BBC MAY 27, 1998


Brian Eno: no longer one of rock's huge names, but his place in its history is assured.

In the world of rock, where living hard is the only way to live, for any prominent artist to get to the big five-0 is something of an achievement.

Brian Eno is the one in the 1970s band Roxy Music who looked like a prematurely balding extra-terrestrial. Now completely without cranial covering, not only is he alive and kicking but he approaches his fiftieth birthday as full of creative spark as ever.

He is no longer a huge name in the firmament of rock. Indeed, his main claim to fame now is having been primarily responsible for a new and far less frenetic musical genre.

Brian was Roxy's technology wizard and since the band split - due to the inevitable musical and personal differences - he has made a career of launching as many diverse projects as possible with as many people as he can find and succeeding in a fair few of them.

The list of collaborators is long indeed; David Bowie, Robert Fripp of King Crimson, David Byrne of Talking Heads - even Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music with whom he says he still likes to play.

Away from the hard edge of rock, Eno descended, musically speaking, into the mists of electronic mood sounds. His 1975 album Discreet Music was a landmark. The result was a series of recordings which some say - almost certainly overstating the case - started New Age as a musical strand.

Few would disagree though that he was largely responsible for what has become known as Ambient - described by one writer as music which creates atmosphere, environment and space. Eno described it as like the wallpaper of a room. It is there, but you don't notice it. Background music.

Reminiscing on BBC World TV's Hard Talk programme, Eno says he was always sensitive to sound, though musically naive.

I have total confidence in my own perception, he says with a smile. Early on, few others did. A classical professor predicted he would not make it to the first grade.

But you can approach music conceptually rather than technically - you can come up with ideas and others can translate them says Eno. I had a particular vision - to reconcile the intellectual side of what I do and also think about the rock and roll side of me.

Classical music is head music - rock and roll is physical, says Eno. I thought I could show both of those things could be used.

Artistic schizophrenia has been a feature of Brian Eno's life. As a youngster in his first band, The Black Aces, he was torn between painting and music. I loved early 20th century art - and I also loved doo-wop. Music won out and Roxy Music made him a star though he rejects the description giant of rock. Touring was something he hated - spending twenty-three hours a day preparing for one hour - so he was not sorry when the band broke up.

Now the mass adulation has gone. But Eno says he enjoys collaborating with others because being a musician is a social activity anyway and he is happy being appreciated by friends and peers. However, works like the seminal Ambient 1: Music For Airports, which pointed many musicians also playing around with modern electronics in the right direction, have given him a permanent place in the history of popular music.

These days, Eno's activities range from creating material for the Internet, which he surfs obsessively, to matching music and film in experimental multimedia art and helping out his musical friends in the studio as producer and performer. A recent interest is developing nations. I am drawn to countries with a difficult history - South Africa, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Russia - those which have broken out of an old mould. They have a huge social energy towards building a new society which is absent in established nations, says Eno.

And what of his many activities does he like best at fifty?

I now do talking and thinking. I like the sound of my own voice.