month. But it turned out that I happened to be in New York during one of the most exciting months of the decade, I should think, in terms of music - it seemed like there were five hundred new bands who all started that month.

The first thing that really impressed me was that within two weeks I already knew and was having conversations with really interesting people... a lot of creeps, too, but the opportunities for meeting people are infinitely larger than they are here. And for meeting a really wide range of people.

Another thing is that people are just much more willing to talk to one another, because everyone is desperate for an idea. People really regard it as important that they should find out what everyone else is doing, and surely part of the reason is that they want to incorporate whatever they can into their own work. That seems to me to be quite healthy, as opposed to the English situation, which has tended to be... there's the new wave scene, and the theatre scene, and the modern dance scene, and you never get any real collisions between them, except rather contrived ones.

RW: That interdisciplinary activity must be very interesting for you.

BE: Well, what's interesting about those kind of conversations is that they're very rarely on the level of talks that musicians have between themselves. If you meet a bunch of other rock musicians, what do you talk about? guitars, tuning... you talk about things to do with the craft of what you're doing.

Now if you meet a dancer, for instance, that's not going to be of any interest to him, just as the technicalities of dance aren't going to be of much interest to me. So you tend automatically to slip into another level. You either just chat, social chat, or else you're talking about something to do with why you do what you do, what the inspiration is behind it. And, for me, that kind of conversation is much more interesting. Talking about tools doesn't interest me, really.

RW: What do you think you've got out of it, beyond the enjoyment of talking to a lot of people who do different things?

Opal Information: Number 18 (page 5 - Brian Eno)BE: First of all, I got a lot of encouragement... much more than I've ever got here. Now that cuts both ways, because encouragement is always encouragement to carry on with what you're doing. It's not usually encouragement to do something that you can't explain, or that you only have a vague feeling about. But, on the other hand, it is very nice to be encouraged. It's really nice to be in a situation where people are actually interested... not only interested, but influenced by what you do. So you can see extensions of your own work carried out much more thoroughly, vague ideas in things I'd done being approached much more rigorously.

The negative side, which I think will turn out to be positive is that having seen that done, I thought 'I don't really want to do this any more, it's superfluous now.' And so it really started a kind of feeling for me, which is getting stronger, which is that I don't want to make rock records any more. By that, I mean I don't want to follow the format I've used in the past, which is writing songs and working in a particular way with regard to studios and so on. There are lots of people doing it, and doing it very well, and consequently that territory is covered.

So what started me off thinking about that was... well, New York's a great place for having ambitious ideas because they all look feasible there. As soon as you come back here, they suddenly look impossible. But there, for instance, you can actually start thinking about Music For Airports as a real idea, and the idea of getting it into airports looks possible. Whether it is or not is yet to be seen, but people manage to do such extraordinarily complex things there that immediately the bounds of possibility are set further away.

For instance, I started doing videos. I just bought a video colour camera and a recorder, nothing special, sort of 'your first video kit', and I thought, 'this looks interesting, I'm just going to fiddle around with it for a bit'... because I was moving towards thinking about videodiscs. So I thought that if I ever did get to make one, rather than surrendering it all to somebody else, I'd like to know what was going on. In fact I'd like to make it myself.

So I started tinkering about with it, in much the same way that I tinkered around with synthesizers at first, with a real feeling of fun - you know. 'Oh, this is really lovely, all these beautiful colours' and within two weeks I had my first video exhibition. And I wasn't working to attract that. Now you can't really conceive of that in this country somehow, can you?

The exhibition was kind of flawed in a way, it was just like somebody's first attempt, but at the same time, to have it exposed as quickly as that was very useful to me, because I knew that two weeks later I'd have been saying, oh, that's child's play, I'm going to do something much more interesting.' But actually having that child's play exhibited, and seeing that it really did look nice, made me take it much more seriously, so now I've retained some of that child-like attitude to making videos.

Most video art that I've seen is so defensive... it's determined, for instance, not to be seduced by the medium, so it's really grim. Even black and white... you know, the refusal to use colour because it's too seductive. It has this kind of Teutonic seriousness about it that I don't like very much, and it struck me as refreshing to see something that was done by somebody who'd obviously been seduced by the medium and wasn't too embarrassed by it.

RW: You wrote from New York in 1978 that the momentum of success there can be dangerous.

