by Ian MacDonald / NME
26th November 1977
On the night of January 18 1975, whilst walking back from a Phil Manzanera session at Island Records’ Basing Street studio to his home in Maida Vale, Brian Eno found himself engulfed by thoughts of darkness and sudden death…
“For about a week I’d been feeling that I was about to have an accident. It was the same feeling as I’d had before I got appendicitis when I was 16 – or before my lung collapsed when I was doing my first and last tour at exactly the same point in 1974.
“I always seem to sense when I’ve pushed too hard, you know? When I’ve been carried off on the momentum of media approval or professional opportunism and have ceased to think about where I am and what I’m doing.
“We’d just finished the song called ‘Miss Shapiro’ and I found myself thinking ‘I wonder if that’s the last thing I’ll ever record?’ and saying ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind so much if it was’ sort of thing.
“And then I thought ‘What the hell are you talking about?‘ You know – what a ridiculous train of thought to be on.
“About a hundred yards further up the road I walked in front of a taxi.”
The taxi was doing about 40 mph. Eno stepped back instinctively at the last minute, but was too late. It hit him, running over his legs and throwing his head back against a parked car.
People from a nearby pub gathered around him while someone called for an ambulance. “He’s a goner,” observed some impartial witness.
Eno realised that this warm stuff running past his eyes must be blood. He touched the top of his head; it felt as if it was split open. Anxious to prevent his brain falling out, he kept his hands pressed to his skull until the ambulance arrived.
A few minutes later he was being wheeled along a hospital corridor, still holding onto his brain.
“The whole thing was horrible. I was conscious all the way through. And I was thinking, ‘You stupid cunt, you brought this on yourself .’
“I knew absolutely that I was responsible for it. It was not an accident at all. It was a whole… trick that I’d brought on myself.”
A nurse gently attempted to prize away his hands. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Keeping my head together, man,” he replied.
Brian Eno was born in the village of Woodbridge, Suffolk, on May 15 1948 and educated by nuns and Brothers of the De La Salle order until he was 16 – at which point he enrolled for a two-year course at Ipswich Art School.
“I went to art school because I didn’t want to do a conventional job. I saw a job as a trap and something to avoid. In fact, that’s a characteristic of my life: making moves not so much towards things as away from them, avoiding them.”
Although young Brian knew he didn’t want to be ordinary, his conceptions were, at that point quite as ordinary as those of his fellow students. He was in need of a shake-up.
“By a stroke of luck I happened to go to a very good school. Ipswich was run by a guy called Roy Ascot – a very brilliant educationalist, I think – and what he and his staff were concerned with was not the teaching of technique so much as experimenting with notions of what constitutes creative behaviour.
“So, instead of sitting there doing little paintings, we found ourselves being required to get involved in discussions and self-investigation projects. Like, the first thing we had to do was a ‘mind-map’, which was constructing a series of tests to find out what sort of behaviour we exhibited in different situations, from which it was decided what sort of character type we each were .
“Having established that, we had to behave in a way diametrically opposed to our normal selves, ie., if you were naturally extrovert, you had to be introvert; if you were a born leader, you had to be a follower, etc.”
Which were you?
“I had to become a follower. I had to execute everyone else’s ideas, not make a fuss, not try to dominate the proceedings.
“Some people really pushed it. One girl was very perky and exuberant and the only way she could get herself to calm down was to tie her legs to her chair. Another girl, called Lily, was very nervous – she made herself learn how to walk the tight-rope.
“I sat on this porter’s trolley all day. If anyone wanted me to do anything, they had to wheel me to where I was required.
“All of this was very exciting and disorientating and aroused in me a lasting interest in working with other people under what might normally be considered quite artificial restrictions.”
During this period, Eno met a major influence in the artist Tom Phillips, who was one of the staff, and began to get interested in music via a chance encounter with John Cage’s book Silence and the occasional visit to the school of avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew.
Unable, as yet, to manipulate a conventional musical instrument, he started playing about with tape-recorders and, by 1965 – at which juncture he left Ipswich for Winchester Art School – he had amassed about 30 machines, of which only two were in full working order.
“I felt that art was more serious and important than they seemed to think. They regarded it as merely decorative – or there to make things a bit better or something. I thought there was much more to it, but I couldn’t then put my finger on it.
