Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Happy birthday Brian Eno

‘Beautiful late TV show of pop?/classical?/Turkish?/Arabic? orchestra and singing. Extraordinarily ugly audience transformed to beauty by singing. What clothes the musicians were wearing! Style in an orchestra! What a good idea.’ This is a snippet from a one-off diary kept by Brian Eno, the British musical artist and producer who turned 70 today. He is widely celebrated for his pioneering work with ambient music and electronica and as a highly innovative music producer.

Eno was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on 15 May 1948 to Catholic parents. He went to school at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, and studied at Winchester School of Art, where a lecture by Pete Townshend had a particular impact. He married Sarah Greville in 1967, and they had a daughter the same year, though divorced soon after. In 1971, Eno became a founding member of Roxy Music. Initially, he operated a mixing desk (a synthesiser and tape recorders) off stage during live shows, but later, when he did appear on stage, he was usually dressed flamboyantly. He left the band in 1973 as a result of tension with the singer Bryan Ferry, and set about a solo career. Several albums followed quickly - such as No Pussyfooting, Here Come the Warm Jets - and by the mid-1970s he was already developing ideas on ambient music: subtle instrumentals to affect mood through sound (with albums such as Discrete Music and Music for Airports).

By this time, Eno had begun producing albums - often in experimental ways - for other musicians, such as Ultravox and David Bowie, though it was not until he started collaborating with Talking Heads (fronted by David Byrne) and U2 that his particular style and sound became familiar to mainstream music consumers. In 1988, he married his manager, Anthea Norman-Taylor, and they had two daughters. During the 1990s, he worked increasingly with self-generating musical systems, or generative music, whereby music slowly unfolds for the listener in almost infinite non-repeating combinations of sounds. Notably, in 1995, he worked with the performance artist Laurie Anderson on Self Storage, while Anderson provided the vocals for a track on Eno’s electronic album Drawn from Life in 2000. He produced Paul Simon’s Surprise in 2006 and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida in 2008. That same year, he joined with David Byrne to release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today on the Internet, streaming it for free. In parallel with his purely musical endeavours, Eno has also made a name for himself in other media, notably video installations.

Most recently Eno has been focusing on music albums, some of them solo but also in collaboration with artists such as Tom Rogerson and Karl Hyde. He is also political - a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn - and a frequent contributor to various humanitarian causes. AllMusic has this assessment of Eno: ‘Ambient pioneer, glam rocker, hit producer, multimedia artist, technological innovator, worldbeat proponent, and self-described non-musician - over the course of his long, prolific, and immensely influential career, Brian Eno was all of these things and much, much more. Determining his creative pathways with the aid of a deck of instructional, Tarot-like cards called Oblique Strategies, Eno championed theory over practice, serendipity over forethought, and texture over craft; in the process, he forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.’ There’s plenty of biographical information about Eno available elsewhere online, at Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or in a recent Guardian interview.

Though not a natural diarist, Eno did keep a daily diary for a year in 1995. Initially, he had no thought of it being published, yet, by the autumn, he had begun to think he might publish the contents and, consequently, had changed the way he was writing. The diary was published the following year by Faber & Faber as A Year With Swollen Appendices (the year-long diary being accompanied by over 30 appendices - essays, letters etc.). A full copy of the book can be read online at Monoskop (a wiki for collaborative studies of the arts, media and humanities), and reader reviews can be found at Good Reads. The book starts with a short section entitled About This Diary in which Eno explains his decision to keep the diary in the first place and then to have it published. Here is part of that introduction.

‘I’ve never kept a diary past about 6 January (so I know a lot about the early Januaries of my life), but at the end of 1994 I made a resolution to keep one for 1995. I did it because I wanted to schedule in advance some of the things that Anthea and I don’t get round to doing often enough - going to the cinema, the theatre, galleries and so on.

So I started this diary - an A5 page-a-day type - by ambitiously writing in all the things we were going to do, on the days we were going to do them (cinema every first Tuesday of the month, for example). As a sideline, I thought I might as well try to keep a record of the year. The preplanning idea failed within weeks, but, surprisingly, I kept up the diary.