BE: Very much so. That's why I keep getting out again. New York is so energetic and self-contained that it's easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. So there are a lot of artists in New York who work only in terms of that situation, and whose work outside of that context is really not interesting. The danger is that you hurdle along on a path that seems to be getting wider, but is actually narrowing. The other danger is simply that of getting big-headed, of thinking, 'Oh, I can do anything... I'm real smart, they like me.'

RW: You must have been pretty much lionised when you got there.

BE: Oh, very much. And you notice it there because people tend to come up and talk to you without introductions or anything like that.

RW: Part of you would enjoy that...

BE: Oh, yes. It's very flattering. The particularly good part was that other artists come up and start talking. In England, I often have this feeling that there's a real pride among artists... it's almost like the boy/girl situation, 'I'm not going to talk to you first.' As if it demeans you to go and say to someone that you really like their work. In fact, the times that I've done that in England, it's really taken people by surprise.

But the problem is that there's a kind of filtering operation, which is the inverse of the way you'd want it to work: if you're a celebrity and you're getting no end of hassle, the people who're actually interesting tend to stay out of it. So it often happens that you meet the pushiest people, rather than the most interesting ones.

In Europe, you tend to deliver hints that give the impression that you don't actually want to met anyone at the moment and so on, and those hints are generally taken. In New York, only a straight 'no' means anything. And I can't say it, you know. I can't get into the habit of saying, 'Leave me alone.' So every time I'm there, the first few weeks are really interesting... and then it builds up again, everyone has my phone number and I'm getting tapes given to me everywhere. Everywhere I go, people are running up with cassettes. The first five weeks I was in New York this time I had a hundred and eighty cassettes given to me. One hundred and eighty! That's staggering.

RW: About a year ago, you told me that we'd be able to recognise the first band of the "next wave" simply because they wouldn't ask you to produce them. They don't seem to have appeared, do they?

BE: Well, my feelings about rock music at the moment are quite mixed up.

RW: That's why I was surprised when you came back from Asia and went straight in to produce the Talking Heads. I'd got the impression that you were giving it up.

BE: Well... I nearly didn't, actually, because I'd said to them that I'm not going to do any more producing. The thing is that I like them so much as people... I really do... I think they're about the nicest four people I could ever hope to meet. I like working with them, and I like their music too.

I thought quite hard about that decision to produce them. I thought well, if I do this, what will probably happen is that I'll get sucked back into what I tried to get away from. But then I thought, why should I be so timid about it? You know, if I've got any strength of will, I'm going to be able to resist that as well. So I went ahead and did it, and I really enjoyed doing it, too.

It was also because on the first record we did together, towards the end of it, I thought we were really starting to understand how to work together. Between the five of us we'd developed a group identity, a recording identity. It shows on that album on the tracks that were done last the ones that were least complete going into the studio came out best for me. Now on this album there were even fewer complete songs, so for me that was obviously an interesting situation. I want to do their next one, as well... it's about the only thing I want to do producing-wise. I've had so many offers recently, from the most weird people... but you mustn't print their names, because people are very annoyed if they're refused publicly.

RW: And you're refusing everything?

BE: Yes, I am, really. It's just not what I want to do, very much.

RW: So you really are less interested in rock music?

Yes. The thing is that it doesn't seem to be 'world music' any more. My interest in rock 'n' roll at one time, apart from the simple fact that I liked it, was that it seemed to me to be the 'world music' of the time... you know, if there was any folk culture that spread over a lot of the world, it was rock music. It doesn't seem to be that any more... it's a small-scale operation, or something.

But I think it's partly because I've got interested in pop music from other cultures, particularly North African, and I find that absolutely beautiful. Arabic singing is so developed that it makes me want to give up... presumably they don't have a history of harmony, so the whole musical energy goes into developing the single line, making that more and more interesting. So I listen to that, and I think nothing we do is anywhere near it, it just isn't interesting on that level.

Now, of course, not everything is going to be interesting on every level... but the other thing I've found myself liking doing reluctantly, actually is the slow, droney, atmospheric things. I really resent this change taking place, and I think, 'God, who wants this kind of music? Why do I want to do this?' One is so imbued with the myth of progress that to step backwards, which is what it looks like to me, is very difficult. Yet that's what I feel drawn to... so I just have to trust that actually it isn't going backwards, that in some peculiar way it's forwards.