“Also, there was my mother-in-law – a very bright woman, a logician into scientific method – who’d always say to me things like ‘I can’t understand why somebody with your mind is wasting his time doing this’. She was very cutting about it indeed.
“So I was forced into justifying my position and that started what has been a continuous train of thinking over the last ten years.”
The basic question seemed to be: What was it all for?
Eno began to read voraciously, picking up and discarding theories at an ever-increasing rate.
“First, I agreed with John Cage that ‘art is purposeless play’. Then I dropped that and began to think that it was a kind of Zen meditation activity.”
Round about then, The Who released “My Generation” and Eno pricked up his ears.
“I thought ‘Oh-oh – rock music is going to do something’ and realised that this area – which I’d previously imagined to be rather unserious – might actually turn out to be interesting after all.”
And so, in uneasy alliance with his more solemn ventures into Lamont Young territory, Eno began a group – The Maxwell Demon – with co-student and guitarist Anthony Grafton.
“One night at the end of the Christmas term we got together and he just started playing the guitar and I started singing and that was the first thing we wrote – straight off. The first thing I did in rock was an instant success!
“I’ve still got that tape. It’s called ‘Ellis B. Compton Blues’. It’s got this amazing guitar solo on it.”
At the end of 1969 Eno moved to London to live in an artistic commune devoted to keeping its members from having to do boring jobs by pooling its resources on creative projects.
“I always had this thing of keeping as many things cooking at one time as I could. I was simulaneously involved with Tom Phillips, who lived next door, with the Scratch Orchestra and the Portsmouth Sinfonia, and with my own group.”
But eventually the money ran out and Eno found himself stranded for three months as a paste-up assistant on the advertising section of a local paper. As soon as he realised that this form of occupation drained him of any energy for creative activity he quit and became a dealer in semi-defunct electronics, buying up old speakers, making cabinets for them, and selling them to friends.
At the end of 1970 he ran into a saxophone-player he’d met a few years before at an avant-garde concert in Reading. After a preliminary discussion of the intellectual scene, Eno mentioned that he’d got very interested in rock recently and thought that that was where things were happening.
“Yeah,” nodded Andy MacKay. “I do too.”
Three months later, Eno got a call from Andy asking him if he’d be interested in working with a band.
“It turned out to be Roxy Music – though, at that stage, it was just Bryan, Andy, Graham Simpson and me. I joined as a technical assistant because I owned a Revox and they wanted to make some demos. There was a synthesizer there which Andy had brought along and I started looking after that too. And gradually I became a member of the group.”
“I never expected it to be a success, but there was nothing else to do, so I stuck with it. I was very surprised when people started saying they liked us.”
What about Bryan Ferry?
“I liked him. There was no personality problem then. We were all working hard and, since there was no income for the band, there was no possibility of unequal shares. It was a case of just getting on with it – and we all did what we were best at: me doing all the soldering, Andy driving the van, etc.”
Toward the end of 1971, they played a few trial gigs, most of which went disastrously wrong because of equipment failure. There was a lighter side, however:
“In those days I was just mixing them, so I wasn’t onstage but I did have a mike and did some harmony singing. And so there I’d be, out in the hall at my mixing-desk, and I’d suddenly start singing into my mike. And people would sort of wheel about and stare at me – this guy standing in the middle of the audience, singing. It was very funny.”
When, in 1972, Roxy signed with E. G. Management, Eno was persuaded to move from the back of the hall to the stage. He was now a fully-fledged public person and very nervous of the prospect.
“The equipment the band had made it neccesary that Bryan and I – operating the keyboard – had to stand at opposite ends of the stage. Which made it look as though we were the two stars of the group, I suppose.”
It was only a matter of time before the autocratic Ferry would notice that the spotlight of audience attentions was beginning to stray from him to the befeathered creature at the synthesizer.
Eno’s days were, in fact, numbered.
Heady days, they were too. Moving from a hole in the wall in Battersea to a posh flat in Redcliffe Square, Bryan Ferry directed his troops through an erratic session for their debut album to the recording of the ice-breaking “Virginia Plain” and the group’s first British tour.
The first art-school invaders of rock since the mid-Sixties saw the rise of acts like The Who, Pink Floyd, The Soft Machine and The Kinks, there existed no competition for a line-up exuding both glamour and the intellectual je-ne-sais-quoi of those versed in concepts like Dramatic Irony and the Auteur Theory.
