Classic Rock JULY 2018 - by Marcel Anders


He's a relentless, boundary-pushing visionary who today channels his energies into art installations. CR sat down with producer extraordinaire and former Roxy Music man, Brian Eno.

From his early days as a founder member of Roxy Music, Brian Eno has never stopped pushing musical boundaries. Known for his pioneering work in production, his work at the vanguard of experimental, ambient music and much more; at the moment his primary focus is on art installations and their attendant soundscapes. Needless to say, Brian Eno is a very busy man...

Are you a restless person? And a difficult one?

Well, I don't get up so early. I used to get up very early. But I've come to believe that sleep is very, very important. And I've also noticed that I'm always tired, you know? I've been reading a lot about sleep in the last couple of years, and I've started to think we really should do a lot of sleep. Sleep is where your brain starts repairing itself. It needs that time. So, I sleep six-and-a-half to eight hours a night, but usually seven. I often read quite late. So, if I read 'til one, that means I get six hours sleep. That's not really enough. I hope I'm not bad tempered to people if things don't go well, but perhaps I am. [laughs]

How do you document your ideas?

I have my notebooks. I also have thousands of notes in my phone [he scrolls through, as we talk]. Like, I have this category of notes called "old songs" - these are songs I've written that I never recorded. Some of them are forty-five years old or even more, actually. Sometimes I'm just walking along, and this song will come into my mind, and I think: "Oh my god! I wrote that song in 1969!" I just put down the title, and then I can remember the song. So that's one kind of note. I have an a cappella group, we meet every Tuesday evening. And whenever I think of a song that would be good for us to do, I write that down.

Is that the one Paul McCartney joins occasionally?

Yes. He dropped in, usually at Christmas. Then I have the list of things I have to take with me when I travel, because otherwise I forget. So, every time before I travel, I look through this list, and make sure I've got everything...

Do you ever switch off and try to relax, or is that not on your agenda?

That's called "going to sleep"! I like sitting in the sun. For instance, before I came in here, I was just sitting in the sun for half an hour. I really feel nourishment from the sun. But even then I made a few notes...

You are so keen on invention and innovation, but you are also keen on repetition in your music too. Isn't that a bit of a contradiction?

One of the Oblique Strategies [Eno's 1975 card-based system for promoting creativity] says: "repetition is a form of change". Because repetition - even though the thing itself is repeating, whatever it is, the tape loop or the melody or whatever - you are constantly changing. So, one way of measuring your own change is against something that is constant. I think repetition is a very, very useful exercise for humans, and I'm sure this is what people who meditate and who do mantras and chanting and so on have discovered many thousands of years before I did!

It's that idea of infinity: are you the Buzz Lightyear of electronic music? From here to infinity - and beyond?

That would suit me. But I think this is an idea in pop music that is also symbolised by the fade out. What does a fade out mean? That means that it's still going on, but you can't hear it anymore. So, to me, the fade out, the idea of a song that doesn't end, but which just carries on and carries on and it's still going, but you just don't hear it any longer. That to me is very much like this idea of the horizon, the musical horizon...

Do you ever feel that the installation artist in you is overshadowed by the producer Brian Eno?

It's changing now. It's all right. I mean, I can understand that people associate you with what you're originally well known for. But, yeah, I get a little bit annoyed sometimes.

You started with installations way before you started producing. Do you feel that is overlooked, that people don't get it?

It's different in different countries. In Italy, people are very able to take on this idea that you would be a musician and an artist. No problem. In England people find that quite a difficult idea. They think you either must be a musician whose hobby is making art... so, that's the way that they can understand it: your serious job is making records, and your hobby is making pictures or something. But yes, my first installation - to use that word - was in 1968, which is fifty years ago now. In fact, this is my anniversary! I forgot! [laughs] I didn't realise. Huh. I should have a party.

Are you going to celebrate your seventieth?

I don't like to. It just puts you into so many stupid conversations. Like people say: "So, so what're going to do now you're seventy?" What the fuck am I going to do? Suddenly become a monk or change my clothing style or something? I don't know.