One of the continual dilemmas I have is the distinction between the artist and the artisan. It's only in recent years that the idea has been held that the artist is the one who innovates and sort of did it on his own. Prior to that, people were artisans... and they were better or worse artisans. They were largely told what to do... given specific tasks, and they did them. It was like a job. One wonders whether rock music is like that, like building a piece of a cathedral... you're just doing this gargoyle, and you do it well, and nobody expects great passion from you or anything, and you don't complain about not feeling great passion all the time. That's your job, you do it.

The artisan style is attractive because most of the interesting ideas anyway seem to arise out of a kind of humility about what you're doing. They don't arise from sitting down and thinking, 'Okay, this is The Big One.' That was one of the problems with Before And After Science... there was a wave of expectation, a 'his time has come' kind of thing. The oddity was that since everyone seemed to think that it had, that record sold better than any of the others... quite unjustifiably, as far as I'm concerned.

Again, so many aspects of your personal power are conferred on you... They have nothing to do with the condition you're in at all. So having that feeling around made me nervous, and when you're nervous you don't work well. You naturally stay on a path that you're fairly sure about, that you can defend.

Again, so many aspects of your personal power are conferred on you... They have nothing to do with the condition you're in at all. So having that feeling around made me nervous, and when you're nervous you don't work well. You naturally stay on a path that you're fairly sure about, that you can defend.

So there it was... it came out with all this conferred greatness, and consequently sold as though it were the best of my albums. The sales charts now indicate a different story, though. What interests me now is that, in terms of catalogue sales, my records rank exactly in the order of my preference. Honestly, isn't that wonderful? Discreet Music, Another Green World, and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)... those are the three that sell best. That's a real encouragement because Discreet Music is still the one that has some mystery for me.

RW: And it was the cheapest to make?

BE: Yeah, well, I like economy, you know.

RW: When the first Velvet Underground and Roxy Music albums came out they were the result of people making collisions between things that seemed incompatible, with all sorts of interesting side-effects. Now all the implications seem to have been explored as far as possible... all those bands who form one week and play the next and record the next, they've each taken one small aspect as far as it can go.

BE: That's right. In a way, that exploration is really interesting because each one concludes a particular area. My feeling about most of the new-wave stuff... well, actually it's also what I felt about The Beatles, that far from the beginning of something, it was really the end of something. It's saying: we recognise all these ideas, if you take this one it can go this far, and the next one can go this far and so on... and really that's the end of that. So now what do you do?

RW: Which is why Sgt. Pepper was their least interesting work, being the most explicit.

BE: Exactly. My feelings too. Things are always least interesting when they're most clear, in a way, when everybody understands what's going on. I suppose the quality I've always liked in music is the sense of being baffled... 'God, I like this, but I don't know why!'

I was talking to David Bowie about this. We were talking about the records that first affected us and I said that the first one that I can really remember being awe-struck by was Get A Job, by The Silhouettes, because I'd never heard doo-wop or anything like it, so it was a mystery, and really thrilling as well. He said it was either Eight Miles High or Mr Tambourine Man for him, that sound just made him shiver.

As you get older, you get fewer and fewer of those kind of thrills because you learn what the context of things is, so I can listen to The Silhouettes now and say 'Oh yes that's New York doo-wop,' or whatever... and just being able to place it like that immediately reduces it, knowing that it's one of many similar things, rather than being this strange singularity. I said to avoid that I suppose one of the reasons one becomes a composer is that you want to recreate that thrill for yourself. You want to do something that makes you say 'God, where did that come from?'

And he said a great thing. He said 'Sometimes I write lyrics and I don't really understand them.' I knew exactly what he meant, because sometimes you do something that is, for want of a better word, meaningful, and yet you don't know what the meaning is. That's the thrill.

Now in a way it seems to me that, in rock music, I do know what the meaning is. I know where it comes from, where it's going to, how it's made, what the aspirations and philosophy were, and so on. So I suppose I'm still searching for that sense of mystery, and I find it in a different place now. I found it, for instance, in those Arabic pop songs. Hearing those for the first time was just like listening to The Silhouettes.

RW: The rise of pop music coincided with the appearance of certain kinds of technology which made new effects possible very frequently, didn't it? Maybe that's the one really special quality about rock 'n' roll that Arabic music or Western classical music have never possessed...

