MORE DARK THAN SHARK - FEATURE
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
OPAL INFORMATION (NUMBER 22, 1992)
Opal Information was a publication that discussed the on-going work of Brian Eno and other artists released by his Opal Music label. Produced by Opal Ltd., it appeared on an irregular basis from 1986 until 1996. Each of the twenty-seven issues was comprised of approximately fifteen to twenty pages. The following is the complete text of Number 22, featuring Brian Eno -
Nerve Net by Brian Eno was released in September by Warner Bros. Prior to the release Brian was invited to a 'think tank' meeting at Warner Bros. to discuss how Nerve Net might be promoted. He wrote the following piece of text for distribution at the meeting:
This record is:
A SELF-CONTRADICTORY MESS
DERIVATIVE OF EVERYTHING
Why do people buy a particular record? It might be: 1) because they heard it on the radio and they like it, or 2) because they believe that this ought to be part of their lifestyle. Of course, these are always intertwined, but a lot of promotion only concerns itself with their first objective, the objective of making sure that people get to know the record's out and hear the music on the radio in the hope they'll be seduced into buying it. This is of course essential, but I think in my case it is of limited value unless it goes hand in hand with a style-defining approach. Earlier I spoke about the 'concepts that we hear through'. A style-defining approach is the attempt to direct attention at the appetite people have to be at the cutting edge. It's making the point that this music is the cutting edge. I have a good track record for that, and I'm pretty sure of myself right now. Honest and sincere people, however, are often reluctant to enter into style-selling, thinking that this puts them in the fashion world, one of blind conformity and cliquishness, rather than at the cutting edge of art. What I am trying to suggest is that we accept and embrace the idea that selling pop has never been just about selling people nice music, but about creating a vision of other lives, other attitudes, and that this is an honourable pursuit - this is the real reason that we all started doing it in the first place. The cutting edge is where we make it, where art and fashion meet (or where they become the same thing).
So what are the visions of this record? It isn't easy to articulate. You don't start out with a picture in your head and then try to paint it for the rest of the world to see: it is in the process of painting that you discover the picture, and then it is only when you stand back from it that you start to see what it might be a picture of.
Right now I'm just beginning to stand back, still applying the last dabs of paint. You, who didn't witness every brushstroke being applied, are probably better positioned to tell me what I've been doing. You could hear it as a whole thing, where I'm still seeing a host of details slowly coalescing into some kind of shape. What I do think is that this is a most important record for me. It is a real '90s record, and it ties together many threads that have been loosely waving about in the wind and my head over the past few years. Some of those threads I first spun myself many years ago. Others have emerged during the late eighties, and are tied up in here somewhere. Some are predictions: things that aren't current right now.
This record draws on jazz, funk, rap, rock, pop, ambient and 'world music' (- did I leave anything out?). What it turns out as is none of those things but a weird and self-contradictory mess, and a mess that I love - like paella, everything's in there somewhere. A major trend in '90s music will be towards more messy, vaguer, more mixed-up. The split between AOR and living music will become more pronounced. This is a good example of the new form. Nineties music is also going to move away from both the naive dreaminess (slightly mea culpa) of Ambient/Velvets revivalism and from the clock-rigid robot dancing of techno/hiphop/rave. It will be more wild, more complex and more organic. lt's not all tightly organised and SMPTE'd and nice clean and SSL produced: It's unlocked, dissonant, contradictory, a network rather than a structure. It will be evanescent, fluid, patchwork, sometimes incoherent, violent and weird.It's built up by overlaying unrelated codes and bis and pieces of language, letting them collide to see what new meanings and resonances emerge. It is music that throws you off balance, where-am-I-music. The '80s was the Global Village myth and Terminator 2 myth. After a few years cleaning out the stables and staring at the sunset, with an occasional bout of stiff-legged dancing, it turned out to be a bit limited; nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there.
Me, I want to be part of the Global City: bright, garish, frenetic, intelligent, smart, sexy, fierce, eclectic, nutty, neon, dirty, SQUELCHY.
THE SHUTOV ASSEMBLY
The pieces on this record were made over a long period, beginning in 1985, and were not originally conceived as a coherent group. In 1989 I visited Moscow, where I met the painter Sergei Shutov. I was impressed by his paintings, and very pleased to discover that many of them had been made to the accompaniment of copies of some of my records. Not surprisingly, my records are even harder to find in Russia than in the West, and the copies (of copies of copies) that Shutov was listening to were pretty poor. I resolved to send him some better ones, and also to assemble some unreleased pieces for him. That was the first time I heard these things as a group, and, with some omissions, that collection became the present record.
Perhaps it's to be expected that music like this could interest a painter, since when I'm working on this type of material, my judgements have little to do with other music, and everything to do with visual and tactile experiences. I find myself thinking about sounds in terms of qualities like brightness, hotness, sharpness, clarity, murkiness, iridescence, angularity, coarseness, haziness, flatness. I want to make the music as one would make a painting - to create a believable space teeming with life - with concordances and tensions, with a network of focal points and no clear hierarchy between them. I want the listener to enter this space in the same way that you might enter the space of a painting: finding a way around, seeing what's there, relating things to one another, leaving when you want to.
