Wired OCTOBER 14, 2022 - by Sophie Charara


The ambient music pioneer is back with ForeverAndEverNoMore, an album that wants to get you in touch with your climate emergency feelings.

The title of Brian Eno's new album ForeverAndEverNoMore sounds fairly doom and gloom. When you realize the name is inspired by a book on the fall of the Soviet Union it sounds even more so. Ultimately, though, its tone and message could be a hopeful one: Things can change - and change quickly.

Eno is probably best known as an endlessly inventive ambient music pioneer and prolific producer/collaborator who has worked with the likes of David Byrne, David Bowie, and Grace Jones. But more recently, his eyes have been on the planet. In 2021 he founded EarthPercent, a charity that aims to raise money from the music industry to "be directed to the most impactful organizations dealing with climate change." Now, with ForeverAndEverNoMore, he's using his music to address the climate crisis as well.

But at the end of the day, what can art do? Lots of musicians have dedicated songs to environmental awareness, but the planet keeps getting hotter. WIRED spoke with Eno about the goals of his new album, his creative process, and the importance of deepfake birds.

WIRED: Can you tell me about the birds we hear on the album?

Brian Eno: The British Library's National Sound Archive has a huge collection of bird recordings, some of which are now extinct. We settled on the Yellowhammer, an increasingly rare bird. I also like trying to make deepfake birds, so several of the birds you hear on the album are not real.

How do you go about making deepfake birds?

Oh, I just listen to bird sounds a lot and then try to emulate the kinds of things they do. Synthesizers are quite good at that because some of the new software has what's called physical modeling. This enables you to construct a physical model of something and then stretch the parameters. You can create a piano with 32-foot strings, for instance, or a piano made of glass. It's a very interesting way to try to study the world, to try to model it. In the natural world there are discrete entities like clarinets, saxophones, drums. With physical modeling, you can make hybrids like a drummy piano or a saxophone-y violin. There's a continuum, most of which has never been explored.

Why did you choose to perform vocals?

Really I wanted to try writing some songs. I make instrumental music like diarrhea, it just flows out of me. I thought, what would happen if you left out some of the ingredients of songs - strong rhythms, chord changes by and large - but still treated it like a song? I wanted to keep the landscape sensibility I've been developing, the sense of music being a place rather than an event.

Another thing that's happened is that over the fifty years I've been recording it, my voice has dropped quite a lot in register. It's a different personality that I can sing from. It can be melancholy, regretful even.

How did you work with generative music this time?

Most of the music originated like that. When I make a record, I'm taking a tiny excerpt of one of those infinite, generative pieces and saying "that bit is fixed, that bit is going to repeat." Here it's recomposed in the way I would work on a pop song. Sometimes certain elements lock together in a way that is interesting. So now there's a little chunk. Chunking up is my version of evolution in generative music. It occurred to me, after many years, that a creature always evolves in respect to its surroundings. So I thought, "What are the surroundings of a piece of music?" Well it's human ears. That's the landscape, my ears in particular.

What's going on in your brain in this compositional mode?

This is critical. I'm always in one of three modes. I'm in "Let's try an experiment" mode, which is quite undirected. The next stage is a flow state where I'm just fiddling with things. I'm in a mood of some kind. I can be in that stage for hours, and I only notice when I have to pee. The third stage, which I probably spend a lot more time in than most other artists, is a questioning stage: "OK, I've made that thing. What does it mean? Why did it interest me?"

This is something I've always done, but it's a stronger feeling in me now than ever before. If something catches my attention, I ask why. Those are your antennae responding to something that nobody told you to respond to. We're absolutely drowning in shit. So you have to be very careful to try to protect the times when that comes from you rather than Nike or Google.

In what way does paying attention feed back into the music?

If I'm the landscape, I want to be a responsive landscape. I want to be noticing what's going on. I don't take drugs, but I have to think of other ways of hearing my music in ways as though I hadn't made it. In my computer I have a huge archive of eight thousand or more pieces. With my friend Peter [Chilvers], we decided that the archive was a key creative part of my life. If I go to "shuffler," it's a way of saying to the computer: Take between two and five pieces randomly from these eight thousand pieces and play them all together. It's usually a complete mess, but sometimes something amazing happens. This is very good way of generating film soundtracks. In fact, two of the tracks on the album, including We Let It In, came out of this. Another trick is we can shuffle, play sound bites at various lengths, and start at some random point. It's really nice when it pops from one to another.

One transition I liked on the album was Garden Of Stars to Inclusion, which comes as a relief. It made me think of the fire lily growing after wildfires.

That's always a dialog, the possibility that something good might come out of it. In We Let It In, that line "the whole of it in gorgeous flames" is an attempt to say that the destruction is a part of the process. Nature is always changing. What we're worried about is that we won't be part of the picture.

Can we mix innovation and preservation?

You want some kind of play between those two. Obviously we can't fix the world in aspic. My friend who is a farmer says, "There's new species all the bloody time, some of them will look after themselves."

And what can follow a "fix it" techno-utopianism?

We all thought politics wasn't important anymore, that technology would become the politics and create the future itself. It's related to that horrible individualism of Ayn Rand - Nietzsche for teenagers - and the idea that the power of will is the strongest power on the planet. I would like to tell her that it turns out not to be true.

If community is the alternative, do we need a shared climate culture?

What I see happening now is the biggest social movement in human history. There are billions of people involved in environmental care of some kind, but the media aren't looking. There's a huge amount of creative intelligence around, that's what makes me hopeful. There's a book I often mention by Alexei Yurchak called Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More.

Your album title.

Yes. It's about the end of the Soviet Union, how it just disappeared overnight. One day everyone was communist, the next day they weren't. I always think of that as an illustration of how quickly things can change. I think the idea came from this book that revolutions always happen in two stages. The first stage is when everyone realizes something is wrong. So that's where we've been now for a while, with the exception of a few ostrich holdouts. The second stage is when everyone realizes that everyone else realizes it as well. That's the moment I think we're heading towards. When the thing goes from being a liquid to a solid. Suddenly it's a phase change. Within three years it will be impossible for a politician to run for office without climate change being the primary issue.

How do you avoid a climate change album being didactic?

Propaganda is unpleasant and relatively ineffective. What art is mostly doing is testing where we are by how we feel about things. Feelings are the beginning of thinking. The other thing the artist is saying is there are other realities possible. It's offering you a little world with its own terms and values.

Do you still watch ASMR?

When I mention ASMR, most people don't know what it means. It's a real underground movement, one involving millions of people. Quite a good metaphor for the climate change movement. I'm slightly touching on it in some of this record, it's not declarative: "I'm here, you can listen if you like." The commercial answer to attention has always been bright, loud, fast, shocking. ASMR is saying no, this is quiet, slow, uneventful, nothing much goes on, and it lasts a long time. Well, that's what I've been doing for bloody years.

It's one of those things that to me hints at a change in the world. Marie Kondo is another. The lesson of minimalism has finally penetrated at a general level. It's a profound message because it's anti-capitalist. The impact of what she's saying is: What's your life about if it requires all that stuff? This is how people change their feelings. They might never have heard the word minimalism - or capitalism - but they start to live a bit differently.

Are these signals of the phase change you were talking about?

That's right. In the Yurchak book, when the Soviet Union disappears overnight, everybody's ready. Everybody had been working around the system anyway, in its stagnant era, doing all the things you need to do to keep life going. When the system disappeared, they just carried on. There was very little chaos.