BE: You rely on technical innovations a great deal in rock 'n' roll, I think. In fact I gave a lecture once where I traced a history of rock music entirely in terms of how recording studios developed. It was an artificial concept, but actually it turned out to be not such a spurious theory as one might think at first. Rock music is very much to do with people getting excited about sounds, and the generation of electronic sounds is obviously to do with technology. But I did another lecture called The Development Of Sound As A Language, where I wanted to explore the idea that contemporary music, having freed itself from the finite set of sounds that orchestras and classical instruments have, was concerned not so much with structure and melody and rhythm as with the overall sound quality of the track.

Actually, something similar happened in classical music when Steinway brought out the third pedal on the piano. Debussy wrote a whole set of pieces for that piano, because the sound was so thrilling to him. Similarly when other instruments have been invented... of course, in classical music this happened very slowly, you could expect something as revolutionary as that only maybe every thirty years. Now in pop music, every year...

RW: Well, every week at certain points in time...

BE: That's right. Suddenly there's a whole new area... it's like discovering a million new colours. Imagine if that happened in painting... there would be a whole new breed of painters who'd concentrate on colour. In fact it did happen in a small way in painting when acrylics came out... but it's such a commonplace in pop music that people don't even think about it any more. You don't think that it's a music: that's very much to do with technology.

Well, now... I didn't think of this before, but I suppose this brings me to my disenchantment, because I suppose I explored this technology as much as anyone else... I've made a conscious decision, that's the area I work in, but the situation is one of diminishing returns, now, because although I can still go into studio and do things that surprise me, it happens less often on that level. So now I'm starting to get interested in different uses of technology.

One example is that I'm interested in multi-channel sound. It's a very awkward thing to be interested in, because it necessarily confines you to one particular area. I've been working conceptually not practically yet, very much on the idea of constructing an environment that has... for instance, if it was this room, it would have a speaker in each corner, and each one of the speakers would have a different noise coming from it, so that your position in the room would give you a particular mix. Technically, it's very easy, but to reproduce it is a different issue, so in a way that gets you away from making records. It means that you start constructing environments that people go to, rather than making your records that go to people. It's a different orientation.

Video, again... there isn't really a market for video yet, so you're working in a much smaller area. And I want to take next year (1980) off, and I want to live in California and experiment with these notions.

RW: But haven't you just taken the best part of a year off?

BE: I know. I need another one. I've realised that that was just the start of it.

RW: Why did you take that first sabbatical?

BE: Well, I was stuck, really... in a funny way. Stuck with more offers to do things than I've ever had before. Some of them were interesting but the momentum problem was going to arise... It would be 'just one more' and then 'just one more' after that.

The reason for doing it was that I thought I should spend some time alone. I spend nearly all my time with other people... what I'm involved in is a social art, I'm a social kind of person anyway. Yet I find that if I can live through the initial tedium of my own company, which usually lasts about four days, I find it very interesting to be alone. I start thinking in a way that's extremely acute. I'm thinking about different things, I think better and faster, and I'm much more courageous in what I think because as soon as you forget the society that you're part of, it's much easier to move against its norms.

So I thought I had to do it again, because the first time taught me that I don't want to go to an exotic place to do it. At first I thought, well obviously the way to do it is really to get out of the West and go somewhere completely strange. Actually, it was so strange that it was a bit overwhelming, and I didn't actually do what I wanted to do.

RW: Which was?

BE: I just wanted to think, and think out a new direction for working.

RW: Looked at coldly, all that stuff about wanting time and ease sounds horribly like wanting to get yourself together in the country.

I know. That's why I say it's a frightening move, because one has seen it happen so many times when what it actually means is the time and ease to be conceptually lazy. I just have to trust that it won't happen to me. I'm too much of a worrier for that, I think.

You see, I've been working in one way for quite a long time, and another way of working it seems to me is is struggling to get out. But it just doesn't have the time to emerge. This is indicated by the disparity in what I make and what I listen to... those two things tend to be quite far apart. Now I think maybe they should get a bit closer.

When you're in the studio, the things that convince you that you're achieving something are the things that give you this charge of energy. When you're doing something like Music For Airports, it's so laid back that it's hard to convince yourself that you're doing anything. It's not until you take it home and realise that you really enjoy it, and that that's the mood you want from music... something as slow as that.