These pieces are part of a long series of works dating back over twenty-five years. The first music I ever made (when, at Ipswich Art School, I commandeered the only available tape recorder) was a lot like this, although my instruments then were simpler: I remember a resonant metal lampshade being the centre of the ensemble. Since then, the same combination of technological and musical interests that fuelled the lampshade experiments has also yielded Music For Films, On Land, Music For Airports, Thursday Afternoon, Nerve Net, Discreet Music and many other pieces.
On July 20 Brian Eno gave an illustrated lecture at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. With background ambience coloured by one of the most dramatic storms London has had in recent years, he gave a talk entitled Perfume, Defence and David Bowie's Wedding to a capacity audience. You will note that the same theme recurs in each of the three parts.
Perfume began as a talk given in Barcelona earlier this year, and has evolved, via magazine articles fot Details and Manner Vogue, and the Sadler's Wells lecture into:
I started thinking about smell in 1965. At art college, a friend and myself made a little collection of evocative aromas, housed in about fifty small bottles. There was rubber. naphta, motorcycle dope, mint, wax, gasoline, ammonia, juniper wood.
In 1978, in a neglected and unlikely part of London, I came across an old pharmacy which was crammed with oils and absolutes. Their beautiful names - styrax, patchouli, frangipani, amber, myrrh, geraniol, opoponax, heliotrope - and unplaceably familiar aromas attracted my curiosity, and I bought over a hundred bottles. They seemed to re-awaken memories that I couldn't have had. Gradually I found myself actively collecting the primary materials of perfumery - in Madrid I chanced upon a crumbling apothecary with dozens of mysteriously October 1992 labelled phials: in San Francisco I discovered the strange olfactory world of Chinatown, of five spices and jasmine and ginseng; a woman I met in Ibiza gave me a minute bottle containing just one drop of a heavenly material called 'Nardo' (l later came to think that this was probably spikenard oil, extracted from a shrub growing at between five and eight thousand feet on the Himalayas, and used by wealthy Indian ladies as a prelude to lovemaking).
I started mixing things together. I was fascinated by the synergies of combinations, how two quite familiar smells carefully combined could create a new and unrecognisable sensation. Perfumery has a lot to do with this process of courting the edges of unrecognisability, of evoking sensations that don't have names, or of mixing up sensations that don't belong together. Some materials are in themselves schizophrenic in that they have two rather contradictory natures.
Methyl octane carbonate, for example, evokes the smell of violets and motorcycles; Dior's Fahrenheit uses a lot of it.
Oris butter, a complex derivative of the roots of Iris, is vaguely floral in small amounts, but almost obscenely fleshy (like the smell beneath a breast or between buttocks) in quantity.
Civet, from the anal gland of the civet cat, is intensely disagreeable as soon as it is recognisable, but amazingly sexy in subliminal doses (- it features in Guerlain's Jicky, probably the oldest extant perfume, and one whose market has changed over the hundred years of its existence - it now has a following among gay men).
Coumarin, the primary ingredient of Cacherel's Loulou, is the characteristic smell of late summer, from whose flowers and grasses it is derived, but then it also carries strange overtones of powder, boudoirs, bedrooms...
You don't have to dabble for very long to begin to realise that the world of smell has no reliable maps, no single language, no comprehensible metaphorical structure within which we might comprehend it and navigate our way around it. It seems to compare poorly, for example, with the world of sight. If we want to think about colour, we can use words like hue and brightness and saturation. We can visualize a particular slightly milky green, imagine where it falls on a spectrum chart, look at its neighbours and complimentaries, and then finally decided that it is, say, 'Eau de Nil' or 'pale turquoise' or 'jade'. These are relatively precise terms, and, furthermore they can be expressed numerically - in angstroms, for example, or (if you want to paint your house in it) as 'British Standard paint shade number something-or-other'. Similarly with shape - we use measurement and geometry and, of course, drawings, to communicate that type of information.
But the best we seem to be able to do with smells is to evoke comparisons. We can say that Karanal is 'like striking a flint', that the aldehyde C14 is 'like peach skins', that beta-ionone is 'like latex'. As far as I know, there is not even the first beginning of a usable system of relating these one to another. Where does Karanal stand in relation to Tuberose? Or Sandalwood to Sage? Don't ask me.
Like others who've played with perfumes, I found this absence of organisation surprising. I wanted a system, a map. I briefly thought I might be able to make one myself, but this idea foundered as I jotted down the resemblance between strawberries and egg yolk, between breweries and certain types of horsehair bedding, between blackcurrant leaves and the urine of kittens. I just knew I didn't have enough stamina to collect, let alone collate, all those sensations.
But I'd also noticed to my confusion that the substances called 'Coriander' or 'Vetiver' were never quite the same twice. The vetiver I bought in the Walworth Road in London was distinctly different from that I got from the labs of Quest International in Paris, and the French Coriander I found in 1988 was different from the French Coriander I bought a year later. So even the names, it turned out, didn't describe anything stable. I abandoned the classification project and continued dabbling.
It took me a long time to begin to realise that this was the way things were likely to continue. Just as with everything else, there was probably never going to be a time when I 'knew what I was doing', when I had in mind some logical picture of the whole world of smell.
