My Best Life APRIL 2001- by Roberto Gatti


Brian Eno and J. Peter Schwalm

Milan. Punctual and impeccable like one of his proverbial 'loops', Mr. Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno - for his friends and for his fans, fortunately, just Brian Eno - makes his entrance into the Carla Sozzani Gallery of Fine Art at precisely 11am on Friday morning. He is here to present a small tour (only three dates: April 29 at Cagliari, May 23 at Milan and May 25 at Rome) dedicated to Drawn From Life, his latest album just released by Opal and recorded in tandem with German 'electronica-wiz' J. Peter Schwalm. In fact Schwalm follows him like a shadow perhaps because of shyness or because of deference, and settles himself next to Eno in the little 'tomb' situated in the installation of Kris Ruhs: an enormous 'dark room' adorned by an expanse of hieroglyphics and cream-coloured tribal symbols, almost seemingly to emphasis the classic chromatists of the gallery at Corso Como 10. The atmosphere is cordial, the crowd packed, Eno is smiling, obviously in his element in these unusual surroundings. In other words, the 53-year-old 'alchemist of sound' from Woodbridge, England, hardly ever makes a public appearance: but when he decides to do so he does it to the best of his (considerable) abilities. As one can tell, right from his initial responses.

It has been a long time since you toured with a band...

A long time? A very long time, I'd say! If my memory serves me correctly, the last time was on the second Roxy Music tour... It must have been 1973!!!

And why has it been such a long time?

It's very simple. The music that I started to do after I left Roxy Music - 'discreet', 'ambient', 'possible' - is a very synthetic music, almost 'inhuman' if you follow me: it's not really suitable for a 'live' performance. It's not appropriate to ask musicians to participate in a concert of this type of music, it would be like a painter inviting passers-by to watch him paint. That would be a nonsense, don't you think?

So why have you changed your mind now?

Because with Peter I feel very comfortable, musically we occupy similar positions. Both of us have listened to a lot of jazz and a lot of electronic music, we both love improvisation and in our album we've tried to incorporate all these things: in other words, with this recording we've tried to create a new 'chemical compound' capable of reconciling acoustic and electronic music, to resolve the 'gap' between the old way and a new way of composing. We don't know if we succeeded, but I know that this type of experience is absolutely worthy of being shared with gentle curiosity and interest. That's why we're here.

And you, Herr Schwalm, what can you say about your collaboration with a 'legend' like Brian Eno?

I can say that our work together started three years ago and that for me it has been a very agreeable and gratifying experience. There's always a lot of spontaneity and even more improvisation in what we do, it's as if there's nothing preordained in what happens. But I'm convinced that there's a level, a very hidden level in the mind of Eno...

Eno: How strange, I thought you had that level!

Maybe that level - let's continue to call it that, for convenience - is implicit in that which you Mr. Eno, have always called 'Oblique Strategies'... By the way, do you still use them?

Yes, from time to time. As you probably know, the 'Oblique Strategies' is a deck of cards from which I choose - one at a time - when I find myself in a compositional impasse. In general, these cards brilliantly solve the problems that confront me. For example, the last card I pulled out, some time ago, actually said this: 'To answer this question correctly you need to give lots of money to Brian Eno!' Interesting, don't you think?

Indeed. What do you have to say about the connection between intuition and rationality, which in your work finds an almost perfect balance?

Thankyou for the compliment, I find it truly gratifying. It's true, I very much like to 'also' bring rationality into play: I believe that I use it a lot more than some of my colleagues. The fact is that I love to analyse the flux of the creative process, and even more I like completely excluding my personal taste when working, allowing myself to be surprised by the natural flow of things: in this sense, it's obvious, the brain plays a predominant role.. So let's say that things develope more or less like that. Intuition is essential at the beginning, to start things off. Then, when I get to an 'interesting place', the intellect intervenes: to order, classify, rationalise. At this point it's necessary to leave a new space for intuition, and allow the music to take whatever direction possible according to sensitivity. Even in a direction that we could never have imagined at the beginning... Moreover, in general this is actually what happens!

This, at its most basic, is the definition of the new category of art that you have systemised lately: 'generative art'.

That's true, an art that generates itself: in fact it's this that I will be talking about next Tuesday at Zagabria, in a symposium on new forms of contemporary art. But it's also a fundamental concept in terms of my work as a producer for other musicians; my only presence - or, to put it better, my determining presence - consists of just this interchange between intuition and rationality. Because it's this 'balance' which is the key upon which everything else depends.

A last question, Mr. Eno: which of your works, as a soloist and as a collaborator, do you still voluntarily listen to?

There are three old titles from the Obscure label: my Discreet Music and the albums of Gavin Bryars and of Harold Budd. And then, it's almost unnecessary to say it, the 'Possible Musics' of Jon Hassell. An extraordinary work that probably still hasn't received the attention it deserves.