I have a theory that, as a maker you tend to put in twice as much as you need as a listener. It's the symptom of contemporary production. That's why old records are interesting, because they don't have that problem a lot of the time. With the facilities that you have today, you tend to plug every hole... you're always looking for that charge, so you put more and more in to get it. But as a listener you're much less demanding... you can take things that are much simpler, much more open, and much slower. It's often happened that I've made a piece and ended up slowing it down by as much as half. Discreet Music is an example: that's half the speed at which it was recorded.

RW: So are you trying to deliver an album on time before you go away this time?

BE: Well, actually, no. I was... but I just abandoned a whole lot of work. I thought it was turning out to be 'more of the same', and I don't... I even think it would've been a good record, it's not that, but I think what I might deliver is an EP, because think I've got enough material to make an album with four really good tracks on it, therefore I've got enough for a truly great EP. So that will be my output for this year.

RW: What aspect of your work do they represent?

BE: Three of them were made in New York (with David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, David Van Tieghem and others), and one was made here. But they're all the phone-voice type things, so they're a coherent body of work. The first in that series was really the thing I did with Snatch, RAF, on the B-side of King's Lead Hat. I like that very much... I was even thinking of re-releasing it on this EP. Listening to it now, I really think it's got something. John Peel played it once, and he said a very nice thing about it, that it reminded him of John Heartfield's collages. I thought that very nice company to be placed in.

RW: Can you see any specific projects to be done when you come back from California?

BE: The truth of it is that I'm in a dilemma. In what the Buddhists call the Mire of Options, where it seems that every possibility is open to me. Not that I don't know which one to do, but the one that pulls me most strongly is the one that everyone else is least interested in. So I know I won't do it as long as I'm in the company of other people who're always encouraging all the other aspects of what I do. Going away is just to see what'll become of this niggling undercurrent if it's left to its own devices.

RW: A lot of people might say that you and Roxy Music were responsible for inventing that sort of self-referential rock, what one might call "metarock".

BE: I think so, too. I suppose my disenchantment with that, and with some of what I did, was from the same feeling. In fact I suppose that's a good way of making the division between the work I'm doing. There are two separate strands going on: sometimes I describe them as 'the slow stuff' and 'the stuff with a beat', but actually a more accurate division would be 'the ironic stuff' and 'the sincere stuff'. The 'ironic' mode would be about distorting the currency of rock music in some way so that it's a very conscious working within a tradition, and it relies on people having a good knowledge of that tradition to understand it.

RW: Most records that go out these days from new bands don't work at all unless you know a great deal about the tradition of rock music.

BE: Yes, it really is culturally inbred music now. One of the great things about rock music has been that what comes out actually is an overall sound for the times. I heard Da Doo Ron Ron on the radio today, and I thought, 'God, that's so identifiably of its period, everything about it has the feeling of that time... and if I'd never heard it before, I'd be able to place it in time very accurately.' With that placement, you can place a whole lot of... well, lifestyle attitudes that go with it.

But of course we didn't have people saying that The Crystals were the saviours of Western culture at that time. Two aspects of this go hand in hand: just as Roxy and Bowie and others produced the metarock thing, so the critics were equally responsible... because they all wanted to say, 'Look, this is more than just a game... there's some Big Deal going on here'.

RW: It would be interesting to know what would've happened to music if a lot of people hadn't felt that way in the early '70s. But it isn't just critics who think like that. A lot or musicians seem to operate as critics in a sense. In fact that's virtually what metamusicians are.

BE: That's right. They're already playing the part of the critic as well when they make the work.

RW: And implicit in what they do is a critique of other people's music.

BE: Yes... each piece of music stands as a re-evaluation of rock music to date. It says 'This it is okay, this isn't.' Re-evaluation is an idea that interests me a lot. It's normally assumed that the artist is the one who innovates... but actually, if you look at what artists do, maybe four per cent of their work is innovation, then there are a whole lot of other things.

For instance, they ignore a whole lot of available options. They re-evaluate a whole lot of other things that already existed from the whole history of their medium, and they choose to repeat these ones. They definitely condemn other aspects. So 'ignoring', 're-evaluating' and 'condemning'... three different ways of dealing with your history to date and re-using that history. And I think what's problematic about criticism is that it always wants to concentrate on that little four per cent (of innovation) without seeing the hole of the rest of the work.