During this period, of course, my primary 'job' was making records - working with sound. In the course of that work, I found myself frequently interviewed. When I talked about sound, I stressed the inadequacy of the classical languages that composers had used to describe it. I said that the evolution of electronic instruments and recording processes had created a situation where the whole question of timbre - the physical quality of sound - had been opened up wide and had become a ma)or focus of compositional attention. Modern composers and producers working in recording studios were experimenting with sound itself, and were therefore quite content to use largely traditional, 'received' forms (such as 'the blues') upon which to hang their experiments.
It struck me that this had been completely missed by classically trained musicologists, who were always looking for innovation in places where it wasn't happening, and hadn't even been intended to happen. They were expecting that any music that deserved the title 'new' would be making breakthroughs in harmony, in melody, in compositional structures: in the areas for which, in fact there was a classical language. But here they were faced with a music which, in many of those respects, often barely made it past the turn of the century.
What they failed to notice, or at least attach any importance to, was that their language, the language of classical written composition, simply didn't have any terms to describe a Jimi Hendrix guitar sound or Phil Spector's production of Da Doo Ron Ron. Rock music, I kept saying, was a music of timbre and texture much more than melody and structure, of the physical experience of sound, in a way that no other music had ever been. It dealt with a potentially infinite sonic palette, a palette whose gradations and combinations would never adequately be described, and were the attempt at description must always lag behind the infinities of permutation.
So while I was happy to accept and exploit and even trumpet this exciting, confusing, fluid situation in music, I had been worrying about finding myself in the same place in the universe of perfume. The inconsistency of these positions finally filtered through to me while I was talking to a group of businessmen in Brussels. My talk was called The Future of Culture in Europe, and in it I tried to sketch out the breakdown of a classical view of Culture and art-history in favour of a more contemporary one.
Until quite recently, I said, Culture had been viewed as a field of artefacts which could be organised in some ideal way or other: the job of the art historian was to propose and defend one of those ways of organising. Behind this enterprise was the tacit assumption that, if only we sat down and talked about it reasonably for long enough, we would all agree that, say, Dante, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Goethe, Wagner and a few other big names were the real kingpins of culture, and that, say, chocolate box designers, popular balladeers, walking stick carver's, hairdressers, pygmy singers, clothes designers and Little Richard were relatively marginal.
The history of the history of art is really the story of people trying to make a claim for one orthodoxy in favour of any other, asserting that the particular line they drew through the field of all the events we refer to as Culture had some special validity, and that proximity to that line was a measure of originality, profundity, longevity: in short, of value. For many reasons this idea of intrinsic, absolute value became, and becomes, less and less attractive. We don't expect to write books with titles like "THE history of painting" (as if there were only one). We become increasingly comfortable with the idea that there are all sorts of ways of describing and organising the same set of phenomena, that there are descriptive languages for doing that which don't necessarily translate into one another, that there is no absolute basis upon which to decide between these languages, and that anyway 'the same set of phenomena' is actually a shifting field of perceptions to which we choose to give the same name until it gets so confusing that we have to find another.
So, just as we might come to accept that 'Coriander' is a name for a fuzzy, not very clearly defined space in the whole oF our smell experience, we also start to think about other words in the same way. Big Ideas such as Freedom, Truth, Beauty, Love, Reality, and, indeed, Art, start to lose their capital letters, cease being so absolute and reliable, and become names for spaces in our psyches: functions that our mind engages itself in. We find ourselves having to frequently reassess or even reconstruct them completely.
We are, in short, increasingly un-centred, un-moored, living day-to-day, engaged in an ongoing attempt to cobble together a credible, or at least workable, set of values, ready to shed it and work out another when the situation demands. I find myself enjoying this more, watching us all becoming dilettante perfume blenders, poking inquisitive fingers through a great library of ingredients and seeing which combinations make some sense for us - gathering experience - the possibility of making better guesses - without demanding certainty.
Perhaps our sense of this, the sense of belonging to a world held together by networks of ephemeral confidences (such as fashions, currencies, philosophies, GATT talks, and stock markets) rather than permanent certainties, disposes us to embrace anew the pleasures of our most primitive and unlanguaged sense, that of smell.
And the thought of being mystified, not being fully in control, surrendering to our pleasure in the unnameable, doesn't frighten us as much as it used to. Losing grip of the solid reliability of dogma, doctrine and ultimate pictures of the world, we learn instead alertness and the ability to improvise. We build tools out of what we know, our sense of what might work, and then we pay attention as those tools suggest new uses for themselves. lItre walk forward into uncertainty, carefully observing ourselves and monitoring our success, and the success of everyone else in sight. It's a busy life. And perhaps we stop expecting perfumery to obediently take its place in some nice, reliable, rational world order, and instead expect everything else to become like perfume.
The second topic of the Sadler's Wells talk, Defence, was touched on in a recent interview with Brian by Rob Tannenbaum for Details magazine (USA). A short extract from that interview is reprinted here.
Q: ...I've also heard that you've gotten very interested in defence spending - is there really such a thing as a New World Order?
