Garageband: Welcome to garageband.com's live chat event!
Garageband: This month our guest of honor is Brian Eno!
Garageband: Brian has shaped the form of modern music,
Garageband: influencing genres from punk to techno to hip hop
Garageband: and new age. He glam-rocked as a member of
Garageband: Roxy Music and produced influential works with
Garageband: David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2. He is here
Garageband: today to answer your questions on the
Garageband: birth of modern music.
Garageband: Welcome, Brian!
Brian: Of course, I don't know any of the people who are calling in, and
I don't know your particular interests, but I would like to state my
Brian: For me, the most exciting problem in music at the moment is also
one of the oldest problems. What is it that humans specifically can do,
which the technologies we create can't yet do? Of course, this translates
itself into a problem of songwriting. Songwriting is the only thing I'm
interested in, of course. But it is the one problem to which there have
not been any interesting technological solutions. So, when I listen to
people's tapes, I always ask myself, are there any interesting new
solutions to the problem of songwriting?
Avatar-guest: Two questions. You have pushed bands like U2 into the BIG
league with masterpieces like "Unforgettable Fire". Do you dream of doing
it again soon? Second question. What types of effects would you typically
use on Bono's voice or is this a trade secret?
Brian: The answer to the first question is, U2 has a new record coming
out soon in which I hope you will find that they are pushed into another
direction. Regarding Bono's voice, well the fact is that Bono likes
singing in the control room, with the speakers as loud as are humanly
bearable, so we end up using the cheapest microphones that you can get,
which is the Shure 58, and we spend a lot of our time trying to defend
his microphone against all the other noise in the room. With a singer
like Bono, you don't need to do very much to the voice. Just a bit of
plan9-guest: The new U2 project seems like a very BIG production - does
this get in the way of the music creation process? How do you deal with
the creative pressure that is placed on the band from internal and
Brian: The only interesting thing about production is trying to make the
best music that you can imagine. That is always my only agenda. If I feel
other considerations are getting in the way of that, I fight them. I
consider that my position in such a project is to speak for quality. I
consider that it is the job of other people to worry about how you sell
the results. I also respect that talent! I just don't have it myself.
david: It appears that ambient music has gone in a different direction in
the past few years, in that it has mutated into a form of club/dance
music. Where is ambient going since something like your 1992 Shutov
Brian: Well, it's a little bit like having....suppose you were an
astrophysicist, and you had a little child, and the child turned out to
be a great swimmer, you would be a little bit surprised! Perhaps not
disappointed. So, the seed called ambient, which I sowed in the late
'70s, turned out to give rise to a lot of different plants. Some of which
I don't really recognize as my own, but that's OK. I suppose I like a
certain darkness to music, which perhaps is not everybody else's taste. I
always want more darkness.
spam-guest: How did you first come to work with Roedelius and Moebius?
And would you say that work influenced your work with Bowie on Low?
Brian: I met them in the mid '70s, in Germany, when they were a band
called Harmonia. We became friends, and as friends used to do at that
time, we made a record together. I was very influenced by the German
scene at that time, because I felt that there was a kind of rigor and
discipline to that music that I personally enjoyed. I was especially keen
on Can, and of course Kraftwerk, because I heard in them a sort of
interesting alternative to the African root that most other music had
taken. I like the fact that it was a music that seemed to come from
Europe, rather from America. And I still like that. I'm pleased that the
European infection that they represent has taken root in all forms of
babybluewheels-guest: Hi Brian. I've been enjoying your music for over 20
years. I don't know why, but I sense a rejuvenated interest in pop music
from you. Is this true, and if so, what is triggering this happy rush?
Brian: Well, I've always liked pop music, it's not new for me to like it.
This affection isn't new. I suppose that I was educated as a fine artist,
but as time passed, I started to like more and more the things that came
from the community of popular taste. I like things that grow from the
bottom up, rather than from the top down.
aftersun-guest: Why has popular music taken such a turn for the worst?
Why do the vast majority of people always ignore quality innovative music?
Brian: I don't think anything is any different from how it has always
been. If you want to prove that statement, just look at the charts from
20 years ago, or 30 years ago, or at any point you choose. You will find
in there two or three songs that you remember that are great songs, and
then you will find 37 songs that you remember as absolute crap. It has
always been that way as far as I can tell. It's in the nature of a casual
conversation, and pop music is a casual conversation. Most of what is
said is forgettable, some of what is said is truly memorable, you need
all the forgettable stuff, because it is the way in which the vocabulary
is formed and exercised.
spam-guest: Are there any plans to re-master/re-release your 1970s
catalog a la the recent King Crimson reissues on Virgin? Perhaps throw in
some bonus tracks?
Brian: Yes, Virgin are planning to start releasing those re-masters
starting next year. With some previously unreleased tracks.
antoine_poncelet-gue: How do you think other forms of media influence
modern music and songwriting?
Brian: Well, I know when I am working with people at the studio, I often
draw their attention to films, or books, or television programs, to
anything else that is going on, and say, why can't we make music like
this? So I think what I'm doing when I do that is articulating the
process that people do all the time. They look at one medium, and they
look at the new possibilities that are opening in one medium, and then
they think, why can't we do that in our medium?
boram-guest: I've heard the 30 sec. clips of the songs on ATYCLB and they
are spectacular. It seems that you and Lanois are the magic touch. Coming
from a very different angle than Danny's, how do you manage to work
together? Have you ever had a major disagreement with him on the making
of this album?
Brian: We have a very good working relationship, because we have an area
of overlap which is that we both respond to the same thing in music, and
that thing is passion. We both want to hear something deep in music.