I wouldn't be a critic, for sure. I couldn't do it. I would hate to hurt people's feelings. I really would.


Roger Eno played four solo dates in Northern Italy (Baricella, Trieste, Verona and Prato) in January before flying to Japan to take part in a series of Opal Evenings with Michael Brook and Laraaji in Tokyo and Osaka. At all the Japanese dates, Roger was accompanied by a local string quartet while Michael and Laraaji played solo. Some of the material from Roger's section, which was performed live for the first time on this tour, will possibly be re-recorded and put on his next album. All the concerts were close to sold out and very well received despite this being the first time that the three of them had played together in that country.

Opal Information: Number 18 (page 12 - Laraaji, Michael Brook and Roger Eno in Kyoto, Japan)

Also, travelling to Japan for the first time is Djivan Gasparyan who has been invited to take part in the opening of a new venue in Tokyo called Omori Belport on April 19, 20 and 21. Other performers include Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart and is presented by YMO's Haruomi Hosono. Djivan will be travelling with two accompanists.

Harold Budd will be appearing in concert in Italy this Spring in Bologna, Verona and San Giovanni. The dates are late May to early June, and more details will be available locally.

John Cale has recently a successful tour of Europe, the first four dates of which featured The Last Day On Earth, which John performed with Bob Neuwirth and Jerry Hemingway.

Sanctus, a new piece written by John Cale for choreographer Randy Warshaw, will be included in a programme of new works by contemporary composers as part of the New York Festival Of Arts on June 8 and 9. The concerts will be performed by David Byrne with the Orchestra of St Luke's and New York Voices, will take place at the New York City Town Hall.

John Paul Jones was recently commissioned to compose a new piece of music for Red Byrd - a group of musicians and singers who disregard conventional musical labels, playing Monteverdi on electric instruments and performing current works on early instruments.

Daniel Lanois & Project Indigenous Restoration

"We are part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters. The reindeer, the horse, the eagle are our brothers. The rocky heights, the sparkling crests of waves in the river, the sap of the meadow flowers, the body heat of the pony, and of human beings, all are part of the same family."

(From a letter by Chief Seattle to the US President, 1855)

On April 21, 22 and 23 a great event will take place in Toronto, bringing together people from North and South AMerica to share their wisdom and experience in caring for the environment. The Cree Nation, the Innu and the Hopi are some of the native groups taking part in this event, providing an opportunity for the public to meet with the leaders and spokepersons of these groups in an atmosphere of cooperation and common concern for the plight of our planet.

The focus of Project Indigenous Restoration is on education. Its purpose is to inform Canadians about the sacredness and respect with which indigenous people have traditionally regarded the environment.

The finale of the three day event will be the concert on Tuesday, April 23 by Daniel Lanois and other artists. Proceeds for the concert will go to the Unnu Nation and possibly others.


Brian Eno is presently working at his studio on a new solo album (as yet untitled) scheduled for release this Summer. Daniel Lanois, while commuting between Peter Gabriel's studio in Bath and a studio in Dublin where U2 are presently working, is writing new material for his second solo album, presently scheduled for an early release next year. Although neither Peter Gabriel nor U2 have definite album release dates, the latter does have a pencilled-in-date of September.

Meanwhile, Harold Budd, having spent the last few months in his native Los Angeles writing for a new solo release, has recently spent a number of weeks working in New Orleans. In what promises to be an interesting departure from his earlier work, he has enlisted the help of pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole and ex-Be Bop Deluxe front man Bill Nelson. Provisionally entitled By The Dawn's Early Light, it is scheduled for an early Summer release and also includes harp and viola.

The Carmel track And I Take It For Granted was released by London Records in February as a single. This track was re-arranged, re-recorded and produced by Brian Eno. Brian also recently appeared in a video with Peter Gabriel singing backing vocals for Geoffrey Oryema's new single Land Of Anaka from the album Exile recently released by Real World (see last issue for details).

Jon Hassell is presently composing music for a new film called Ectopia produced by Kess Kasander, while Daniel Lanois has been asked to write some music for Wim Wender's next production Until The End Of The World. To date, other contributors to the soundtrack include R.E.M., Neil Young, Neneh Cherry, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Talking Heads.

