One Brain to record them all

Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno turns 70 today. Rolling Stone has a nifty tribute, as does Pitchfork, but I’ve used my copy of Oblique Strategies to put this together. Don’t blame me, blame 15 year old me.

What are you really thinking about just now? “In August 1992, Eno drew a crowd of 1,500 to Sadler’s Wells for a lecture, washed down with music and slides, entitled “Perfume, Defence and David Bowie’s Wedding”. The first part was about smells and how to mix them, a longstanding interest; the second was about the defence industry (“this is increasingly the way that governments explore new technologies”); the third was a firsthand account of the blessing of David Bowie’s second marriage, to Iman, in a church in Florence. “You couldn’t tell what was sincere and what was theatre,” Eno reported. “It was very touching.” In that lecture, Eno gave his definition of culture: “everything you don’t have to do.” Thus cuisine is culture, but eating is not; fashion is, but clothing isn’t. The great thing about the definition is that it covers both the common senses of the word – culture meaning art, and culture as in the ways that a group of people have in common.” (50 Eno Moments)

Give way to your worst impulse: Live version of Seven Deadly Finns. So seventies. Much beret.

In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly: “In January this year I had an accident. I was not seriously hurt, but I was confined to bed in a stiff and static position. My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 18th century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realized that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn’t the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music …” (notes) (music)

Lowest common denominator: “The aesthetic theory that underlies the work of Brian Eno is to be found here. In his work, the music is slowed down to almost reach the immobility of painting, while this is moved along, almost magically, to the element of time. So, in the intermediate point between music and painting, in that center that always escapes to the structuring of the composition, the magic happens. Charmingly, certainly unexpected, music and painting meet. …” (Light Music)

Define an area as “safe” and use it as an anchor: “Grotesque Tables II, itself an anagram of Oblique Strategies, are now available through a website created by New York based artist and conceptual musician Noah Wall. Taking 50 of the original 113 strategies, Wall reworked these helpful ideas into blissful abstractions. The results of his work are pretty wild, altering Eno and Schmidt’s suggestions such as “Use filters” and “Breathe more deeply” and “Be less critical more often,” into wonderfully bizarre phrases like “Let fissure” and “Elope by mere thread,” and “Be frictionless latecomer.” The cards even come with a Eno-approved blurb: “Let the Oblique Strategies fissure into a million wonderful variants, of which this is the first.” (OS rebooted)

Simple subtraction: “In July 1975, Brian Eno found himself a few days and several thousand dollars into a studio booking with nearly nothing to show for it. It wasn’t that he had too few ideas, but too many. …” (Pitchfork review of Another Green World) (music)


Repetition is a form of change: “All of our musical experience is based on the the possibility of repetition, and of portability, so you can move music around to where you want to be, and scrutiny, because repetition allows scrutiny. You can go into something and hear it again and again. That’s really produced quite a different attitude to what is allowable in music. I always say that modern jazz wouldn’t have existed without recording, because to make improvisations sound sensible, you need to hear them again and again, so that all those little details that sound a bit random at first start to fit. You anticipate them and they seem right after a while. So in a way, the apps and the generative music are borrowing from all of the technology that has evolved in connection with recorded music and making a new kind of live, ephemeral, unfixable music. It’s a quite interesting historical moment.” (2017 Pitchfork interview)

Emphasize the flaws: Wilhelm Tell Overture with the Portsmouth Sinfonia.

Discard an axiom: I couldn’t find a good match for this one that wasn’t gracelessly repetitive, so I’ll stop here.

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