(Except David Bowie, of course.)
But success brought more than fame. There was also the question of how to dispose of the fortune that was now beginning to roll into the King’s Road coffers of E. G. Management.
“Even taking into account that Bryan deserved more than the rest of us, having written all the material, to me the revenue was unfairly divided. He took all the music and lyric royalties and a sixth share in the arrangements – which meant he ended up with over 70% of what we were collectively earning.
“I’m not saying we should have split it equally, just that he could have given away a little more than he did…”
This would not have been so bad had Ferry not forbidden – at least at first – Roxy to perform any material not composed entirely by himself. When he later began to ignore the democratic charter of the band by taking decisions about, for example, the group image without consulting the others, relationships started to get a little strained.
“Silly things, like whose photograph was biggest, seemed just gigantically important at the time. And then there were the endless tours. In 1973 we were on the road for ten months continuously – and this rapidly began to affect the quality of our work, which got slicker in direct proportion to the extent to which it grew safer.
“The second album, for example – it was just slung together, not worked on like the first one. Like, ‘The Bogus Man’ could have been really good, but it was just left as it stood – and I thought ‘Grey Lagoons’ was a very trivial track, our Fifties gesture type of thing.
“I thought ‘Beauty Queen’ – which Bryan did practically by himself, incidentally – was spectacularly beautiful. My favourite Roxy track. But the rest… Well, I would like to have seen the experimental stance maintained a bit. Because ‘Bogus Man’ was almost like some of the things Can were doing at the time – you know, open-ended, improvisatory, and not just thoroughly-rehearsed performances with bits for the band to fiddle around in.
“But we didn’t go that way and, instead, went for the zippiest, slickest option of just hitting the audience with the most exciting succession of ideas and images. Because you can’t handle those huge tours without working to a safe formula, you know. You just get too tired to be creative every night, so you settle for a crowd-pleasing act that you can sort of sleepwalk your way through.
“So, for me, Roxy lost it somewhere around the middle of 1973 – although actually my favourite Roxy album is the third one, which I wasn’t on. A great album, that one. But it also contained the seeds of their destruction because it was getting very polished by then and didn’t really contain any new ideas. It was just more professional all round.
“If the band had broken up then, it would have been sensational. It would have been one of the great phenomena, you know.
“But the other two albums rather let it down.”
By the middle of 1973, Eno was attracting a great deal of press attention.
“Some of the papers seemed to think that I was the leader of the group, which was very embarrassing and quite unjust to Bryan. But then he went and started doing interviews where he’d try to re-establish the real position and started saying completely over-the-top things like ‘This band is my baby and I could have done the same thing with any other group of musicians’ – which was blatantly untrue.
“And then there were the ‘Eno!’-shouters in the audience. Because, you know, in the quieter, slower numbers in the set the audience would always shout my name. And I could understand exactly how Bryan felt. He’d be singing this beautiful, quiet song and some pranny at the back of the hall would bellow ‘Eno!’
”Obviously, he got progressively more pissed off.”
Finally, the group played the York Festival.
Ferry arrived to find the day’s music press all carrying interviews with Eno about the avant-garde record he was recording with Robert Fripp of King Crimson. Then he found out that Eno was actually onstage with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, getting cheered at in advance of Roxy’s scheduled appearance.
To crown it all, the “Eno!”-shouters were out in force and “Beauty Queen” got smothered under a barrage of incongruously hearty Northern enthusiasm for the wraith-like Wittgenstein of rock who, in fleeing the stage to give Ferry a chance to emote, only made things worse by what seemed a purposely dramatic absence.
After the concert, an ashen-faced Ferry informed his managers that he would never get on a stage with Eno again.
“Bryan never faces you with this kind of thing. It’s not part of his character. He always goes through back passages and so on – and when he sees you afterwards he sort of smiles it off.”
To call Ferry’s bluff, Eno demanded a meeting of the group-members.
“I was pissed off at the subterfuge and wanted Bryan to actually say it to my face. But he didn’t. So eventually I just stood up, said ‘OK, fuck it, I’m leaving’ – and walked out.