In Rolling Stone magazine's 1990 poll, Youssou N'Dour and and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan were voted as number one and two in the World Music section. Both of these albums were produced last year by Michael Brook (see last issue for details). Meanwhile, John Cale has recently produced the French singer Louise Feron for Virgin Records.

Lastly, several album covers designed by Russell Mills for us, including Roger Eno's Between Tides, Francois Elie Roulin's Disque Rouge, Djivan Gasparyan's I Will Not Be Sad In This World and Hugo Largo's Mettle are currently being shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London at an exhibition called The Art Of Selling Music...


Various people have enquired about the recently released videos in the series Mythological Lands released by Hendring Video. These videos used music from Brian Eno's Apollo and On Land, and also from various Jon Hassell recordings and Peter Gabriel's Passion Sources record. However, the video distribution company did not make it clear on the tapes that this music was from existing recordings, giving rise to the implication that the tapes contained specially composed music. Furthermore, the video company did not seek the permission of the authors of the music nor their publishers nor their record companies to incorporate music. Therefore Hendring have ceased the sale of these tapes and will apologise by way of advertisements in the music press.

We are sorry if any of our readers may have bought these tapes thinking they might contain some new material by Brian, Peter Gabriel or Jon, and would be grateful if anyone sees these tapes on sale to let us know.


Roger Eno was recently asked to provide a "primer" on musical harmony.

We felt that his reply, written in such an informative and, being Roger, entertaining way deserved a wider audience.


The simplest form of melodic music is one or more voices heard in unison. Early instruments, Greek and Roman, allowed basic accompaniment to these voices. The lyre, of a number of fixed strings, was one of these instruments. This gave drones and perhaps rhythmic accompaniment to the all-important melody line. For our purposes this does not constitute a harmonic role as its part did not alter with the melody; it could be likened to an ostinato (a persistently repeated figure or rhythm - Ed.).

The birth of what we now think of as harmony came with the advent of organum, the parallel singing of a melody line at an interval of a fourth or fifth. This, for me, coloured the melody enough to deserve being called harmony. This was still very simple and the real change, when harmony started school, came with the introduction of polyphony in vocal music. This period gave us independent lines supporting the melody and together these lines made up chords, the things that harmony came to be about.

With the development of polyphony came harmonic progression. Early music (c. fourteenth century) was riddled with marvellous clashes as each vocal line pursued its independent route. Harmony at this stage was a purely linear matter whereas later it became blocks or vertical inshape. This period deserves a listen. Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) was the hit of the time. His album Thrillum sold eight hundred and seven copies.

With the Renaissance came new developments again. This period mixed the old Gregorian modes with our now usual scales. A period of great musical beauty came from this, there seems to be more freedom in the writing. Modulations were not entirely standardised and this allowed an ambivalence that was soon to be lost in the later Baroque period. Composers of note are Monteverdi, Pallestrina, John Dowland, Thomas Tallis, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.

Baroque put the stamp on harmony for all of that period, as well as the classical and most of today's popular music.

The first great changes to established harmony came with Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Debussy (we'll come to him later). The great German Romantics really cut loose. In the search for ever more expressive (Romantic with a colossal R) music, keys became ever more ambiguous. As Schubert had used pivot chords, these boys used pivot notes. Enharmonic writing (where C could be B♯ or D♭) was prevalent and much of this music was taken with wandering skillfully around exotic keys. This lead to Arnold Schoenberg developing his Twelve Tone system with the thought that as all notes were now so nearly equal or important to the composer, why not systemise it completely. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Debussy, meanwhile, had also all but abandoned Baroque harmonic usage. His use of consecutive fifths (anathema to Bach's boys) and non-resolved suspensions and sevenths took him into dreamland. Stravinsky with polytonality and bitonality had also pissed on Handel only to wipe it off in the Neo-classic period, although it was mainly classical forms he was interested in.

It is of interest that at this time Satie and Debussy were looking back to gregorian elements, consecutive fourths and fifths and a lucidity all but forgotten in the hunt for ever more advanced harmonies.

With the advent of the twentieth century there were, then, a number of advanced and simple harmonic principles to draw on and to a large extent with the possibilities opened up by Impressionism and Late Romanticism each major composer borrowed and/or added to this wealth of possibilities.

