Red Bull JUNE 27, 2018 - by Marcel Anders


He launched Roxy Music, inspired David Bowie, reinvented Coldplay, pioneered a music genre and became a top visual artist - learn how Brian Eno still knows how to play his innovation at full blast.

Brian Eno's name is synonymous with innovation. Since the early '70s, when his out-there synthesizer sounds were an integral part of glam-rock band Roxy Music's success, the British musician has been ahead of his time. Eno is credited as the inventor of the 'ambient music' genre, and has shared his talents as a producer, most notably on David Bowie's late-'70s 'Berlin Trilogy': the albums Low, "Heroes" and Lodger. He's also a successful audio-visual artist with numerous exhibitions to his name. The seventy-year-old is still a highly sought-after - and selective - producer: he has helped U2 and Coldplay reinvent themselves, but turned down the Red Hot Chili Peppers eight times, according to the band's singer, Anthony Kiedis.

The reason for Eno's popularity among his peers? He challenges them musically as well as intellectually. He encourages them to overcome habitual thinking patterns and to try something new. "I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened," Eno once said of his own creative process. With this in mind, the release of his 2017 album, Reflection, was accompanied by a 'generative' app version that plays infinitely, the music changing throughout the day. Eno has also created numerous audiovisual installations for galleries and therapeutic settings, with constantly evolving coloured shapes in seemingly infinite permutations set to an ambient soundtrack.

Eno spoke to us when his latest gallery work, Empty Formalism, was unveiled at the Gropius Bau in Berlin, Germany. It's an immersive visual exhibition that showcases his ability to innovative in new and interesting ways, this time with a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree projection and a multi-channel speaker configuration. Get the lowdown on his latest sources of inspiration right here.

You celebrated your seventieth birthday in May 2018. At this age, many musicians just recycle their old ideas. You, on the other hand, are constantly searching for new sounds. What's your inspiration?

I've always been trying to make what I was missing, what wasn't in my life. For example, the quietest and - I should say - most natural-sounding music I ever made was when I lived on one of the busiest intersections in New York City. It was very noisy, and at that time I made the album Ambient 4: On Land [1982], which is a very, very quiet kind of wild - it sounds like an outside landscape somewhere.

Today, you live in London. Is there anything you're missing right now?

When I do installations, I'm always thinking, If I lived in this city, where would I like to go as an alternative? I mean, I love cities; I always will live in cities. But whenever I'm in a city, I also find the places where time has kind of stood still a little bit, you know? Places that counterbalance the city.

Wouldn't that place for most people be at home?

Well, if you think about mainstream media [outlets], they survive on alarm. They survive on a constant feed of conflict: "Pay attention to this... Watch out for this... This is terrible... Look what just happened." That whole thing is constantly working on the part of your brain that says, "Oh my God, I've got to do something. Oh, this is dangerous, I've got to be careful." And we have phones giving us the news constantly. We never shut off any more, not even when we're at home.

Where does the modern city-dweller find a place for contemplation?

It used to be that church was the place you'd go if you wanted to be transported to another world for a short while. Today, many people go to galleries for that purpose. That's why I love to present my art there.

How does your art affect the people who experience it?

It doesn't go anywhere: there's no narrative to it and no story. After being in [the installation] for two or three minutes, you realise nothing else is going to happen. [Laughs]. And yet people stay for a long time and seem very happy with that.

Could that be because of its hypnotic, repetitive nature?

That's probably the reason. But repetition is a form of change.

Is it? Most people would associate repetition with boredom.

Repetition doesn't really exist. Have you ever had that situation where someone plays a loop of a little bit of language? Something like "something like". [Repeats the words several times.] And then, after a little while, you're hearing "sunlight", or "am I light", or "light me up" - the meaning keeps changing. So obviously you know it's not changing, it's you who are changing. Your brain is reconfiguring, reading it in a different way. So repetition is actually a chance for your brain to do the work. Your brain becomes the composer. I think repetition is a very, very useful exercise for humans, and I'm sure this is what people who meditate and do mantras and chant and so on have discovered. [Laughs.] Many thousands of years before I did!

When was the first time you were aware of your brain reconfiguring like that?

I've had very little experience of drugs in my life, but I did have one really important experience on mescaline. I went for a walk and the streets were grey and wet, with lots of brown leaves sort of squashed into them. I looked at them and I thought, I wonder if I could ever find that beautiful? It looked very ugly at first, you know. So I looked again and I thought, That grey and that brown is actually beautiful. And then I realised I'd found like a switch in my brain I could access.

Are you advocating drugs, then?

No, no. I only ever took mescaline on one occasion. It made it a bit easier, perhaps, but the capacity is in my brain to do this and I can still access that switch. Everybody can, I think.

Has that switch helped you in the creative process?

A lot of my work comes out of that experience in some ways, because what's being generated in my installations are constantly new colour combinations. I've never seen most of those combinations before. And I'll never see them again! It helps me at seventy to still be able to play like a child. That's what I'm doing: I'm a child with a paint box. It's an incredible thing.