”And, as soon as I’d done it, a great weight lifted and I felt so exuberant. I ran up the King’s Road singing and leaping. It was really fantastic – as if I’d left school or something.
“I felt anything could happen. So I went straight back home and started writing and wrote ‘Baby’s On Fire’, in fact, on that same day – June 21 1973.
“Then E.G. called me to tell me how my finances were after Roxy. I was £15,000 in debt. That’s what you get for trying to be a rock star.”
His first move as a soloist was an unqualified disaster.
A projected single with Andy (Never A Light Without A Shadow) had to be scrapped and, against management advice, Eno insisted on releasing a curious album of slow-moving electronic-tide-patterns entitled “No Pussyfooting” as his post-Roxy debut.
“In career terms it was definitely a wrong move. ”
But he had nothing else ready for release at the time and his enormous debt (later graciously lowered to £5,000 by a magnanimous E.G.) forced him into the cheapest studio in town for the sessions for what was to become Here Come The Warm Jets.
“I was living in a real shit-house at the time. It was just so awful – cockroaches everywhere and so cold that I couldn’t sleep at night. I had to walk around to keep warm, you know.
“And it was so weird to see myself on the covers of magazines and to be actually living in such dire poverty. I was in complete mental disarray, I can tell you.
“Anyway, the album was done in 16 days – three of the tracks on the spot in the studio: ‘Dead Finks Don’t Talk Too Well’, ‘The Paw-Paw Negro Blowtorch’, and ‘Blank Frank’, which was written with Robert Fripp and based on a story I wrote about a criminal-type I once knew in Ipswich.”
Pausing only to release the long-deleted punk pre-echo “Seven Deadly Finns” as a ho-hope single, Eno set off on the road backed by Philip Rambow and The Winkies.
“It could have been the beginning of a really boring career. You know, the typical rock-star life-cycle: album, tour, two-week holiday, album, tour, etc. And I hated the role of lead figure, of having to be theatrical, as it were.
“So, fortunately for me, my right lung collapsed and put a stop to the whole charade. And I felt a great sense of relief – as if, once again, I’d been let off the hook.”
Flat on his back in hospital, Eno began to think.
Was there a different way of working? What was work anyway? And was there truly a place for him in the rich and varied world of rock’n’roll?
”I decided that I didn’t want to be a star – the kind of figure Bryan became. I knew that becoming that would only inhibit what I really wanted to do, because my ideas are so diverse and frequently apparently unrelated that I need a low profile position from which to produce them.
“Bryan, through choosing fame, has got to a position where he can’t make a radical move without attracting a huge amount of probably misinterpretative attention. I, on the other hand, can release records almost on the side and leave people to come across them at their leisure All of which thinking is, of course, also the germination of Obscure Records.
“I decided, in addition, that I preferred recording to performing and that one impulse was an aspect of another – and so retired, in the main, from stage-appearances.”
Away from the hurlyburly, Eno continued to exercise his mind upon every aspect of his behaviour.
The first item to come under the microscope was Here Come The Warm Jets itself, for which he did a promotional tour of radio-appearances in America in early 1974.
“In talking so much about that album – in New York alone I did 48 interviews – I came to examine my methods very closely and began to see what worked and what didn’t. In so doing I rejected about half the avenues of approach suggested in that record. ‘Some Of Them Are Old’, for example, which really makes me squirm to hear now – the lyrics are so… stupid.
“Although oddly enough the mood of that number seems to have come back on this new record I’ve just finished, Before And After Science. “As for Warm Jets, though, I didn’t think it deserved the good reviews it got. There was a sort of mystique about it which protected it – made you think that if you didn’t like something about it, it was your fault and not mine.
“The only tracks I really like now are ‘Dead Finks’, ‘Baby’s On Fire’, and ‘Driving Me Backwards’ – with ‘Blank Frank’ coming up close behind, I guess. And maybe ‘On Some Faraway Beach’…
“I also began to wonder about what lrics were – because, apart from ‘Blank Frank’ and ‘Baby’s On Fire’, the words on the first album are just there to give the voice something to do. Just arbitrary sets of words which didn’t add a dimension to the music.”
Are lyrics a problem for you?
“Well… you expose yourself when you write words and I no longer find that exposure as emharrassing as I used to. For example, you realise how sentimental you are and that can make you retreat. I don’t mind so much about that now.