A: No, no, no. What there is is a pathetic attempt to describe the chaos and uncertainty that we have and to try to pin it down somehow, at least for the duration of the election campaign. No, there's a whole new kind of chaos and it's not going to change. We really have to stare that in the face and say, there is never going to be a world order again, there's never going to be an empire again. America and perhaps Japan were the last empires. There won't be any others. From now on, the levei of interdependency and the fluidity of the geopolitical situation is going to be so vast and so continuous that it's always going to be self-contradictory - do you know that description of my record. "This record is like paella," and so on. Well, this is what the world is going to be like in very many ways (laughs). And defence interests me because it's the institutionalised form of resistance against the view of the world that I'm suggesting. It's the way of stopping that becoming the case.
Q: It's really just a futile - and expensive - way of postponing change.
A: Yes. It's not completely futile; it works at the moment. And it will probably continue working for a bit longer. Defence is a useful tool for governments that don't want to admit that their language structures don't describe the world. This is something I can't summarise; I've talked about this at length recently, and if you're interested in this, it's a separate topic. I don't really want to go into it in a half-assed way, because it's the kind of thing where if you only give half the story, people pick it up and say, But that's not true. This is the case and that's the case. Unless you're going to write an article just about that, I don't think I should even start talking about it. It's too volatile. Just like if you asked me a question about gender politics - this is also a question I've learned not to answer in anything other than total detail (laughs), because there's always somebody ready to assassinate you for the part you left out.
Q: The thing I find so arrogant is the description of the end of Communism as something to be celebrated, when it's resulted in so much death and misery.
A: Sure. I think there's an assumption built into the American picture of the world. "You see, this proves we were doing it right, and they weren't." This notion that America is poised at the right end of the scale of things and that everyone else in the end is going to gravitate to a more American condition is extremely unpleasant and very dangerous. Of course, there are aspects of the American vision that I thoroughly like - I love them, in fact. I'm not anti-American. But I am antifundamentalist, and fundamentalism is rather a big part of the American picture. One form of fundamentalism is saying "Only our system will work. Only our language will describe things". This is simply not true. There are going to be different political situations, different solutions for different places and times. The one solution of free-enterprise capitalism doesn't work everywhere. It's not the only solution. The role of politicians in the future is not going to be to slavishly carry out one political theory or another, but to experiment and blend them and make hybrids of them for different times and places. And the American insistence on capital D Democracy and capital C Capitalism is sort of naive to me. I can't believe such a sophisticated nation would keep falling for this over and over.
Q: The tasks you're describing are far too complex for mere politicians.
A: Well, there have been intelligent politicians. And there will be others. And of course it isn't as if a politician sits there alone and redesigns the world. A politician is someone who by definition is collaborating with a lot of different people. In America you have some of the most intelligent thinkers about the future anywhere in the world. You, have a great tradition of Futurologists, you might say, people who specialise in trying to extrapolate and see trends into the future. And the great failure is that these people simply aren't consulted by governments. They just don't get a job in deciding questions of policy.
Q: Who are you thinking of?
A: Which Futurologists? Well, Stuart Brand. Peter Schwartz. Peter Drucker. Alvin Toffler I think is very clever. James Hillman. Catherine Bateson. Actually, Jon Hassell is another person I should put on that list. He's one of the most interesting thinkers about the future that I've ever met. But this list, I know I shall regret this: because I'll think, God, I forgot to mention so-and-so and so-and-so.
How would you like to be remembered?
As having been vindicated by history.
The third topic at the Sadler's Wells talk was David Bowie's wedding, and was also touched upon in the same interview with Rob Tannenbaum:
A: (having attended the wedding ceremony in Florence) ...one of the questions that occurred to me was: Is this wedding for those of us gathered in the church or the cameras? Maybe the readers of Hello! are the congregation. David and Iman accepted the idea that weddings are always theatre of some kind. The part of me that disapproved was a part of me that still wants to cling on to some kind of distinction between real life and theatre, or between sincerity and irony. And I thought, that's a part of me I really don't want to have around anymore, I look forward to being able to wholeheartedly accept the confusion of the modern world we live in, where things are both moving and manipulative, and where they're both theatrical and real-life and everywhere in between, all at the same time.
A series of lectures has now been organised in Germany, by Art Concerts. The dates and venues are:
Friday, October 30, Munich - Carl Orff Saal
Sunday, November 1, Cologne - Gurzenich
Wednesday, November 4, Berlin - HDK
Friday, November 6, Hamburg - Kampnagel Fabrick
EXTRACTS FROM THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE - ENO'S KEYWORDS EXAMINED
Irony: It's so much an important ingredient of so much of the culture around us now. We are more and more used to being in several places at the same time. This whole thing about cameras: I realise the reason I've always hated them is because they force me to be somewhere else at the same time. When someone points a camera at you, you're no longer just there - you're also somewhere in the future looking back at this picture. So you're suddenly forced to be self-regarding as well. People are more and more comfortable with this idea. I'm not: even though I think about this world, I actually belong emotionally to another one. To one that exists but is fading out, I suppose. I'm still made very uncomfortable by being forced to live in different times, in what I call the present. I think irony is really to do with that - to do with simultaneously being here, being fully into it. But at the same time a part of you is looking at you, and saying, "well, if you turned this way a bit, you'd look better. Hold on, don't say that - you might regret it". The romantic critic, the romanticist, would despise that - that part of you was not in the situation, that part of you was somewhere else, evaluating: they would call it all the things they do call it. Manipulative, insincere, uncommitted, pretentious. Arty: that's what arty means.
