Sounds FEBRUARY 5, 1977 - by Vivien Goldman


"I was trying to think of some inventions, so I tried to think of what I needed. But I don't need anything. That's the difficulty, really."

Ever heard of mnenomics? It's a word game, you can have fun with it. Brian Eno likes to play word games. This one's from his 1968 journal -

N nothing
O on
T this
E earth
B betrays
O our
O own
K karakter
S so

BRIAN rushed into the tranquil golden room overlooking the park, little black notebooks spilling from his hands. He stacked them in a neat rank on the golden carpet in front of me, and began to pick over them with the single-minded devotion of a jumble-sale addict in quest of the ultimate fairisle jumper.

If the mnemonic is right, Eno is the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci.

Ten years of journals. His favourites are Challenge or Oldwich notebooks, supple black covers, creamy lined pages; just the right size and shape: correct gradients and lineaments for absorbing the juicy emissions of a mind frothing with invention. Every page covered in tantalising word juxtapositions, perfect miniature diagrams and cartoons, flippant games, some more comprehensible than others. Disciplines collide, clash, overlap. There's sex and adventure and bravado and games, lots of games.

The Eno Illustrated Annuals.

In '68 he referred to himself as an art kleptomaniac. Naturally, there's day to day stuff - one page has a list of places to go, people to see - 'Richard Williams. Sign on.'

"That was when I'd just moved to London..."

There's a revealing juxtaposition for ya - Richard Williams was an influential writer who picked up on a new' band called Roxy Music; the rest, including Richard's move to A&R at Island and subsequent departure under less than happy circumstances, being... History.

Brian was signing on that day.

The rest is... His-story.

FLIPPING through a Little Black Book...

"Here's something I've been looking for for ages. It's an equation by Richard Moore, he's a mathematician who works in the anatomy department at Guy's Hospital. This - earth shattering theory - I think it's the most important thing since the theory of relativity as a single observational idea. It's a mathematical proof he produced to show that many apparently random situations generate not only predictable results, but precisely predictable results..." The equation not only throws the basic tenets of contemporary physics into disarray it also applies rather well to this interview - an interview is a deliciously random situation, at best. This one had precisely predictable results. I had a great time.

BRIAN ENO says he wouldn't mind doing a bit of travelling now. He says that for a long time he's been very keen on just staying home, but now he wouldn't mind going to Jamaica. Ritva, his girlfriend, (Eno always uses the word in a declamatory way, like saying, my Colleague), says they never go out except to go to the Electric Cinema (mind you, if you only go to one place in London, that's the wisest choice.)

They live in a perfect little environment - u sunny flat overlooking a recreation ground in a no-mans-land area of West London, squats on one side, classy boutiques and delicatessens the other, pretty canals not too far away.

There's a dark-room, with Eno's Patented Invention mounted on a shelf - a glass box, the front divided into nine squares in rows of three. Turn off the light, and the squares flicker in a rapid cross-fire of different colours. Purple, brown, amber, red, chase each other in a frantic Keystone Kops race in and out of vision, random flashes of rainbows juggle in an anarchic square-dance.

The kitchen window overlooks a struggling garden, with a tree bizarrely wrapped in strips of brown sacking on the lower limbs, to keep the cats away. Ivy grows over the windows. Brian and Ritva eat omlettes and shoots with oatcakes, for breakfast.

Brian's embedded in a book about genes, while Ritva and I leaf through photos in a picture book. A placid scene, only broken by Brian's occasional grumble when he comes to a bit he can't understand. "And the book's two months overdue," he groans.

"I BET you it finishes at the end of the track. I have great luck with these things." Brian's taping Rico's great Wareika Dub album while we talk.

"I do like talking, but I don't like chatting. I don't like to do anything on that kind of level. I really like to do things where I'm stretched a little bit. The reason I've been reticent to do interviews for the past few months is because I've found them grounding. I do read books on genetics at breakfast, I didn't do that to impress you. I read them because I find them incredibly exciting. Often I'll go and do an interview and it'll be so abysmally dull, and I think - here I am, at least capable of something intelligent, why am I being asked - what kind of boot polish I use, effectively."