“So they aren’t a problem in the sense of inhibition – but they were a problem in that I didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t have a message and I didn’t have experiences that I felt strongly enough to want to write about. In fact, I felt far more strongly about the intellectual side of me that was going into essays and lectures and things.
“So I had a problem about the function of lyrics. All my favourite songs had lyrics which I didn’t quite understand. For example, that Velvet Underground number ‘What Goes On’. He sings: ‘I’m going up, I’m going down / I’m going to split my skin in two.’
“What I liked about that was that it seemed to be saying something, but it was unspecific. It gave a definite feeling to the song without being a particular statement. “My own favourite songs had lines like that. ‘Dead Finks’, for example: ‘Oh please sir, will you let it go by / Cos I failed both tests with my legs both tied / In my case the stuff is all there / I’ve never been so sad for a very long time.’
“Which gave me a picture of this tongue-twisted boy who had just failed an interview and was sort of blushing and embarrassed.
“And I decided I wanted these picture-lyrics. Because love-songs don’t do that. Love-songs make a number of statements – which I’m wary of doing – so I’ve avoided love-songs, and it’s only on this album I’ve just done that anything like a love-song starts to appear.”
Cut to Eno on the West Coast. It’s Chinatown in San Francisco and he’s shading his eyes to peer into the window of a small shop where stand displayed a set of postcard “stills” from a Red Chinese ballet-film called Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy.
Freeze frame and roll the intro to “The True Wheel”…
“It was so exciting! I thought ‘That’s the sort of lyric I want!’ There was ‘Tiger Mountain’ which gave it a medieval, almost folksy, flavour – and ‘By Strategy’, which was very up-tempo and modern.
“So I bought the set and started carrying it around with me and thinking about it. And when I got to New York I went to stay with this girl called Randi and fell asleep after taking some mescaline and had this dream where this group of girls were singing to this group of sailors who had just come into port. And they were singing ‘We are The 801 / We are the Central Shaft’ – and I woke up absolutely jubilant because this was the first bit of lyric I’d written in this new style.
“Because I didn’t know what it meant – but I got the feeling of ‘Christ, this means something, this is interesting’. Except it wasn’t specific, you know?”
Back home in London, Eno began to go through hundreds of taped fragments he’d amassed over the previous ten years.
The fervour induced by the epiphanal discover of his ‘new style’ provided him with more than enough energy for his mountainous task.
“I called up Phil (Manzanera) and asked him over to help. What actually happened was that I’d have loads of little bits and pieces lying around which I’d give to him to work out what key they were in, etc., and then he’d come back to me and say ‘Well, this bit might fit onto the end of that bit’, you know?
“He helped a lot by plastering it together – and also by co-writing ‘The True Wheel’ which contains the fragment about The 801.
“As soon as I’d made up the shape of the song, I made a plan of it on paper, sketching out all the spaces where I wanted words, and began running through it, just singing whatever came into my head. And every time I hit on a phrase I liked, I’d write it down in its particular place in the framework.
“And gradually I’d arrive at a kind of ‘found’ document made up of half-obscured fragments -and all I then had to do was fill in the blanks by reconstructing what I thought each lyric was about. Automatic writing, in fact.
“I liked the idea of making myself into a channel for whatever it is to transmit ideas and images through. So my lyrics are receivers, rather than transmitters, of meaning – very vague and ambiguous, but just about evocative enough to stimulate some sort of interpretation process to take place.
“The mysterious thing is: where do the words come from?”
“So, anyway, it came out in November 1974 and I was really pleased with it and was looking forward to the reaction of the critics. And the first person who reviewed it was Pete Erskine in NME and he absolutely slated it. Said the only good thing in it was Phil’s solo on ‘China My China’ or something.
“Most of the other reviews were quite good, but that was the first one that came out – and, boy, was I depressed by that. It’s still one of my favourite albums, though.”
1974’s was a particularly jam-packed itinerary even for a self-confessed professional opportunist. It seemed that there was nowhere to take a quick breath and grab some time for self-examination: thinking developed its own impetus and carried Eno through an immense amount of work (with John Cale, Nico, Robert Wyatt, Phil Manzanera, Quiet Sun and many others). One peak was supposedly achieved on June 1 with the Rainbow concert given by a super-group dubbed (by a witty young Gasbag [NME’s letters page] correspondent) ACNE, after the initial letters of the names of the participants, Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Nico, and Eno himself. What was the real story?
