Eno Anthology

A collection of writing by and about Brian Eno

Category: Articles

Recording Another Day On Earth

Eno’s aversion to what he calls “the obsession with personality” might be thought contradictory from a man who was partly responsible for propelling Bono and co to world superstar status, but is deeply held. “This obsession has really held popular music back, in my opinion. Of course, I realise that it’s the nature of what some people do. But I’m absolutely uninterested in the idea of using music as a vehicle for presenting the performer’s personality. I don’t want to say anything. I have a lot to say when you’re asking me questions, but I don’t want to use music as way of saying things. What I want to use music for is a way of making things happen to me. I want to make things that create emotional or mental conditions for me, and one of the most important conditions is surrender. My yardstick for what constitutes good music is that it changes me. Do I think ‘Wow, that’s a new conception of how things could be,’ or ‘That’s a new set of feelings that I have never experienced before’?

Paul Tingen, Sound on Sound, 2005

We’re living in a stylistic tropics. There’s a whole generation of people able to access almost anything from almost anywhere, and they don’t have the same localized stylistic sense that my generation grew up with. It’s all alive, all “now,” in an ever-expanding present, be it Hildegard of Bingen or a Bollywood soundtrack. The idea that something is uncool because it’s old or foreign has left the collective consciousness.

I think this is good news.

Prospect Magazine, 2009

People often ask me what role technology plays in music, and whether I think there is too much technology in music. Recently, I have started answering by saying that technology in music is a little bit like numbers to mathematics. You can’t really imagine music without technology. Now, as my friend Danny Hillis the inventor said, technology is the name we give to things that don’t work yet. When it works we don’t call it technology anymore. But you have to remember that once upon a time a violin was technology, once upon a time an organ was technology. Those things were all built and created by people who were working at the cutting edge of the technologies of their time.

The Telegraph, 2011

Brian Eno: A Sandbox in Alphaville

It appears, in fact, that the great and true love of his creative life is the tape recorder, and all of the things it can do. He is neither superstitious nor by-the-book about his little electronic implements, but instead regards them with a certain bemusement. “I’m very good with technology, I always have been, and machines in general. They seem to me not threatening like other people find them but a source of great fun and amusement, like grown up toys really. You can either take the attitude that it has a function and you can learn how to do it, or you can take the attitude that it’s just a black box that you can manipulate any way you want. And that’s always been the attitude I’ve taken, which is why I had a lot of trouble with engineers, because their whole background is learning it from a functional point of view, and then learning how to perform that function. So I made a rule very early on, which I’ve kept to, which was that I would never write down any setting that I got on the synthesizer, no matter how fabulous a sound I got. And the reason for that is that I know myself well enough that if I had a stock of fabulous sounds I would just always use them. I wouldn’t bother to find new ones. So it was a way of trying to keep the instrument fresh. Also I let it decay, it keeps breaking down and changes all the time. There are a lot of things I’ve done before that I couldn’t even do again if I wanted to.”

Lester Bangs, 1979

Ambient Genius: The Working Life of Brian Eno

The genius of Eno is in removing the idea of genius. His work is rooted in the power of collaboration within systems: instructions, rules, and self-imposed limits. His methods are a rebuke to the assumption that a project can be powered by one person’s intent, or that intent is even worth worrying about. To this end, Eno has come up with words like “scenius,” which describes the power generated by a group of artists who gather in one place at one time. (“Genius is individual, scenius is communal,” Eno told the Guardian, in 2010.) It suggests that the quality of works produced in a certain time and place is more indebted to the friction between the people on hand than to the work of any single artist.

Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker, 2014

Although designers continue to dream of “transparency”—technologies that just do their job without making their presence felt—both creators and audiences actually like technologies with “personality.” A personality is something with which you can have a relationship. Which is why people return to pencils, violins, and the same three guitar chords.

Wired Magazine, 1999

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