When I started I had no intention at all of publishing it. It wasn’t until mid-October that I began to think that an expanded, addended form of this diary, with its mishmash of ideas, observations, admirations, speculations and grumbles, could become the book for which Matthew Evans of Faber so trustingly gave me a £100,000,000 advance several years ago. I’d put a lot of thought into that, and never found the form I wanted. One day Stewart Brand said to me in an e-mail, ‘Why don’t you assume you’ve written your book already - and all you have to do now is find it?’, and several weeks later this way of doing exactly that dawned on me.

From October onwards the diary becomes more self-conscious - I knew from that date that I was probably going to publish. Also from that time I switched from writing in the diary itself to writing directly on to the word processor - since I’d had everything to date transcribed into it anyway. These two things changed the nature of the writing: I became both more diplomatic and more prolix. I write much faster at the WP, and I was not limited by the single-page format. I haven’t tried to match up the two sections of the diary.’

Here are several extracts.

13 February 1995
‘Peter Greenaway 4.00.

In studio at 8.30. Dreadful crowded bus - trying to read Being Digital in very analogue conditions. Want to start getting some writing done, but worried that I also have to do the Storage press thing - really in the way. But, anyway, in I went to produce a typically stiff and tortuous five pages (double-spaced) which did however open up a few new ideas. Trouble is, as soon as I start thinking I go off into the back alleys and dirt tracks. I’ve found things up there before, and the habit stays.

Greenaway cancelled.

Renata came to clean, but I’d already wrecked the morning by resorting to Photoshop. Meanwhile office calling about ‘Industrial Start Small Plot of Land’, one of the D. B. mixes I’d done, which I couldn’t find. Found another (forgotten) opening. I’m a bit remote from this project at the moment. Back to writing (title: ‘Attention Creates Value’). Dull and pedantic, like a professor. Spoke to Michael re Storage.

Home at 5.30, playing with girls; defrosted sausages in microwave. Andree came over and I made prawns and garlic.

Anthea returned at 7.30 from Zagreb, with lots of lists of bizarre and, she thought, rather suspicious ‘aid’ organizations, all with ‘Freedom’ or ‘Democracy’ or ‘American’ in their titles. War
Child was apparently the only charity present that was active doing something.’

16 February 1995
‘Write Roger / Shoes / Mark Baldwin 2.00 / Peter Schwartz / Call James Putnam / Laurie stuff.

Nightmare about falling off a cliff, screaming into the wind, clinging on to a tiny ledge with elbows and fingertips, knowing no one above - including Anton Corbijn - would bear me, know ing I must soon fall and crash on the rocks below.

Wasn’t looking forward to today, but it turned out OK. Tons of annoying little jobs to do but I managed to work on some of Laurie’s stuff, which turned out so well I suddenly had the idea to suggest each Self-Storage project use one of Laurie’s pieces as its ‘content’ - ready-made content. Faxed and talked to David Blarney about this, and he liked it. It solves a lot of problems, giving the students the choice of making ‘frames’ rather than ‘content’ if they want to. I always prefer making frames: making context rather than content.

In the evening to the Browns’ for dinner. Emma said all she wanted to do when she grew up was have children - and write a book at the age of 50.’

19 February 1995
‘How excitingly dominant these wealthy, healthy, modishly dressed and highly perfumed German ladies look! All German history - at least from Goethe to the Nazis - transmutes in them into a statement of sexual power.

Enormous breakfast! - fruit, meat, muesli, two pots of tea, papaya juice.

I feel like I had an ideal day today - it had fun, art, ideas and satisfactory work. Ever since I first met her I’ve had this great bond with Maria. Really a deep-fun friendship which I couldn’t have with any man. I guess there’s a kind of flirting in it - but ironic, a game, because I’m sure that in her mind as well as mine there’s never been any thought of sexual contact. But the game of flirting is a fun game which we play - just for fun; and because it lets us talk about other things, serious things, in that just-for-fun way. I love her company - and so does Rolf. At dinner tonight I wanted to say, ‘Will you please get married. Now!’ because they both shine so much in each other’s company.