Might as well clear that one up once and for all - Eno spits on his boots while he polishes. And he still travels by tube.

"I will Brook NO Argument," crisply teasing mock-pedant tones here, "about the matter. I refuse ever again to talk at what is called 'people's level.' I don't believe in that term.

"It's just the same with music. There's always been people saying, 'You've got a potential audience, you could if you want make successful records.' But I don't believe in that. It's no arrogance, just a sense of I Want To Do What I Want To Do."

He's pacing briskly up and down and up und down the room, passing the dreamy Peter Schmidt painting of a mountain swatched in clouds (the sleeve of Fripp & Eno's Evening Star album,) with cuckoo-clock regularity.

Turns briskly to me. "I wouldn't mind making hit singles, by the way. I don't refuse to communicate with people on that level. What I mean is I refuse to force communication with people on that level - if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Too bad. I can't speak German either, but it's nothing to fret about."

Brian's Great Luck extends further than hitting the end of the track while taping albums. Like Patti Smith, he's succeeded in transmuting Art into Money; the most learned mediaeval alchemist would tear out every last hair in his grey beard in perplexity trying to pull off that little number.

Those crazy, whacked-out, spangled days when Roxy Music rose glistening on the horizon, disseminating rays of Style. Glamour, and Art in a crisp winter light over a beat-up music scene now' seem more distant than Fritz Lang's Metropolis deco/expressionist landscape of dreams.

In those days, Eno was arrogant, a messenger of vice, swooping down on black ostrich wings, central figure in a tableau symbolising the first and finest flourishings of decadence. Eno glittered, kohl-rimmed eyes, silken fall of hair, an angel dallying deliciously, dangerously with the Fall.

Today he's wearing a velour top from Marks and Spencers, jeans, and well-polished monkey boots. His blond hair is cropped and thins daily; his incipient baldness is as much part of his current image as his Roxy-on-the-road exploits were.

After leaving Roxy to the lacklustre leadership of Bryan Ferry, Eno spiralled off into a series of ever-more-intriguing solo projects. With each successive album, you could feel his capacities flexing, stretching; putting on muscle as the music pared down to minimal grace. Surreal, witty lyrics hint at mind-bending concepts and scenarios. His notebooks demonstrate the familiar intelligence that joys in teasing every frontier, laced with a serious appreciation of the fantastic.

"I've got fed up of this thing that runs through the rock business that the audience are a bunch of dumb cunts. I refuse to do it. If they are a bunch of dumb cunts - which they might be, I'm not saying there's a group of repressed intellectuals out there - if they are, I'm frankly not interested in them. It's as simple as that.

"Because I also believe there's an aspiring level in everyone, and you can talk to the aspiring level or to the static one. Most people talk to the static one.

"There are always plenty of options for playing safe in the world, but they're not normally the very interesting ones. And finally, I think they're not the commercial ones. They are in the short term. I know, but..."

We look at each other, and start to laugh.

"I am optimistic, I know! But I have reason to be, because I get along alright. Things go well for me. I'm lucky. Like with that tape -"

Eno leaps to the tape deck, plays back a few seconds, and then turns up the volume. I listen, suitably impressed, as the wildly syncopated track fades out, and finishes, just before the tape clicks neatly to a close.

A BRIEF back-track:

"Mystique and credibility are such important factors, and critics are always unaware of that factor. It is something an artist can take advantage of, but I'll tell you where it hurts. People are always generous to first albums. If it isn't very successful, and you make a second album, you're in no-man's-land, because you don't have the credibility of having been around for a while. You're really nothing in anybody's eyes.

"I experienced that with Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - with the exception of yourself and one or two others, the feeling was - well, he's done one, why does be want to do another one? Why bother?

