Sydney Morning Herald MARCH 25, 2011 - by Craig Mathieson


A new documentary looks into the creative processes of the music maestro.

In popular music, the term "genius" tends to refer to untrammeled, intuitive brilliance, as opposed to precise, cerebral intellect. Music's preferred geniuses are eccentric, sometimes flaky and prone to mythology's wand. The immediate exception is English producer, musician and theorist Brian Eno, who from the start of his public life four decades ago with Roxy Music has been perceived as the most gifted mind a sprawling culture has to offer.

Eno is rock music's presiding brainiac. "We're always one step behind him, he's Brian Eno," runs the song written and named to honour him last year by MGMT, and the sheer breadth of his achievements makes that hard to argue against: a founding father of art rock, the creator of ambient music and the sonic facilitator for best-selling albums by the likes of David Bowie, U2 and Coldplay.

In the recent documentary Brian Eno: Another Green World, which screens as part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's First Look series, the musician's creative philosophies are examined in a deftly made work that matches Eno's methods of creative inquiry to its own perceptive approach.

"You don't need complexity to make complexity," observes Eno at one point in the hour-long documentary, and by examining the various themes that mark his work and beliefs, Another Green World paints a detailed picture of a man looking for simple solutions. In an era of lackadaisical music documentaries, where the passing of time provides the direction, this is a work about ideas.

"Now that Wikipedia is there for everybody, if you want a chronological understanding of what someone has done, just look it up," says the director of Another Green World, Nicola Roberts. "It's rarer and rarer that you get to do it but there are other approaches that are actually more accurate in their own way."

The forty-four-year-old English filmmaker made the documentary for the BBC's Arena program, a long-standing home of essay films about culture's many strands and guises.

Roberts alternates between showing Eno in conversation with a variety of sounding boards and examining the ideas that define him.

"He thinks he can change the world with conversation and he believes that everything is connected, so he let us come and go and we'd watch him talk to people about the most incredibly diverse things," she says.

"Brian Eno talking is what he's good at and that's what he did. He knew what kind of film he wanted us to make and he has his wits about him."

As he does at art festivals, Eno curated the sources for Another Green World but, in turn, Roberts captures some salient traits about the subject. She's more interested in his heritage (Eno comes from a long line of postmen) and his relationship to technology than mapping the contours of his career. Seminal collaborations, such as his 1981 album with Talking Heads' David Byrne, My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, are not even mentioned but his interest in science's interaction with art are canvassed.

Roberts even manages to get to the forty-two-minute mark before introducing U2's Bono, who is a ubiquitous source of praise in music documentaries. Still, instead of taking up the offer of an interview, Roberts simply used a clip of Bono's famous quote, "We didn't go to art school, we went to Eno", and quickly moves on.

"I was actually more interested in Brian speaking to some odd boffin," says Roberts, who happily avoids the norm.

"Why start at the beginning and finish at the end, when you can start in the middle and work your way out?"

Brian Eno: Another Green World screens at ACMI from April 1-4