At Pixelpark, home of the ROM-makers, I gave a speech and really liked those people. I realize that what I’m talking about is a ‘rule moirĂ©: patterns of rule interactions created by overlays of probabilistic decision matrices. Of course I wouldn’t say that to anyone.

At Sigi’s MediaPool we put in birch trees - recalled from my show in Hanover. Well remembered, Rolf! In the evening we went to see Alan Wexler’s show, which was full of thousands of good ideas. What a truly individual thinker. Then to CD-Rom fest, which was mildly yawnsome. BLINDROM was good.

Beautiful late TV show of pop?/classical?/Turkish?/Arabic? orchestra and singing. Extraordinarily ugly audience transformed to beauty by singing. What clothes the musicians were wearing! Style in an orchestra! What a good idea.’

21 February 1995
‘Out to swim (8.20-8.45) in local pool, but a less lovely experience than Berlin. To studio early for tapes for RCA. Another difficult day. I thought Laurie’s tapes would do the job, but the reaction was cautious. In the end, some good ideas.

Clemente show. Very uneven work - some really lovely things and some really incomprehensibly flat things. The pastels are beautiful - his medium for sure. The Upanishads! Eye-smashingly lovely. The kind of show that makes you think, ‘Fuck me! What have I been doing with my life?’ Saw Diego Cortez there! Felt oddly torn not to go to Groucho with Diego et al. Perhaps I was missing a possible future.

But a lovely dinner with Anthea. Her unthinkable future = ‘people of different signs go to war with each other’ - from our delicious evening dinner at L’Altro. Conversation about cities, pragmatism v. ideology, NGO’s, management.

Got home - message from Maria: she says I can go to Egypt (sleeping above the engine room). Now it’s time to decide - things to move and change; Self-Storage project a problem. Anthea says everybody should visit Egypt and I should go (she went years ago).’

23 February 1995
‘A future for air travel: inflight docking facilities above countries, so that ‘Rome’ - a huge Italian mall - hooks up as you fly over Italy. Aircraft and mall then move as a unit.

Bought three books about Egypt from the Travel Bookshop. Long flight - one whole book’s worth. Bought a camera!

Getting off the plane - a hint of sewage in the air, but somehow exotic and alluring. My driver tells me it’s Ramadan. We share a cigarette as we sit in Mercedes-rich traffic between beautiful orientalist buildings. Crowded, battered vehicles. Soft, cool air.

Apartments studded with air conditioners. It’s nice arriving somewhere at night - night cloaks the mundane with intrigue. Solid traffic, people weaving in and out nonchalantly, drivers cursing very chalantly. A five- or six-year-old boy, arms full of cartons of cigarettes, dances thru five lanes of fast cars. Terrifying. The more wrecked the vehicle, the more shit stuck on it. People on mopeds - carrying kids, huge baskets, an oil-drum.

At the hotel, opening the curtains in my room and looking out into the night, I see, dimly, a dark amber against a hazy sky: the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Now there’s a justifiable use of capital letters.

Ate dolmas, watched TV, listened to echoey laughing Arabs outside. Jay Leno, that stultifyingly unfunny man, on TV. The pyramids in the dim night outside. And yet I am watching Jay Leno (better reception).’

15 September 1995
‘Serious interview in morning (with whom now escapes me). Home, into office quickly, then to meet girls from school; in taxi to Golborne Road. Went to buy fish with them, the fishmen proudly showing them live lobsters. I find it difficult to justify meat-eating to kids. There’s a gap in my grasp of things. Many gaps, many things.’

25 December 1995
‘Great morning excitement as the girls open their gifts. A Barbie horse and carriage for Darla that takes me about two hours to put together. I imagine all over the western hemisphere disgruntled unshaven fathers doing the same thing. And then no pissing batteries (but the Indian shop was open). Anthea and I decided to postpone presents for each other, but nonetheless she bought me some gloves, a key-locator (which goes off every time Darla laughs) and a book by the BMA about drugs and medicines, and I bought her a negative-ionizer/room-perfumer, a book about vitamins and minerals, and an electric car-perfumer.

Van Creveld: war is being pushed into corners where modem weapons don’t work. So the effect of more sophisticated weaponry is to remove the conduct of war further away from the terms on which we prefer to fight it. Insecticides.’

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