Of note are: Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss (he pisses me off), Wagner and Schoenberg. Each of these composers went far to break what mould was left of traditional Baroque/classical harmony; even if you don't like them.

Why What Is Known Continues To Fascinate

With a few major interruptions from around 1850 or so, our tonal and harmonic scheme has remained pretty much unaltered for about three hundred years. This is now a cultural heritage that most people in the West recognise. We find various chord movements emotive, peaceful, strong, sad and so on. Melody lines that rise are generally more cheering or hopeful than those that fall, the interval of a major sixth is 'happy' while that of a minor sixth is riddled with pathos. One can liken this harmonic and melodic knowledge to a palette of colours that most of Europe and the Americas like. Having such a cultural code can, far from limiting the composer, allow deliberate variations in composition to create almost-known material while avoiding classical movements. Listen, for example, to Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings. It's constructed of known material; previously heard instruments, an unambiguous key centre, much traditionla harmony and an emotive lineal melody. Its emotive success relies mainly on this exaggerated melody scheme. From this (and our) palette Barber decided to accentuate this particular element and with simple move created a penetrating piece. In this piece, note also his use of resolving clashes, enhancing our feeling of anguish/joy.

Therefore some knowledge of the classical harmonic scheme can allow strange corners to be turned; a perfect example here are Satie's Gymnopedies and Gnostiennes. Here he stripped away rather than added to his canvas, giving us a purity many had forgotten or ignored. With established chordal movements, acknowledged virtually unconsciously, novel material can develop by the perversion of these rules. Corners of known streets can be taken, nothing you hear is entirely new, it is the mixture of blend that makes the difference.


This little section will probably be made up of various personal bias and preferences but I suppose this is what music is about: ignore what you wish to.

With the outcrop of Germanic Romanticism, Impressionism, Serialism et al, a new world opened to twentieth century composers. Our little palette became a paint factory of possibilities. But what elements to use and which to ignore? I feel many composers to be in a quandary. Benjamin Britten, for example, I cannot listen to; for me he uses all the wrong colours. Whereas our pal Vaughany boy is an ever growing source of delight. Many composers, I feel, treat music as an academic pursuit, Serialism being a prime example. Here the obvious was overlooked; that music is all about emotion, and form, and harmony and melody are but tools to mime with for this passion. Serialism is a bit like trying to construct a passionate ode by means of a crossword puzzle. By nature of the task the passionate element must be tailored to fit the form. Much of Bach is similar. Structure becomes the most important element. My favourite composers, Satie and Vaughan Williams, manage to blend tradition with modernism, both elements creating feelings rather than puzzles or clever riddles.

Both named composers also looked backwards to earlier pre-standardised times. Vaughan Williams to English folk music and renaissance forms and Satie to early church music. These periods relied far more heavily on simplicity and a certain freedom of (in) rules; as mentioned above concerning Renaissance modal/scalic thought. The freedom given by quite rigid parameters set down by Pope Gregory, allowed Satie to say "we can also be quiet", a seeming paradox this, freedom through rules.

Melody started to be lost and this spelt trouble. Schoenberg, Webern and Berg decided to do without "tunes you can whistle" while others took the path to more traditional means. It will be noticed that few are now interested in Serialism while many people still whistle tonal music; it seems it's in us for a while yet.

Modern serialists shun that name. Philip Glass, although tonally no Schoenberg, has maybe trapped himself in an equally restrictive and cold cell. Such lavish adherence to form seems to me fundamentally against true music, where the tools are more important than what they were developed for.

I will now shut up.


On January 27 Brian Eno was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Having made a rule not to choose any records that he was connected with, the eight discs Brian chose to take with him if cast away on a desert island were:

Duke Of Earl - Gene Chandler
Alu Jon Jonki Jon - Fela Kuti & Africa 70
Sunday Morning - The Velvet Underground
He Loved Him Madly - Miles Davis
Herouvimska - The Bulgarian State Choir
Too Much Time - Captain Beefheart
Ya Tayr - Fairouz
Lord Don't Forget About Me - Dorothy Love Coates

As the book Brian would want most to have with him, his initial choices of Nabokov's Lolita and The Grove Dictionary Of Music were finally superseded by Contingency, Irony, And Solidarity by Richard Rorty.

The programme will be repeated in the summer.

Opal Information: Number 18 (page 19)