Tone Audio MARCH 2014 - by Chris Petrauksas


Brian Eno: Visual Music by Christopher Scoates is a comprehensive career-spanning monograph of Brian Eno's visual artwork, including painting, video, photography, and installations. Though best known for his music, Eno has also created prolific works across many media. Through the bulk of the four-hundred-and-sixteen-page book, Scoates and other contributing essayists contextualize Eno within the major visual arts genres of the twentieth century - everything from photography and film to abstract and conceptual art.

While much of the writing is scholarly, there is a story within the text that follows Eno's growth from student, to pop star, to éminence grise of the arts world. Each major section of the book examines a period of time coincident with a body of Eno's work, looking at it through a variety of thematic lenses: time, color, light, randomness, nature, etc. Biographical details are present throughout to help the reader understand the context in which Eno's artistic works developed.

Because Eno's creative processes are so integrated, the text makes frequent references to his music and the creative Brian Eno: Visual Music interplay between it and his other artistic pursuits. For example, the soundtrack from Eno's 1984 video composition Thursday Afternoon was later iterated and realised as an ambient music composition, with each work being celebrated in its own right.

Highlights from the book include the initial chapters observing Eno's formative years at England's Ipswich Civic College under the tutelage of Roy Ascott. The exercises he learned and challenges he explored there became a creative structure that Eno used throughout his career, on projects such as The Oblique Strategies, which he released in 1974 with artist Peter Schmidt. The Oblique Strategies comprises a simple deck of cards, each one displaying a written directive for solving an artistic logjam that a user pulls at random and then tries to implement.

Eno's own contribution to the book is a chapter containing the transcript of a three-part talk he gave in London in 1992. Broken into movements titled Perfume, Defence, and David Bowie's Wedding, the transcript examines in microcosm the wide-ranging thought processes that fuel Eno's creativity. The book's final chapter transcribes a 2012 conversation with Will Wright about where Eno's experimentation with generative systems for music and visuals is headed. The chapter is fittingly illustrated with imagery from the 2009 installation of the software-generated work 77 Million Paintings, which was projected onto the iconic roof "shells" of the Sydney Opera House.

On the topic of imagery, much of the photography in the book appears here for the first time in print. The images offer insight into Eno's developmental exercises, with historical snapshots, installation photography, and pages from his lifelong photo journal.

Brian Eno: Visual Music is an extremely inspirational work. It allows fans who know Eno only from his music to see a new side of his creative genius, but it also gives Eno devotees reams of unpublished material, including a link to download a twenty-minute MP3 of the previously unreleased auditory composition CAM (Canada, Amsterdam, Milan). For any reader, the book provides an in-depth view into the creative life of one of our great contemporary artists.