INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
All About Jazz JANUARY 25, 2014 - by Nenad Georgievski
BRIAN ENO: VISUAL MUSIC
To say that polymath Brian Eno is one of the most influential figures of our time would be a severe understatement. Eno has been one of the pivotal figures of the twentieth century music as he introduced a popular voice to a century of musical change, and he has continued to do so in the next one he has helped to envision. Innovative, exuberant and controversial, Eno has, during any point of his illustrious career, found both popular appeal and intellectual appreciation for his ideas, emotional intensity and musical sophistication. Over the last forty years he has been largely responsible for rendering conventional music categories obsolete and inventing or inspiring many others along the way.
A maverick producer, theoretician and erudite he showed that ideas can have far reaching consequences, and his interviews, which are somewhat public lectures or thinking in public, indicate someone that enjoys theorising about the creative process, especially when he can offer a new perspective on established ideas and working practices. A towering figure and an eccentric artist, he has shown interest in various areas: design, painting, video installations, production, collaboration, composing, fragrances, and in each sphere he has found success. More important is that Eno has found a way to connect and combine all these seemingly disparate and somewhat detached areas as ingredients in a collage. And as a result this has inspired and fed his work as he combined all of these elements into different processes that would spark new meanings and stories.
Eno's life and works so far have been dissected and analysed in several books, such as the Eric Tamm's Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound, a musicological study of his output, or David Sheppard's comprehensive On Some Faraway Beach. But those books gave more emphasis, normally, on his life and work within the domain of music. Eno's artistic education, background and interests beyond music were never neglected by his biographers or journalists throughout the years, but those activities outside of music were overshadowed by the successes of his musical endeavours during different times either by producing mega popular stars or by the success of his own music.
Visual Music is a substantial attempt to give a view on the entire body of work in the world of visual art that has spanned more than forty years. Scoates is a director of the CLUBS' University Art Museum , curator and writer, with an extensive background in arts and whose interests encompass works that blend technology, design, interactivity and experimental sound. This book is bound in several chapters or essays, each divided by photographs of Eno's sketches, photo stills from his video and gallery installations and various other photographs. This stunning monograph besides Scoates' contributions also features contributions by Steve Dietz, Brian Dillon, Roy Ascott (who provided the foreword), and William R. Wright and this magnificent work of art was designed by Andrew Blauvelt and Matthew Rezac. All these chapters map different biographical and artistic details that have shaped his artistic sensibilities as a young and aspiring artist or have inspired him to experiment further and simultaneously straddle the boundaries between different areas such as visual and aural arts.
As the story goes, the Ipswich art school that Eno attended from 1964 to 1966 had been considered to be a hotbed of experimentalism. Eno was particularly affected by the school's head, Roy Ascott, a teacher interested in cybernetics, who purposefully "disoriented" his students into new ways of thinking. His "Groundcourse" was as influential as it was unorthodox in its approach to teaching art. Another teacher, Tom Philips, also influenced Eno to experiment with tape recorders. It was there that Eno began to see the process of making something to be more interesting than the end result. Also at this school he became interested in the Dada and Surrealist movement of the early twentieth century as well as becoming interested in sound generation and automatic writing. With alumni that include Townshend, Eno and Stephen Willats there is no doubt that the courses at Ipswich (and Ealing) have made their mark. Moving to Winchester Art School in 1966 developed his ideas further, even though it was a more conventional school than Ipswich. He created performances of both paintings and scores, and formed a music group, Merchant Taylor's Simultaneous Cabinet. Then, in 1969, Eno graduated with a Diploma in Fine Art.
Eno married young while at art school and had been considering a career as an art teacher when he took an underground train and met saxophonist Andy Mackay, an event that was crucial to his music career and diverted him to a totally different route. As he told one journalist "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy I joined Roxy Music and as a result of that I have a career in music I wouldn't have otherwise. If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform or missed that train, I probably would have been an art teacher now." What followed was his engagement with Roxy Music which success sparked his career in music.