The Topical, The Relative, The Vulgar: "[...a review I read said:] 'What makes Keith Haring's work so great is that it questions all these blah blah blah, the things that artworks are supposed to do, whereas most Graffiti Art is topical, relative and vulgar.' And I thought about those three words. Topical, what's wrong with being topical? Isn't that what I like? Isn't that what we love about pop, or fashions, or whatever? Precisely that: they are real barometers, moment-to-moment barometers. Relative: as opposed to what? Absolute? But I don't believe in that idea. What he [the reviewer] was trying to say was that somehow or other Haring had transcended this relativistic universe and somehow enshrined the absolute truths of the world. I thought this is just pre-Renaissance, this kind of idea. And vulgar: what does vulgar mean? As opposed to refined? As opposed to upperclass, elitist? Reading that review made me realise exactly what I like about Popular Art - for him to be saying that Haring had transcended all those was taking away everything that was good about him, and making all kinds of claims for him in this obsolete old world, the Fine Art pyramid of cultural attention."
Fundamentalism: "...this whole way of talking about things, in terms of understanding that they really don't embody intrinsic values, but that they do embody networks of confidence, that's really a new idea. To me, it's the most interesting idea - I so much want to see that become part of the way that people talk about things. Instead of what often happens now is that people have got this idea of confidence networks and so on, but they still think that they're going to find what it is that underlies it all, that they'll finally find something ro which you can nail it all, and suddenly all our problems will cease (...) In nearly every serious discussion we have now, this is the point that keeps coming up - do we live in a world of relativism or absolutes? I got an amazing cutting out of the newspaper the other day: for me it really summed up the whole idea of fundamentalism. A Japanese car executive had his house shot at, and it was decided that the reason was that his car company had produced these tyres whose tread was interpreted by some Muslims as being na verse from the Koran. And they considered it a tremendous insult that it should be constantly ground into the dust. And the Japanese company withdrew the tyres, but said, 'But it was computer-generated! Just to do with wetness and holding the road!' This is so amazing to me. That somebody should go and try to shoot someone, an executive of a company whose computer has designed a squiggle that happens to look like Arabic writing."
Pretension: "...so anyway, there's that assumption that there is such a thing as the 'real' people, and the 'pretenders'. And the other assumption is that there's something wrong with pretending. My whole thing about culture-as-simulator, as a way of experiencing deliberately fake situations - if you want real situations, go to Cambodia, or Somalia! If you really don't want to be in the simulator. The whole point for me is to create situations where you can pretend - like children do all the time (...) Robert Wyatt said to me once, 'It's funny, you know, in some respects we're always in the condition of children - there are always things which we don't understand, that we have to pretend about, about which we're naive.' Of course they're different things. We know how to flush the toilet - but we might not know how the structure of our various waterboards works. The point about continuous childhood co-existing with adulthood is that it suggests the idea of allowing oneself lots of machinery, to keep pretending with, to keep simulating."
Empathy: "...if there is any unit of cultural intelligence, it's empathy. Empathy doesn't have anything to do with cleverness, technical ability, cultural background or traditions or something like that. It does have to do with how much you understand the impression you make on other people round you and how important that is to you. One of the things that's very interesting about the second bit of the Rorty book [Contingency, Irony, And Solidarity], the bit about Orwell, is that Orwell proposes a future, the bit about O'Brien, The Torturer: O'Brien is the image of someone who is highly cultivated, highly civilised, very intelligent, very clever, and has no empathy at all (...) The last part of the Orwell book  says that there's no reason to equate the two: empathy doesn't follow from full engagement in culture of some kind. The important thing in what makes Hannibal Lecter so different from everyone else is an utter lack of empathy. There's none of that kind of intelligence at all. And socially that must be the intelligence we value. 'We don't just want to produce conjurors - we want to produce conjurors who have some kind of empathy, who understand the effect of their tricks."
MIXING IT, BBC RADIO 3
Brian Eno interviewed by Robert Sandall with Mark Russell
RS: Brian Eno, our special interviewee of the week, has just put out a record called Nerve Net, and before that there was a single from it called Fractal Zoom which some of you may have heard. Now we had a very long, wide ranging, quite fascinating conversation with him, which went on for several hours. Unfortunately, inevitably, we're only able to replay fragments of it, and you'll hear, in the course of this interview, mostly Eno talking about the music he's interested in, and particularly the sounds that he's interested in now.
BE: Well, they're mostly dirty sounds, anti-Hollywood sounds (laughs).
RS: Wasn't the DX7 though rather an over-exposed instrument?
BE: Well what about the Fender Stratocaster for an over-exposed instrument? I happened to get one at a particularly dull period of my life, where I could think of nothing better to do than sit and fiddle with my DX7, in this horrible flat I lived in at the time. But I really became completely intuitive with it, and I have such an easy relationship with it, that's why I carry on working with it.
