Beetle JANUARY 1975 - by Stephen Davy


Non-musician on non-art

As at last result, definition is suspended. The bio-rhythm heartbeat toe-tapping white noise floods normal logic, reducing one to the dumb and numb. Imagine seeing Wee Geordie eighty-five times, Band On The Run stuck in the groove:


One of the many preoccupations of contemporary art is the incestuous examination of its processes. Through the dissection of form, content is eliminated. Via its negation, a new supra-content materialises: what you don't see.

Art students agree, Marcel Duchamp did Everything. In a ten-year span during the world-in-upheaval of France 1915, Duchamp recognised the concept of The Concept. The process as a simplifying and reducing statement.

Duchamp freed the senses from the fascism of "artistic perception". The eye sees what it expects to see, the two dimensional. Duchamp subliminally assaulted these pre-conceptions when he exhibited a shop-bought bottle-rack as a painting: the ready-made.

After Marcel came surrealism, dada, abstract expressionism, Pop, Op, found and anti-art.

Writers, too: Joyce, Wolf, Wolfe.

TV: I Love Lucy

Music: the twelve-tone dissolution of Schoenberg, the twelve-bar reductionism of the blues. John's Cage and Cale, atonal terrornauts.

All exemplify a common technique borrowed from the mass o'media. And repeated the image in his silkscreens of Liz and Marilyn. Canadian cineaste David Rimmer optically prints and reprints a ten-some frame unit. Steve Reich obliterates a four note phrase through an echo-plex in a myriad of surface.

This is Brian Eno's homeroom. A man without a song.

Two years ago Roxy Music became the darlings of the British pop scene. They were different - looked weird, sounded stranger. You all know about singer-stylist Bryan Ferry, a solid Paul, Andy and Phil, and the interchangeable bass player unit.

Brian Eno was the original synthesizerist for Roxy Music. Eno's role was not the star-tripped soloist in your Emerson-Wakeman niche. Eno cannot play any instrument. He knows how to attack one though, and by twiddling dials on mixers and phasers, he texturized the tone of Roxy Music.

"I'm an anti-musician. I don't think the craft of music is relevant to the art of music."

The other Roxies were not musicians, either. The drums held a steady up-tempo; solos rebounded. Andy Mackay's whooping-cough shenanigans on the saxophone and Eno's exploding synthi-shudders stole too much of Ferry's tuxedo spotlight. Eno left.

Roxy Music has found itself on the doorstep of American acceptance. The non-Eno Stranded and Ferry's own solo discs are finding their way to the airwaves and hi-fis. But Brian Eno was instrumental (or non-instrumental, if you like) in getting Ferry and friends where they perch today.

Eno chatted on the phone from Hollywood about his halcyon Roxy daze.

"At the time I was in Roxy Music it was absolutely out of the question that the band would play any other than Bryan's songs. That's one of the reasons I left. He was completely against the idea. Bryan said, 'Roxy Music is me and I refuse to sing anyone else's songs!' One of the problems he had with the band I can really understand was that he was the source behind it, having originated the idea of Roxy Music. But the spirit and style of Roxy Music was more than Bryan Ferry. He was the important element, but there was more to it than that. And when the press started picking up on the band their attention centred on me. I like to do interviews and I'm photogenic. So it happened that my picture was always being published. I can thoroughly well understand why Bryan was annoyed by that. From the point of view of an observer it looked as though Roxy Music was my band, and it wasn't like that at all. And after the first American tour, Bryan decided to establish that it was his band.

"My position in Roxy Music was always half-way between the musical and the theoretical. I was never the sort of person who could sit down at the piano and hammer out a song, or says, 'Here man, play this.' I'm much more interested in talking about the ideas behind the music. Working things out from the aesthetic.

"The thing I really enjoyed about Roxy was the diversity of the band. The fact that there was always a tension between a lot of different musical ideas. I like to think I encouraged this tension. I always said that we shouldn't have smoothed things out by saying it's this kind of band or that. We must allow it to be a unit that the tension can move in any direction, which is sometimes rough on the edges but is generally interesting.

"Bryan and I fell out because he couldn't agree with this. My experiment was in the way one makes music. His was in the quality of what the music said."

Once outside of Roxy Music Eno was able to experiment as the avant garde popstar. He traced a direction somewhere between the lady-killer and the Serious Artists. Here Come The Warm Jets was recorded, released. A major tour of the town halls of middle-Britain was cancelled after a headlining incident.