Creativity can also be defined as looking at things that everyone can see, but not to be thinking about them in the same way as everyone else. Certainly, Eno had different ideas of how to approach areas of interest, mostly music, and he was inspired by the most unlikely of sources. On the intellectual front Eno had absorbed strong ideas about the dynamics of organisations from Norbert Wiener (the American mathematician and inventor of cybernetics), Stafford Beer (leader in the development of operational research and management cybernetics) and Morse Peckham (professor of comparative literature). From all of them he learnt and took different things - from Peckham he took the conclusion that art had a biological quality while Beer's thinking led Eno to suspect that any system creates its own dynamics (which gave him the idea for one of his most famous oblique strategies "Honour thy error as a hidden intention." Other important sources were the ideas of composers John Cage and especially Steve Reich, whose It's Gonna Rain, together with linguist Noam Chomsky's ideas about generative grammar, sparked the idea for generative music.
The period between 1978-1983 is one of his most prolific and celebrated periods in his career and Eno spent most of the time living in the US, apart from travels to Africa and the Far East. It was the start of Eno's true revolutions in music and its comprehension as he introduced the concept of space and time into an industry with a short attention span. Besides producing records by new wave artists in NY he began releasing records under the name they are known now - ambient. Music For Airports (1978) was a milestone in his career and it functioned on several levels. According to Eno the music was supposed to be "as ignorable as interesting," but he also saw those ambient recordings as "sonic murals" or "sound paintings." which is the best description of the works he did with pianist and composer Harold Budd or on records such as On Land (1982) and Thursday Afternoon (1985). Much like classical composer Erik Satie so has Eno dubbed himself a non-musician and also took the concept for "furniture music" from him when he defined his greatest achievement by his now well-known maxim "music that is as ignorable as it is interesting" or "as the color of the light or the sound of rain."
Parallel to that outburst of music creativity, Eno also became interested in video art. He bought a video camera that he accidentally left by the window of his apartment in Manhattan for four days thus burning out the camera's color tube. As a result the video he recorded captured Manhattan skylines in vibrant and odd colours. He named the video Mistaken Memories Of Medieval Manhattan. That was a start for further work in this domain, most notably, Thursday Afternoon which portrayed a nude woman whose movements were slowed down: in combination with the music it became hypnotic. Further, Eno created several videos and multimedia installations that were reactionary to the fast-cutting and image moving contemporary culture.
The next stage in Eno's video work consisted of exhibitions of video sculptures that eventually led to the "Quiet Club" installations. The sculptures were made from plastic or cardboard boxes that were cut in various shapes and were placed on a wall or on the floor. In every creation there was a video monitor on which were displayed different types of images. Those installations were exhibited in art galleries, where Eno exhibited his work either solo or in group exhibitions. Since the mid-'80s, Eno had been professing the idea for a "Quiet Club" that would replace many aspects of a city like quiet parks, quiet libraries, gentleman's clubs as opposed to the noise and dynamics of a contemporary city. All of these ideas about generative systems, generative music and video installations were morphed into 77 Million Paintings, which is software that generates music and images randomly. It consists of thirteen screen monitors that slowly transit from one combination of images to another.
Eno's body of work is not an easy task to gather and grasp in one single monograph, and to collect all of the info and details, to explain the ideas and modus operandi behind, as well as to describe the reach of his artistic ideas and protean skills, is a herculean achievement. But despite being comprehensive and detailed, the monograph doesn't acknowledge Eno's involvement and influence over the concept of U2's multimedia extravaganza ZOO TV as well as organising and encouraging fashion and art events in 1995 in Bosnia as a patron of War Child. The same year he was appointed Visiting professor in Communications design at the Royal College of Art in London.
With striking illustrations and insightful essays, this book provides a thoughtful and comprehensible introduction to the one of the most enigmatic and creative forces in contemporary culture. Each copy also includes a download code where readers will be able to download unreleased music by Eno.