NPR OCTOBER 30, 2011 - by Jacob Ganz


Moogfest might be named for Robert Moog, but at the festival this year, a second pillar of the scene has been anointed, one with a similarly identifiable (and economical) surname: Eno.

Yes, we've already talked about Brian Eno on this blog, but it makes sense that he would be a favorite at this festival. Like Moog, he's an innovator of electronic music, one whose experimental work is still fervently appreciated, but he's also got had feet in the world of pop music for four decades, from his records as a member of Roxy Music through his production work on the album that will top the pop charts this week.

Even though you couldn't watch him hold an instrument at the festival, or sing any of his songs, Brian Eno has been everywhere during Moogfest 2011. His face is plastered on festival posters around town, his sound and image installation artwork, 77 Million Paintings, has been on display since before the festival began, and his name is on the lips of many of the festival's attendees.

Actually, you could hear him sing; during the "Illustrated Talk" he gave at Asheville's Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Saturday afternoon, Eno sang a few bars of the chorus to Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime, a song he produced with the band for their 1980 album Remain In Light, under his breath.

The crowd would have likely swallowed every word he spoke even if he had shown no humour, but Eno's talk was unexpectedly funny, full of such tiny asides that referred back to his career as a musician, artist and thinker. He began the talk by joking that in honour of the festival's Southern location and his decision to proceed without written remarks, he'd be speaking in character as "Ramblin' Jack" Eno and later displayed an elaborate hand-drawn graph depicting the rules by which a haircut might be understood as a work of art.

He may not have followed an outline, but Eno is an extremely clear thinker. He named works by Terry Riley (also in attendance at Moogfest as a performer, with his son Gyan) and Steve Reich as the inspiration for most of the work in his career, and displayed his own graphic illustrations of these pieces. He spoke about his preference for spending time with scientists over artists and his opinion that more good music is being made today than at any time in the past.

But the centrepiece of Eno's talk was about the need for balance - in art and in life - between two poles: control and surrender. Commonly, he said, we consider the relationships between musicians and listeners to embody those two poles. Composing or performing music is an act of will; listening is the act of giving in to someone else's will. But the music that inspired Eno, like Riley's In C or Reich's It's Gonna Rain, as well as some of his own most famous ambient pieces, like Music For Airports, incorporate an element of randomness. That randomness requires that the composer gives up some of his control over the work. When that randomness makes the music difficult to follow, "your brain fills in the gaps."

"The listener becomes an active participant in the composition," Eno said. Then he made a joke about his haircut.