Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brian Eno is a one-man think tank part 1

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have access to the mind of a man who thinks differently for a living?

Musical polymath Brian Eno kept a diary throughout 1995, published the following year with additional essays, letters and fragments - hence A Year With Swollen Appendices. It veers from the mundanely magical details of his life with his young family, to his involvement with War Child, U2, David Bowie, James and more.

And then there are the ideas, the ideas. As a blogger and journal-keeper I know the value of keeping a record of those lightning strikes and recurring ideas, but this man puts me to shame.

Just have a read of these extracts and you'll get a sense of just how good this book is in places.

On cultural villages like New York

"Good sides: osmotic learning / cooperation / informality / support / intense hybridisation / shared assumptions"

"Bad sides: malicious gossip / exclusivity / taking people for granted / lack of focus / small-mindedness / overscrutiny / forgetting this is not the whole world / back-scratching / shared assumptions unquestioned."

I've been musing over such islands of cultural life (neartopias) like Brighton, Bishop's Castle and Stokes Croft in Bristol, and this analysis crystallizes my sense of ambivalence about them.

On the social ecology of bands  

"Interesting watching the dynamics here. Saul, whose sonic contributions are erratic, is essential to the social ecology of the band [James]. He's the person ... most likely to say what's on his mind, but without any rancour (so it doesn't stir up any bad feeling). This opens up the door for other people to talk. The most naturally undemocratic and un-polite are the log-jam breakers"

"Now if a group only existed to make music you'd value everyone's contributions in musical terms. But bands, like other entities, exist to perpetuate their own existence as a little subculture - and the qualities and talents for that are quite different."

Bands, local groups, as self-perpetuating memes anyone? 

Attention is what creates value

"Artworks are made as well by how people interact with them - and therefore what quality of interaction they inspire. So how do we assess an artist we suspect is dreadful but who manages to inspire the right storm of attention, and whose audience seems to swoon in the appropriate way? We say 'Well done'"

The question is "Is the act of getting attention a sufficient act for an artist? Or is that the job description?"

You can replace artist with politician (or political organisation) and it's still a very interesting question

On computer programming ... or does he mean campaign design?

"When people program - i.e.decide on which possible options [for the user] they should make available - they express a philosophy about what operations are important in the world. We are victims of their limitations."

A few pages later Eno talks about synthesizers "designed by musicians (who know what kind of things might be relevant) for musicians (who are extremely impatient with manuals)"

And let no parasitic worm live lodge in your dome

"Those parasitic worms that cause their hosts to expose themselves to predators (so that the worm can species-jump to another host): are there ideas like that - ideas that make you stick your neck out and set yourself up for demolition?"

Like supporting Newcastle United, perhaps? On a week in which Joe Kinnear returns in triumph farce it certainly feels like it.

A second selection from the mind of Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno next week.


  1. I happen to have the same size body as Brian E I know as i have one of his stage suits at home.
    Maybe when i wear it i'll think like him. Steve C

  2. Hey Steve - how glittery is the suit? And appearance is nine tenths of the law, so let us know what you think of in the suit!