“I think it was made to seem more important than it actually was. There wasn’t really much else happening and, since there are a lot of people who are professionally committed to discovering novelty, this was seized upon and blown up beyond its real significance.”
And the legendary Velvet Underground – how did they stand up to personal contact?
“Well, I’d worked with John before on ‘Fear’. I like working with him – he works rather like David (Bowie) actually – and, as soon as we were all rehearsing, there ceased to be any sense of history or awe about it.
“Mainly, I thought it was under-prepared – in terms of discussion, that is.
“There’s a real bogey among rock musicians about talking about music – they seem to think that if you discuss it, the magic dies or something. I disagree. I think that if you can argue yourself out of doing something, you should. Anything that’s strong enough will stand up to any amount of analysis.
“In that project – and in The 801 last year too – there was just not enough common understanding of the overall conceptual umbrella, if you like, underneath which the project was being carried out. It should be possible to have a framework that predicates a certain class of outputs and stops you having a lot of daft arguments at a later stage when you should really be operating within certain argreed guidelines.
“June 1st 1974 suffered from the lack of close scrutiny – not to mention the personality problems involved. Which I shan’t mention. Generally speaking, people weren’t willing to surrender their own positions for the greater good. It was a depressing experience.”
(Look out – there’s a taxi coming.)
Darkness and sudden death. The self-sustained impetus of thought experienced a kind of hiatus in a hospital off the Harrow Road and in the pale emptiness of Eno’s modernistic ground-floor apartment in W.9.
He was in a state of “moderate disorientation” and had no way of telling whether this was permanent or simply the passing effects of concussion.
He also had a sneaking fear that his brain might have been damaged and felt obscurely that he ought to think while he still could – before he started to deteriorate…
In the haze of his convalescence, Judy Nylon came one day and brought him a record of virtuoso harp music. When she’d gone again, he hobbled to the gramophone, put the album on, and collapsed, exhausted, back into bed.
The room was in half-darkness and it was raining heavily outside. Eno waited for the sound of the music.
“…It was much too quiet and one side of the stereo wasn’t working and the side that was the furthest away from me and pointing in the opposite direction anyway, but I was too weak to get up and change it.
“So I drifted into this kind of fitful sleep, a mixture of pain-killers and tiredness. And I started hearing this record as if I’d never heard music before.
“It was a really beautiful experience, I got the feeling of icebergs, you know? I would just occasionally hear the loudest parts of the music, get a little flurry of notes coming out above the sound of the rain – and then it’d drift away again…
“And I began to think of environmental music – music deliberately constructed to occupy the background. And I realised that muzak was a very strong concept and not a load of rubbish, as most people supposed.”
And what did Muzak think of you?
“They didn’t seem very interested. None of the canned music companies did. They’re making money hand-over-fist, so they probably don’t care about new ideas.
“Anyway, the result was that I resolved to make a much stronger commitment to experimental music and take it much more seriously.
“Firstly, I thought contemporary experimental music was too intellectual and ignored the possibilities of appealing to the senses – whereas rock seemed to be off in the opposite direction, there being a strong heavy metal revival on at around this time.
“So I figured something ought to happen in between that was extremely beautiful but unengaging, as it were. So you could enter it on any level you chose, ie., sitting there with headphones on, really listening to what was going on – or else you could turn it down and let it sit in the background.
“The only thing I knew that sounded anything like that was Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking Of The Titanic, which was why it was the first release on Obscure Records.
“Anyway, on May 9 1975, I did Discreet Music which, for me, crystallized this new style.”
Discreet Music is Eno’s personal favourite amongst his own creations.
Oddly enough, it was actually produced by machinery, being a tape-delay pattern he set up and left going to produce a “landscape” for Fripp’s guitar. All Eno did was play a brief phrase on the synthesizer keyboard; a Revox, on half-speed playback, did the actual music.
“It’s one of a very select handful of pieces which I constantly return to and which I never seem to exhaust. They have this capability of being appreciated on any level. They don’t dictate their terms. They’re always fresh because they’re always modified by their context.
