Fast Company JUNE 22, 2016 - by Jeff Beer


The legendary producer and artist took to the Cannes Lions stage to talk about art, technology, and his new project, The Ship.

On June 28, Brian Eno will launch a new video experience for the title track of his latest album The Ship, which was released in April. What's different about this music video is, according to Eno, it isn't really a music video at all, but rather a visual experience informed by and created with artificial intelligence.

"Just as I'm excited about the possibilities of artificial intelligence and new technologies, I'm so incredibly and numbingly bored with videos and the traditional music videos, that I just couldn't imagine wanting to do that," said Eno, on stage at Cannes Lions. "So really, this is an attempt to say, is there some other way we can do this thing?"

The legendary artist and producer said that he's interested in finding out what new technologies can do, primarily because they so often can do something nobody ever thought they could do. "They were invented to do one thing, but you can be sure they can do something else much better," said Eno. "Artificial Intelligence is something that I've been interested in for quite a long time, I have several friends who are working in that area. And I'm not frightened of it, I'm frightened of the people who currently control it. Like the NSA and so on."

The interactive experience for The Ship was created with Dentsu Tokyo Lab, a component of ad agency Dentsu. Essentially, it takes images and stories from around the Internet to create a different visual experience for viewers every time.

"Part of the objective is to make not a video, but something that is constantly different each time that you look at it," said Eno. "The point is to create a machine that generates something new in relation to the project each time. The important caveat is, if you're using machines and systems and algorithms to generate things, what really matters is what you put in at the beginning, and how you select what comes out at the end."

Eno related this project back to his experimental composing with what he called generative music, in which he would create a technical system to help him create music.

"I was setting up systems that generated sounds, I could control the systems, I could make rules for them, I could give them certain inputs, but then I let them run," said Eno. "And they produced a music that I had never heard. It's different from the classical view of a composer of someone who has conception of the music in their head and then they realise it in some way. What I was doing was having a conception of having a way of making music, and then building that and letting it happen."

Artists interpret technology in different ways than this technology was originally conceived, and Eno says that it's often these uses that push the envelope or open the door to new possibilities.

"One of the things we can do is capitalise on something the computers do have, which is artificial stupidity," said Eno. "Computers make some very weird mistakes, and a lot of those mistakes are very interesting. One of the things artists are interested in for technology, is the things that they do that they're not supposed to do. The dominant texture of any era is really captured in the shortcomings of those technologies."

He sees this project as part of that process around artificial intelligence. "This is very much the beginning of something, I think," said Eno. "It's the beginning of using a technology that is generally being used to track your phone calls and who your friends are, and finding ways of selling things to you, and we're trying to see what else it can do."