"My lung collapsed. I went into the hospital and didn't play any music for six weeks. During that time I was thinking, 'Why should I tour?' I don't very much enjoy it. It's not very creative. I'm more of a technologist, manipulating studios and musicians in a funny way. It sounds fantastic but one of the things that I tried to do with Warm Jets was to bring musicians together who would normally never play together and to play a music that they couldn't agree upon. The music would come from the chemistry. But of course, it was impossible to do. I couldn't expect any of the session people I worked with to go along with it. They literally fought.

"I've never really had any expectation for any albums to be hits. I do what I do regardless."

With friend Robert Fripp, Eno recorded an LP No Pussyfooting. Fripp's feedback guitar plays against a cadenza of Eno tapes. Electronic music is oft considered cold and empty but Pussyfooting is an emotional work, sad but whimsical.

"I had an eight foot cube room constructed for the album cover. The mood of the music, the reflections, echoes and mutations, is quite similar to the mood of the room. Fripp and I will be recording another LP very soon. It should be even more monotonous than the first one!"

Was Brian aware that a "pussyfoot" was a brand name of an American toilet manufacturer? Since "warm jet" refers to urination, was there, well, an unconscious connection?

"Really?? Uh... no, I didn't know that. That's a very nice connection. We certainly don't have that kind of thing in England. Oh..."

Eno's process of generating his words and music is a rather unusual one compared with traditional composers. Eno assembles sounds and impressions which gradually turn into a "song". On Here Come The Warm Jets, he finds his random imagery in a spirit close to a sleep-walker.

"The structure of the songs is very simple. I'm not really interested in the possible complexities. I'm not really capable of doing it, so all the songs are in terms of their basic chord progressions. Sometimes they are simple and melodic like Cindy Tells Me. Others are simple but non-melodic like Driving Me Backwards. I regard song structure as a graph paper. It's different than the ELP-Yes idea where you start with something very complex and rely on that to carry the musical substance of the material.

"My lyrics are generated by various peculiar processes. Very random and similar to automatic writing. But these concepts have lagged well behind my concepts of music making. In fact there's only three or four tracks on the album whose lyrics I'm happy with. Blank Frank, Baby's On Fire were successful.

"Dead Finks Don't Talk is the most randomly generated of my songs. I wrote the lyrics at home with my girlfriend with a cassette of the backing track from the studio. I sang whatever came into my mind as the song played through. Frequently they're just nonsense words or syllables. First I try for the correct phonetic sound rather than the verbal meaning. Off the top I was singing 'oh-dee-dow-gubba-ring-ge-dow.' So I recorded these rubbish words and then I turned them back into words. It's the exact opposite of the technique used in phonetic poetry where words are changed into pure sounds. I take sounds and change them into words.

"Dead Finks is not about Bryan Ferry. After all the music was recorded and the words written, Chris Thomas (my producer and Roxy's as well) said, 'you'll get me shot for that track. It's obviously about Bryan.' So I listened back to it and it obviously was. It was certainly something I hadn't realised. Essentially all these songs have no meaning that I invested in them. Meanings can be generated within their own frame-work. It may be a very esoteric thing to talk about but I don't think it's entirely out of the question."

Eno's latest adventure finds him teamed with the Velvet viola, John Cale. Cale is currently finishing the follow-up to Paris 1919. As well, they have shepherded chantoosie Nico back into the studios. A live LP of the evening's collaboration with fellow Island-mate Kevin Ayers has been released, June 1, 1974. Early rumours had it that Eno, with Cale and Nico, were to reform the Velvet Underground. That ain't the whole story.

"We weren't thinking of any big operation or a permanent band. We contacted Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison and they were interested. But, we were only going to play three or four concerts. We were going to use John's songs, Nico's and my own. But it was over-exaggerated by the press. They said I was going to replace Lou Reed! We weren't going to call it The Velvet Underground, and I didn't want to go on stage to be judged as Lou Reed's replacement. People would come along and expect me to sing Heroin..."

Undoubtedly, Eno will find something to so with his in-between time. He has the second Fripp LP to do, and a second singular attack to come to.

Till then, Brian, do you know the Eno Fruit Salt jingle?

"Oh, of course:
'E - N - O, ENO!
When you're feeling low - ENO!
It's mild and gentle
And good, good tasting
Bubbly, bubbly, bubbly

But is it art?

Sure, because you can dance to it.