“They’re very bland, in a sense, and can accept any context you choose to play them in. It’s no coincidence that, at around this point, I started to be involved in doing a lot of film music – and found that I enjoyed it almost more than the stuff I was doing for my own records.
”Because an important aspect of film music is that it lacks focus. It doesn’t state a central issue, because the central image is the issue on the screen.
“And so, from then on, I began to remove focus from all my music – which led first to Another Green World, and then to this new one…”
But, before we get to Another Green World, a word to you, the reader. Whatever you think about focus and context and why some things seem to be more obvious than others, put aside your prejudices against modern music for just one record, scheduled to be released in the New Year and called Music For Films.
It is, as the title concisely suggests, a compendium of Eno’s work as a soundtrack producer -which, it appears to me, is his true forte as a musician.
Should you hear his next official solo-album Before And After Science and agree with me (in which case you’ll like best a track called “Through Hollow Lands”), then wait patiently for the release of Music For Films and I’m sure you’ll be surprised and delighted.
And now: back to the Voice of Eno…
“I started producing them during the early days of Roxy and just kept on adding to them until 1975 when my friend the artist Peter Schmidt showed me a list of mottoes and precepts he used in his own work which were incredibly similar to mine, and I decided we ought to get together and publish them.”
These were the “oracle cards” or “worthwhile dilemmas” marketed in natty little black boxes as Oblique Strategies by Schmidt and Eno soon after the taxi accident. Although not widely used outside the immediate “family” of musicians around Eno himself, they form the subject of more than half of his fan-mail and change hands in America at fantastic prices.
“Simply to bring the consciousness one has as a listener to one’s consciousness as a composer – to deal with things in a much more studied way. A modern studio is a surprisingly easy place to get lost in after you’ve been in it for a week or two, as I’m sure most musicians know only too well.
“Oblique Strategies help to break up what might be harmful obsessions in the minds of those who imagine they’re in control of these enormous machines. They help you to outguess yourself and return fluidity to a situation that might be getting rigid and pathological by suggesting lateral moves, little exercises for the brain, and so on.”
Eno’s hoping to re-issue Oblique Strategies soon, so don’t go forking out a lot of money if you chance upon a set that’s up for sale.
“I found that if you went into a studio with demos, you spent all your time trying to re-create the demos – which was not only extremely time-consuming, but always prevented you from seeing what was actually happening. You might be missing all kinds of things because you had a fixed goal in mind.
“So I decided to risk going into the studio with no written material. And it’s a real risk because studios are so expensive these days. If it just doesn’t happen to be your day, you can spend £500 for nothing.
“And in the first four days working on Another Green World absolutely nothing came out. It was extremely disheartening. I started to panic and was on the point of canceling the studio time and writing a whole lot of stuff and going back to the old system.
“But I thought ‘If I don’t try it now, I’ll never know whether it can be done or not’.
“Very soon after that, interesting things started to happen. And these things seemed to crop up most frequently when I found myself playing around with a new instrument or new sound. For instance, I hired a Farfisa organ one day and immediately wrote ‘Golden Hours’ – and ‘Sky Saw’ was the result of finding a specific sound on a particular piece of studio technology.”
And how did you decide what it was all about?
“Well, the album had a mood established before I started. I was thinking about escaping. I read a science fiction story a long time ago where these people are exploring space and they finally find this habitable planet – and it turns out to be identical to Earth in every detail.
“And I thought that was the supreme irony: that they’d originally left to find something better and arrived in the end – which was actually the same place.
“Which is how I feel about myself. I’m always trying to project myself at a tangent and always seem eventually to arrive back at the same place. It’s a loop.
“You actually can’t escape.”
Are you trying to escape from the workings of your mind?
“I don’t know. I just keep getting the feeling of ‘There must be something else’ or ‘There must be more than this’. It is escaping from the workings of my mind, yes.
“You know, sometimes after I’ve been working for a very long time, I sit there and think: Well, what have I really done? I haven’t done anything!”‘
Which presumably stimulates you to further thought concerning avoidance of the consequences of stopping?
“I look at it this way: you only really learn and change and develop when your survival is threatened in some way. What happens when you start becoming successful is that those stimuli cease to operate because the effect of wealth is to insulate you against vicissitudes.
“So sometimes I have this yearning to be plunged into the unknown again. To escape into the unknown.”