Wired AUGUST 1998 - by John Alderman


It's hard to predict where Brian Eno will show up next. Since 1972, when the musician premiered as a sound creator with British glam rock legend Roxy Music, Eno has broken each successive mold that he's cast himself in: multi-genred, self-styled musician, visual artist, writer, and producer of famous bands such as Devo and U2.

This week, the London-based Eno has popped up in Germany, where an exhibition of his art will be complemented by two performances in Bonn, and set for live broadcast over the Internet.

The exhibits and performances will take place at the Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany), which has made a priority of including new media in its galleries since it opened in 1992.

Thursday night's entertainment will be Sushi! Roti! Reibekuchen! A High-Altitude-Food-Performance with Incidental Music by Slop Shop and Brian Eno. The broadcast will begin at 8 pm Central European Time, or noon Pacific Daylight Time. Special musical friends of Eno will join him.

Conversation with Umbrella, Tape Recorder, Record Player, Overhead-Projector, and Michael Engelbrecht is Saturday's performance, which also begins at 8pm CET.

Both events should last several hours.

When asked what the audience should expect from the performances, Norbert Kanter, the museum's project manager for new media, said even he is not sure.

"The Thursday event will be like a party, with music, cooking, and a surprise guest, too," Kanter said. "Don't ask me about Saturday. I still don't know anything about that."

Kanter is excited by the help that the museum has received from Deutsche Telekom in securing plenty of bandwidth for the broadcasts, and he expects a large audience. The museum, he says, will stream directly to two multicast distribution servers, each with a thirty-four megabyte connection. From there, the streams will be distributed "intelligently" to the nearest server accessible to the user.

If he's excited about the show's potential, Kanter also seems a little amused by the popularity of streaming media. For the last two years, he said, the museum has had a mobile live Web cam, and it is by far the most accessed page on a site of more than a thousand other pages.

"Obviously, people love moving, bad-quality live images and sound - like from a space shuttle - more than a high-quality reproduction of an art work," Kanter joked. "That's our time."

Reaching out to the public with events such as Eno's performance serves an important function for museums in Germany, he noted, which are mostly publicly funded. Expanding the program to include a wide audience helps to justify the cost.

By German standards, the museum's site is very popular, with over fifteen-thousand unique visits per month. While not a great number by North American standards, the number is large for Western Europe, where modem users are billed by the minute for local phone use.

Hosting a concert by one of the world's more inventive performers certainly won't hurt that popularity.