"My first album, Here Come The Warm Jets, is my least favourite. It sold best of all. But a lot of people genuinely prefer it: another instance of mystique at work. They heard that under the condition of wanting to like it a lot, and that makes a difference.

"I prefer the third, Another Green World. It's less aggressive, there's less adolescent banging about. Although there's fast numbers on Another Green World, they're much smoother. St. Elmo's Fire is more like a sledge shooting over snow, that kind of speed.

"I want to make disposable albums. Well, I suppose albums are disposable, but I want to make records to get up with for a couple of weeks - because it has a nice sparkle, a nice shimmer to it, and there's no pretence that this is - MUSIC." He announces the word very grandly.

"Just another level, like having nice curtains or nice lights in the room. I'd sell them very cheap in a plain package that says Waking Up Music. Breakfast Music, that kind of thing. They'd be like ordinary records physically, they'd just not come with the aura of art. so one wouldn't be frightened of having the things for a couple of weeks and then getting rid of them.

"They'd be cheap to make in terms of recording. Discreet Music only cost three pounds to make, and it's my favourite record. I made it sitting there." pointing to the wall where the stereo, tape deck and Revox squat in an amiably mechanistic row. "in about thirty-five minutes.

"It's actually false to say that, because it's the result of three different lines of experimentation, going back to '66. like when you get the Japanese painters who grind colours all . day. prepare the paper, get their seat set up and move it around, get the brushes organised and so on. and then at the end of the day. just at twilight, go - ch ch ch!" executing a rapid series of karate chops in mid-air.

"It's like saying that picture took a minute, which it did, but there's a lot of background of it."


I guess David Bowie did tune into me, but most people regard that as a rather cynical process. They imagine David going to record shops, seeing what's going on. and saving, well, this looks like a good horse to back. It really isn't like that, he's just somebody who isn't too proud...

"I think he just arrived at the same point of thinking. When you do that you have the choice to pretend it didn't happen, like painters do. They say, 'God, I didn't know he was doing that! Blimey! Well, I did it first!' - all that kind of thing.

I was embarrassed when I read some of the reviews, it's embarrassing when you work with somebody and then get credited with what they did. It confirms the old position of keeping to yourself and being defensive about your invention. If you invite somebody in, you run the risk of it looking like they did all the work while you sat there scratching your bum.

It wasn't like that, it was a collaboration weighted very much towards David. The influence I had was as much to do with what I'd released on records as what I did there. He was very interested in Another Green World, for example..."

Whatever false assumptions reviewers of Bowie's Low album made they're not surprising. Basically, Low, sounds like an Eno album. Fresh and stimulating.

You know on Another Green World I had two types of tracks. second-side-of-Low type tracks (i.e. extended semi-instrumental pieces) and song type tracks? Well, all I did was shuffle them in with one another so they weren't so obvious. What David did was a much better solution to the problem, put one type on one side, and the other type on the other side. That's what I should have done, a positive statement: I'm doing two different things, they ought to relate because they both come from me, but they're different.

"I'm much more into a record that's a homogenous mood for all of its length rather than this jumping up and down thing. Like, Discreet Music is an evening piece, and the other side, which I don't think is very successful, is an early afternoon on a rainy day piece ..."

Eno's been undergoing strange experiences playing Low to Bowie fans. Their interpretation of David's sudden transformation from springing, wiry funk to synthesised streams of sound and echo, drifting neo-classical explorations, and wild eyed, wide-eyed extra-terrestrial songbeams is far removed from the careful construction of Low as Eno lived it.

"I know how David made the album fairly well, and it had nothing to do with the kind of mystique they're inventing about it. They see these extraordinary profundities and depths that I know weren't there - not to say that there weren't profundities and depths, but they weren't of the kind of literary nature people assume." So how would you describe the conceptual shift?

"All the concepts are visible in a sense. What David's experiencing is what I'm experiencing - a transition away from focal music. The way rock music is traditionally organised is to some extent ranked. You have voice, guitar, rhythm guitar, piano maybe - rhythm guitar and piano are interchangeable - bass, and then drums. Then at the bottom you have the bass drum. It's a kind of hierarchy.