The thing that makes synthesizers boring is that it's the sound of a few atoms moving. They move in rather predictable ways, and to make them more interesting you have to introduce other levels of complexity. Well, it's the other way with acoustic instruments, you're always struggling to make them less interesting actually, that is to say make them more controllable. With those kind of instruments you get a lot of idiosyncratic information, and that makes them work very well in system music, where there's a lot of repetition, because the repetition draws your attention to those idiosyncrasies. You know, you hear what's theoretically the same note happening again, but its colour is slightly changed. So it isn't repetitive actually. Doing the same thing with a synthesizer, it just is repetitive (laughs), it's just the same thing happening again. So I like to work with complicated inputs. Now you might say a DX7 isn't that complicated, but it is after I've put it through all the rubbish I use.
A flute, for instance, has so many meanings built into its very sound. And I don't want them. I might do sometimes, but generally you can assume that I don't. A piano is vaguer, fortunately; a piano has such a wide range of associations that it's easier to use. But some instruments are impossible for me to use, because they carry too much cultural baggage with them.
What composers are doing most of the time now is designing their instruments. A studio is not a place for mixing music, a studio is a place for designing your instruments really. All those little buttons are changing timbre, changing attack, changing decay, changing all the things that define what an instrument is, and I've taken this job quite seriously. I usually make my instruments do fairly simple things, because the message is in the instrument itself, the sound of the instrument itself, and that's why I give them funny names on record covers as well, like I call things 'snake guitar', or 'pachydermocaster', because that instrument was made and exists only for that job, and after it's done that it's redundant. I never bother to write down what it is or anything, I'll never use it again. They became points of departure for making something else.
You know, I was a fossil hunter when I was a kid, that was my hobby. And fossil hunting you just really go to a place, and you might spend the whole day in a four yard square area, just scrapping away and looking through, finding a little thing, and then scraping a little bit more. I've always had that fossil collector attitude to everything really.
RS: How do you see your musical interest in that light? Do you think of what you've done as a four foot square area that you've been scraping away at? Or have you moved on?
BE: I do in some ways. I don't think that there are that many different ideas, but even a very small number of ideas can be permutated in a very large number of ways.
RS: Which are your favourite ideas?
BE: I guess my all time favourite, the one that has dominated more things than any other is the notion of self-creating systems; having very few elements and creating processes that allow those elements to combine in different ways, and then listening to the result of that.
But I started doing that before I started listening to music, I did it visually first, in paintings. What excites me is seeing the same few things re-clustering and thrown together in different perspectives in relation to each other. If there are too many elements I can't see that any longer, it becomes unclear for me. So I'm a minimalist, just because what interests me is continually reinvestigating combinations.
RS: The choosing of the elements, is that the part of it that interests you a lot? Or are you fairly happy to be random with those?
BE: No, it interests me a lot, and that's the difference between me and, say, Steve Reich. Steve Reich is, at least his work from the '60s and early '70s, was very much in the same direction, permutating a small number of elements. All his attention went the process of permutation, and very little to the choice of elements. This was a '60s idea, that if you built the right machine, you could feed anything into it and it would come out as music in the end. It obviously wasn't true. I did my dues in The Scratch Orchestra, and in the various other experiments that were going on then, and I noticed that some of the results I preferred much, much more than others. So there was a connection between inputs and results, it's self evident, but it wasn't evident then, because the whole accent was on creating these conceptual machines of some kind. Cage was a good example; the machine was the I Ching in his case, chance variations. Put anything into it, but try listening to John Cage's pieces; they don't hold your attention for very long, but one or two of them work. The piano pieces work, for instance. Now that's interesting. because the piano is a highly evolved set of sounds, it's not just a random set of sounds, that's something that has a lot of evolution and choice, and things being varied and changed so that they balance up in some way.
Of course my other interest all the time was rock music, where inputs are all important, and the machine is unimportant, actually the structure is not even a consideration generally. So the important thing for me was to make processes that I liked, but also to use inputs that I liked. That's why I think that Discreet Music is one of the enduring pieces of minimal music. It isn't usually regarded as one. A few American critics do consider it to be in the canon of Minimalistic music, but I think that will endure beyond Music In 12 Parts, which is a completely boring piece of music now, because you now understand, and can locate in history, its innovation; It made its point, subsequently people made better music using the same idea. It's a little bit like Stephenson's Rocket; you're very pleased he did it but I wouldn't want to go for a ride in it.
I was very careful with vinyl albums, because I assumed that people weren't going to take the needle off, or at least if they took it off they weren't going to put it back on (laughs), so you had to make a continuous listening experience, but with CDs, people use them like I do. I think, "not so keen on that track, skip to the next one". So because there are suddenly a lot more formats to release on, in terms of time length, that means you can have frequent, rather vague, hybrid type releases coming out, which don't carry the same aura of expectation about them. And secondly, because people can skip tracks, you can afford to put things on that are put there for special interest. Like on this new record I have two versions of the longest track, Web, and they're back to back. Now I don't imagine that a lot of people will sit and listen to both of them, but I do think that a lot of people will have a strong preference for one over the other. Now in the past I would have had to choose, and say 'ok, that one goes on, that one doesn't", but now I think, "let them choose,'. That's what CDs are for, that's the good thing about them.
I'm censoring less I suppose. I don't care so much, I'm quite happy to let people make their choices. And this is a long record, it's sixty-eight minutes, I think, the whole album, so I figure if people like thirty five minutes, they've got a good deal (laughs). But it means that different people can have a different album.
