Der Spiegel DECEMBER 12, 2008 - by Christopher Dallach


"My generation ignores age"

The pop gaffer: Brian Eno, as a musician and producer, created a pop world - from David Bowie to Coldplay. In this interview he talks about soul-destroying pencil-pushers, the self-contained iPhone application - and why he still doesn't smoke a pipe like his father always did.

Christopher Dallach: Mr. Eno...

Eno: Nice to see you. What do you want from me? Do we have to talk about something specific? And if so, what? You and my cat, Kofi, could entertain each other, too, and then I can work.

Christopher Dallach: The fabulous CD, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, that you and your pal, ex-Talking Heads singer David Byrne, worked on has just been released. Already forgotten?

Eno: Speaking straightforwardly: Yes! When something is done and finished, I block it out. I always have so much to do that there simply isn't space in my head for more. Besides, I work very intensively on my music. So when my records are released, I prefer not to listen to them for a while. Months or years later I remember them and they become fresh to me again.

Christopher Dallach: You and David Byrne collaborated on this album - he in New York, you in London. You connected with him via your computer. You sent him melodies, and he wrote words and sang them. Is that the modern style of music production?

Eno: Exactly. We each had as much time as we wanted to work on the songs. And we had a lot of time left over, which was enormously relaxing. The disadvantage, of course, is that you can't have those brainstorms that can happen when two men who know and understand each other as well as David and I do are in the same room. In the end we recorded two songs together. You can hear the difference.

Christopher Dallach: A few years ago you proclaimed the end of the CD and thus the idea of an album at all, that there will just be individual songs on the Internet. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today will appear as a regular CD. Were you too hasty or are you sentimental?

Eno: I'm saying that pieces of music will increasingly be consumed individually. However, most people still listen to music as they always have. To ignore this fact would be stupid. So David and I have released a CD. But if you have a sequence of songs it must also be consistent, which for us meant a lot of work.

Christopher Dallach: Your new album is one of the most exciting releases of the year. You're almost sixty, David Byrne is fifty-seven. What does it say about the supposedly forever-young pop world when two men - approaching pensionable age - can combine like this?

Eno: I know where you're heading, but it's not so unusual at all. In jazz, for example, the elderly have always been important. Without doubt some have made good and important records at fifty, sixty or seventy years of age. With country - and, of course, classical music - even older. Pop is open-minded because it is a relatively new category and in the past older pop musicians simply didn't exist. When pop was still young, I was too. So the age limit no longer counts. My generation ignores age.

Christopher Dallach: Did your father happily accept being a pensioner?

Eno: At sixty my father retired and radiated the dignity of a man who had done his work and at the end of his day he would sit in his favourite chair and smoke a pipe. Thus, he was satisfied. I am far from satisfied, and I would argue that for my whole generation. Why should one waste his precious time?

Christopher Dallach: So have you never thought of retirement?

Eno: On the contrary, I have to put it out of my head every day.

Christopher Dallach: Is that ironic?

Eno: I swear I'm telling the truth. Part of my aim is retirement. Playing and writing music still makes me happily euphoric. But I want to stop producing other artists. It has always been a great experience working with U2 and other musicians in the studio, but it gets too strenuous. It's a slow and nerve-wracking work, even if it is ridiculously well-paid. But as I get older I feel it is a waste of time. I'm at good odds for producer of the year at the Brit Awards, which I could certainly win.


Christopher Dallach: Paul Simon has reported that you used to politely send him shopping or walking before you'd work on his recordings. Why?

Eno: In England there is a saying that, freely translated, means you don't want to be there when policy or sausages are made. What I want to say is this: I always prefer to do the dirty work alone. Then I don't have to explain why I change something, or even sort it out. Take Paul Simon. Paul is a very nervous friend who sits next to me in the drumming his fingers on the mixing board while I'm trying to think. It can't work like that. So I sent him to shop for a few hours so that I could work in peace. With some of the tracks he gave me, only the drum track was interesting. And then something would catch my attention. Sometime a tone. You know it when you hear an exciting melody. Then you can tinker with a song.

Christopher Dallach: You have no money worries. How important or not is the commercial success of the new record for you?

Eno: Success is always euphoriant. The album is already available as a download and has done so well that we've already turned a profit even before the physical media is released. But the very surprising commercial success of my iPhone program Bloom delighted me, and I don't mean that just in the financial sense. Bloom combines many of the ideas upon which I have worked for many years. Now it is finished and it obviously has a huge audience - that's pleasing.

Christopher Dallach: Thanks to Bloom any amateur can now make fluffy ambient sounds for home use. Your colleague, the artist and musician Laurie Anderson, has complained that modern, inexpensive technology has resulted in tons of terrible amateur music. She said that the daughter of her therapist harassed her with grotesque, self-recorded songs. Do you understand her anger?

Eno: This phenomenon reminds me of the evolution of photography. In the early days it was very difficult and expensive to photograph an image and then develop it. In the '20s of the last century Kodak already had disposable cameras. Suddenly everyone was able to shoot pictures. I'm pretty sure that ninety-six percent of all photos that are taken every day are absolute scrap - so what? With music it's the same. Soon we will be swimming in songs and melodies. But ultimately one is still interested only in the good pictures and music. Nevertheless, I can well understand Laurie.

Christopher Dallach: Who tries to push home-made music onto you?

Eno: More people than you can imagine. Just last night, I received another CD again. From a friend, a scientist who was recently involved in an ugly dispute. A very good and expensive lawyer helped him to resolve it. And as a fee, the two negotiated that my friend would forward a CD of his lawyer's songs to me.

Christopher Dallach: Will you ever listen to it?

Eno: Reluctantly, but yes. From the looks of the cover I expect it to be country music.

Christopher Dallach: You don't release albums very regularly. Does making music still give you pleasure?

Eno: Honestly: more than ever. It is so easy to release music now since you don't have to worry about what a record company wants anymore. And this makes a huge difference! The directness of these times is exciting. No annoying office meetings with more people who are complaining that a track is too long or complicated. Peter Chilvers and I finished Bloom alone, and a few days later, there's the app on the Apple website to download. Just like that! No advertising! People discovered it, were pleased, and then spread the word. It has been successful without a marketing campaign or interview. On YouTube there are already a few dozen films using it for effect. The advertising is all done for you. You don't have to lift a finger. I've always dreamed of this. This is the future!


Brian Eno was born in 1948 in Woodbridge, England. Even as an adolescent he was enthusiastic about experimental forms of pop music. The Who and The Velvet Underground, as well as Steve Reich and John Cage were his idols. In 1971 he joined the musically and fashionably extroverted pop band Roxy Music. Later, he made his own albums, but also increasingly worked as a producer: David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, U2, Coldplay - Eno's collaborations read like a who's who of the pop world.