Partly one of mixing, because normally it was done so that the voice was loudest and the bass was quietest, that was the concept. But that was also the concept of what importance the listener was intended to attach to each of those things. The- melodic concept of music was considered very important, being literal and semantic and linear was important.

"It's very obvious to me why David could make the transition from black music to what he's doing now, because in black music the focal point stopped being quite so important. The drums and bass started to have much more vocal roles, to become important instruments. It's demonstrated partly by the fact that they were mixed very loud, and also the voices started to have a less significant role, singing rhythm parts and percussion parts. So that hierarchy got suppressed.

"What you create is much more of an enigmatic thing, it's not obvious to the listener what the focus is, but there's obviously some kind of interacting going on between all these separate musical events. Reggae's very obviously the same thing."

Eno's wearing a straight groove in the carpet by now. I shouldn't wonder. His interpretations and explanations are a lucid as an unusually clear lecture (another sideline of his, incidentally).

"Now it strikes me as quite obvious that if you feel the transition and enjoy it, you should then go on to a music that removes focuses completely, and say, here's a whole lot of elements. They float around between each other and sometimes one of them comes into focus, then it disappears, and then... it's dub music, but it's also what's on side 2 of Low.

"Now the fact that no numbskull of a critic can actually organise themselves to think in this functional sense of what is happening to the music."

He shakes his head in despair, then resumes pacing.

"They can see what's happening to the personality, they can see what's happening to the clothes, but they're so bloody thick, sometimes I could drive nails through their heads.

"What is happening is THE FOCUS IS GETTING LOST. Obviously there are other things happening as well, but that's a predominant one that both David and I are involved in."

THE PHONE rings. It's been doing that with aggravating regularity - Brian takes it off the hook, Ritva puts it back on to make a call, the phone rings again. This time, Brian leaps at it savagely, grabs the receiver and begins to scream a hideous yabbering yowl into the mouthpiece, before throwing it at me. Thanks to years of netball, I field the shot expertly and fend off the hapless caller.

A leg whips out, and Eno kicks the phone ferociously across the floor.

"That thing. I bloody hate it."

Aha, but if it didn't exist, you'd probably have invented it.

"I probably would have, actually."


Some favourite pieces of music in no special order. I don't include anything recent since 'favourite' implies some sense of durability.

Songs Of Paradise by Harold Budd
The Great Learning, Paragraph Seven by Cornelius Cardew
Easier Said Than Done by The Essex
Buckley Skank by Lee Perry and the Upsetters
Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone
TVC 15 by David Bowie
Chop And Quench by Fela Ransome
Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix
Little Boy by Mary Wells
Too Much Time by Captain Beefheart
I Have Known Love by Silver Apples
Won't That Be A Happy Time by Joseph and Louise Spence
Izlel je Delyo Lqjdutin by Valya Balkanska
People's Parties by Joni Mitchell
Pale Blue Eyes by The Velvet Underground
Chopin's Prélude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45 by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Anunas Symphonic by Ralf & Florian (Kraftwerk)
Hallogallo by Neu
Bel Air by Can
Discreet Music by Me
Clapping Song by Shirley Ellis
Mozart's Concerto No. 17 in G Major by Maria-Joao Pires
Ponta de Areia by Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento.
Wasn't Born To Follow by The Byrds
I Shall Be Released by The Band
Hanky Panky Nohow by John Cale
Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt
Schubert's Death And The Maiden Quartet by Gabrieli Quartet
Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor by Fine Arts Quartet
Soundtrack to Juliet Of The Spirits by Nino Rota
Why Can't I Be Free by Spirit
Downland's Lachrimae antiquae by Julian Bream
All Day by Jan Steele
Pachebel's Canon in D Major by Jean Paillard
Sketches Of Spain by Miles Davis/Gil Evans
Tattoo by The Who
Love Letters by Ketty Lester