I want to move away from the album as seen as a novel. I really like what's been happening with the whole remixing movement, where several different versions of a song come out; there's the club version, the twelve-inch version, the seven-inch version, somebody else's remix of it, and suddenly I like the idea of pieces of music not having one identity, but being very negotiable. There are lots of different forms of them around and you never know whether you've heard them all. That's why Fractal Zoom has come out in all these different versions. I want to make the album seem like just another collection of things, not (serious voice) "this is my work as it stands at the moment", because that isn,t true anyway.
RS: Why not release it as a series of twelve inches then?
BE: Well I am, I'm trying to think: instead of the novel that comes out every two years, I want to think of it like magazine articles, interviews, pamphlets, novellas.
RS: Like work in progress?
BE: Yeah. I've more and more come to admire Picasso. He was totally un-self-censoring. He just thought, "l'm too good for my own understanding" (laughs). I'm sure that was his feeling, he thought "hey, who am I to judge? I just do this stuff, somebody else can decide whether it's good or not."
RS: Miles Davis was a bit like that.
BE: Yes, absolutely true. I was just saying to someone the other day that those two people were the prime examples in this century of that way of thinking, of just saying, "Look, I do it, you decide".
RS: How do you feel about singing at the moment?
BE: I don't like it as much as talking (laughs).
JOHN PAUL JONES
Perhaps the most widely known of John Paul's recent work has been his orchestral arrangements of the tracks Drive, Everybody Hurts, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite and Nightswimming on REM's new album Automatic For The People (Warner Bros).
However, other recent projects have included producing tracks for the Butthole Surfers next album (for Capitol Records, for release early 1993), and composing Maastricht Time for the Mondrian String Quartet (premiered in Holland in June), playing surdu, bass and keyboards on the track Fourteen Black Paintings on Peter Gabriel's new album Us (a variation of the track John Paul made for Memory Palace) and composing Macondo for the Sonic Arts Networks.
Macondo, performed by Richard Gallardo, premiered at the Purcell Room, London, in May, and was subsequently performed in the Hague and in Mexico City. Macondo, the fictitious town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez' book One Hundred Years Of Solitude. The music invokes the atmosphere of the South American/Caribbean jungle, the heat, the humidity, the spirits. The feeling of a man passing warily through a physical and supernatural world and his survival against the backdrop of a slow, inevitable passage of time. All the sounds in the piece were produced using steel drum samples played by Ricardo Gallardo, and other Latin American percussion instrument samples.
ROGER ENO / KATE ST. JOHN
Roger and Kate met through a friend in London with the idea of working together on new material and incorporating Kate's voice over Roger's scores. After several months, a recording schedule was put together and in the Summer of 1991, they flew to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), a city chosen for the renowned abilities of its local musicians as well as hopefully adding something of an atmosphere to the music. It has to be said that the competitively priced studios was also a major influence. Although technical problems hampered the trip, they did spend three days with what turned out to be one of the finest quartets in the country and in some of the most impressive recording surroundings. On return to the UK, they spent more time in a London studio, as well as doing several performances, providing useful new material.
During the ensuing months All Saints records was established and the idea of involving a producer was raised. Several names were suggested, but the name that continually cropped up was Be Bop Deluxe's founder member, Bill Nelson, whose input into other records seemed to fit perfectly. Bill enthusiastically agreed to the project and more time and musicians were booked in London; new instruments were added and eventually they had six songs recorded as well as about fourteen instrumental pieces, leaving just the mixing and overdubbing. Bill knew of a studio near his home in Yorkshire and two weeks were set aside. It was here that Bill's talents as a producer really came to light, adding his personal touch to much of the record. He ended up playing on nearly every track, adding percussion, sampled sounds and of course his hallmark, the guitar.
Some have described this album as a kind of crossroads for Roger. It delves into new, almost pop-like areas, while at the same time maintaining its string-based origins. Nearly fifty minutes long, it now has thirteen tracks, five of which are songs. The cover is a collection of photographs of Roger and Kate, put together by Russell Mills who has given the album a very vibrant, humorous feel, reflecting not just the music, but something about Roger and Kate as well.
Roger Eno, discography: He has released two solo albums (Voices and Between Tides) and has contributed to many others as either writer or performer. He has scored for numerous films including 9½ Weeks, Dune, For All Mankind and has most recently written for the BBC's new series Mr. Wroe's Virgins.
Kate St. John, discography: In 1982 she helped form The Ravishing Beauties with Virginia Astley and Nicky Holland only to leave in 1983 to help start The Dream Academy who released three albums. Recently, Kate has been touring with Van Morrison playing oboe and saxophone, as well as backing vocals. She has worked with Morrissey, Tears For Fears and Nigel Kennedy and as a composer has even written for, amongst others, Harry Enfield's Television Programme.
Roger Eno With Kate St. John - The Familiar is released on All Saints Records (ASCD13/ASC13) in October.
• • •
Apart from the many interview requests surrounding the release of Nerve Net, Brian was also invited to complete questionnaires by both The Guardian newspaper and N.M.E. Taking the opposite approach to what might be expected, Brian answered The Guardian's questions in a very lighthearted fashion (in fact completely jokingly), and took the N.M.E. far more seriously. Here are both, to compare and contrast.
THE GUARDIAN QUESTIONNAIRE
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Having exactly the right weapons.
What is your greatest fear?
Drought, fallen arches, running out of batteries.
With which historical figure do you most identify?
Catherine of Aragon. Amazing hats!
Which living person do you most admire?
Mother Theresa. She is also very short.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Tendencies towards liberalism.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What vehicles do you own?
1981 Datsun Cherry, 1987 Austin-Montego, 1990 Skoda.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What objects do you always carry with you?
An electrical screwdriver, a battery tester, a small blade, a magnifying glass, a credit card, a cash card, a photograph of myself meeting Mother Theresa.
What makes you most depressed?
Being at the low end of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. (Is this a premonition? - Ed.)
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Very short hair.
What is your most appealing habit?
What is your favourite smell?
Rain after drought, Sloan's Liniment.
What is your favourite word?
What is your favourite building?
Barking Town Hall.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Which living person do you most despise?
Michael Fish - for being inaccurate. (A weatherman on English T.V. - Ed.)
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What is your greatest regret?
Not getting more O-level results.
When and where were you happiest?
In the summer before my O-level results.
How do you relax?
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A waterbed with big loud speakers.
What talent would you most like to have?
Accurate weather prediction.
What would your motto be?
Get it on!
What keeps you awake at night?
Getting it off.
How would you like to die?
At the hairdresser.
How would you like to be remembered?
MATERIAL WORLD - NME
Where are you and what is the ambience like?
I'm at home half-watching a programme about the CIA. The ambience is increasingly paranoid.
What was the last thing you cooked?
Potatoes sautéed in sage, broads beans, marinated chicken legs.
Who are your current favourite cultural icons?
Icons aren't really my scene but I'm interested in Salman Rushdie, Frank Gehry, Richard Rorty, Mimmo Paladino and David Salle.
Would you make a good game show host?
Absolutely terrible; I can't pretend to be unfailingly interested in other people's lives and feelings.
What books are you reading?
Barcelona - Robert Hughes; We've Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy (And The World's Getting Worse) - James Hillman and Michael Ventura; Artificial Life - Steve Lacy; Essays - Peter Halley.
What was the last video you rented?
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - Pedro Almodovar.
Name a piece of music that can make you cry.
Even Me - Mahalia Jackson.
Name a piece of music that can make you dance.
Zombie - Fela Ransome Kuti.
What sports do you enjoy?
Watching: Football. Playing: Snooker.
What was the first piece of music you ever heard?
Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf.
Fave radio programmes?
Letters From America, Analysis.
What causes would you support with your music?
'Citizens Against Fundamentalism', if it existed.
What are your most underrated virtues?
Paying attention, acting on a hunch, daring to improvise.
Where do you spend your holidays?
Spain, Italy, wherever I can book at the last minute.
Patak's Biryani paste, raw garlic.
CD - salvation or curse?
Convenient, ugly, over-priced, reliable.
Who makes you laugh?
Ian Hislop, Paul Morley, my brother Roger, Bono.
Vladimir Nabokov, Salman Rushdie.
Punchline to fave joke?
So the first horse turns to the second and says, 'Well I never, a talking dog!'
Fave board game?
What's the worst lyric you've ever heard?
"If you pull down the blind, I'll go out of my mind / You have let yourself into my head" - Brian Eno, 1970.
When were you last drunk?
Really drunk - two years ago. Somewhat unstable - eight months ago. Agreeably tipsy - last week.
Which public figures do you most dislike?
Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Neil, Lady Olga Maitland, Albert Goldman, most evangelists, although I don't spend much time thinking about any of them.
I read this as 'Who would I like to receive greater attention' - Jon Hassell, Richard Bailey, Tony Benn, Stafford Beer.
Vanessa Del Rio, Billie Whitelaw, Rosie Gaines, Virginia Bottomley (mostly the name).
Fave world religion?
Buddhism - a good religion for atheists.
Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Rome, Amsterdam.
Fave Roxy Music songs?
Mother Of Pearl, Same Old Scene, Beauty Queen.
Which four Abba tracks would you do a cover EP of?
Fernando, The Visitors, Knowing Me, Knowing You, erm...
Mimmo Paladino, Pierre Bonnard, Frank Stella, RB Kitaj, Paolo Uccello, Karl Schmidt Rotluff.
What are you frightened of?
The impending collapse of American society and the global nastiness that could be released. The catastrophic convergence of any number of ecological crises with the inherent selfishness of fundamentalism.
Worst rock festival memories?
Lincoln, 1972; howling wind, Passchendaele mud, continuous rain (and we were on stage).
Go long on roads and building stock (three years or more). Long on pesetas, Austrian, Dutch and Irish currencies. Short on dollars and yen and sterling.
I don't invest, by the way.
What was the last gig you went to?
U2 at Earl's Court.
Which TV shows do you try not to miss?
Most embarrassing records in your collection?
I'm embarrassed to say there's nothing I'm really ashamed of. My taste has always been vindicated by history!
How would you like to be remembered?
As having been vindicated by history.
PREVIOUS FEATURE: OPAL INFORMATION (NUMBER 18, 1991)