However, we both get to that in completely different ways, and in these
ways we don't overlap at all. I was trying to explain this to somebody
the other day, and I said, you have to imagine Danny is like the train
driver, he will keep the train running, in the most difficult
circumstances. I'm like the guy who operates the switches on the track,
so I'm much more likely to say no, I think it should go in a completely
different direction. So these are two separate talents, to be able to put
something in a different direction, and to be able to keep something
running, those are two different talents. When those two talents are
combined, that's a very strong medicine.
toni-guest: What did you think of the film "Velvet Goldmine"? What was
your involvement in it?
Brian: I had no involvement in it. They used some of my music, which I
was very pleased about. Well, it's very funny, looking at a period of
history that you were intimately involved with, as seen through the eyes
of somebody who wasn't. Of course, they miss out all the boring parts, of
course no one remembers the boring parts! So in that sense, history is
always a distortion. In that it just sees the highlights. It's a little
like looking at a Raphael painting, and seeing only the little touches of
white that he added after all of his assistants had filled in the
background. But I think that is the process of history. It leaves out the
everyday experience of somebody. For example, my strongest recollection
of that period is not the fabulous stage clothes that we wore, but how
much they stank after two months on tour!
estlin-guest: I believe I read in your diary that you were "beginning to
believe that background vocals could solve anything." I think that's the
thing I struggle most with is coming up with good background parts. Any
Brian: Well, ask me! That's my method, that's my strongest point, I
think. Background vocals. I was just saying to a friend this evening, I
was having dinner with someone in Frankfurt, where I am now, and I said
"I think I would be happy if I was never asked to do anything else but
arrange background vocals for people." When I'm doing that, I feel as if
I'm possessed by some other personality. I don't know where these ideas
come from, and I feel like another person when I'm doing them.
Brian: When you are trying to speak about background vocals, you have to
think, what role are these vocals supposed to play? So I can suggest a
few roles. One is the voice of society. An example of that is in the
Shangri-La's song. "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" "I don't know,
let's ask her!" So in that case, the background vocalist is in the
counterpart to the main voice, it's another opinion. It is outside the
head of the singer. It's a comment on the singer's position. Another role
for the background vocal is the voice of conscience. So the singer is
saying, this is what I am thinking, and the background vocals are saying,
this is what you know is really true. So I'm always thinking of
background vocals as the possibility of another voice in the song,
another point of view.
hanil-guest: Many imaginative recording artists/producers make quite good
chefs, IMHO. Would you ever consider working on and publishing a
Brian: I'm quite a good cook! But my style of cooking is let's see what's
in the kitchen, and think of something imaginative to do with it. Which
is exactly the same idea one has as a producer. So as a producer you say,
let's see what is in the studio, who's there, what they can do, what
tools we have available, and let's see what we can do with it. The other
way of being a chef or a cook, which is not the way I like, is to have a
recipe, to get all the things that the recipe suggests. To carefully
measure them out, follow the program, and then to end up with the
expected dish. That's sort of the opposite of what I do. Both as a cook
and as a producer. I like the chemistry of the present moment, and that
chemistry has as much to do with the limitations of the present moment as
with its strength.
Later: My question is, do you think a more organic backlash to programmed
music is inevitable (i.e. 'song' structure vs. 'linear' grooves a la
current dance music)? PS. Do you still use Oblique Strategies?
Brian: There is always an interesting tension in pop music between
linear, groove-based music, and shall we say harmonic, chord-based music.
The first kind is very satisfying, because it has a lot of forward
energy, and it's relatively easy to make in the sense that it gives you
the chance of immersing yourself in a particular musical landscape, and
really exploring the details of that landscape. The second kind, however,
the chord-based kind of music, song-ish music, if you'd like, allows a
much more interesting geography for a singer. It allows much more
adventure for a singer to embark upon. So, this distinction pretty much
divides current music, I think. Although this distinction is blurred,
there are two kinds of music. There is groove-based music, which is the
kind of music that computers tend to produce, because it is easy for them
to do that, and there's chord-based music, which guitar players tend to
produce, because they like moving their fingers around. The interesting
future for me is when these two things reconcile, and one good example of
that, I think, as a matter of fact, where you get all the energy and the
strange space of groove-based music plus the ability to support an
interesting singing adventure.
Brian: I still like Oblique Strategies, and I still keep adding to them.
And I am planning soon to publish the fifth version of them.
martin-guest344: First saw you live with Roxy in the '70s. Have you ever
worked with or considered working with Phillip Glass?
Brian: I've known Philip Glass since the '70s, actually. But we've never
worked together. And I suppose it's because the interesting reason for
working with people is when they do something that you couldn't do
yourself, so there has to be some overlap of territory, but also a fairly
big difference in territory. And perhaps we didn't feel there was enough
difference for that to be a fruitful event.
jdk-guest: Interested in alternative ways of getting a group mind-set for
both studio and live improv. &127; Oblique strategies, games, etc. Do you
have other suggestions?
Brian: Well, I published a book about five years ago which was my diary
for the year 1995, and in the back of that, I included some role playing
games that David Bowie and myself used in some of our recording sessions.
Those are, I think, worth looking at if you want to think of some new
ways of creating different mental conditions for recording in. But there
are other techniques as well. For instance, starvation, sleeplessness,
extreme financial pressure, social oppression, the very strong desire to
change the world, all of those can create a group mind-set.
estlin-guest: Do you have a favorite project you've worked on? Also, what
is out there now that inspires you?
Brian: One of the favorite projects I worked on was my own record "On
Land". I mean, I hate to blow my own trumpet here, but that record
really, for me, stands alone, I don't know anything else like it. And I
made it in a mood of complete isolation. I had no idea at all whether
anybody in the world would be interested in this music. In fact, I really
thank Robert Quine, who was the guitar player in The Void Oids, who was
the first person who heard this music, who said, it's great! That's the
first inkling I had that anybody else might find it at all interesting.
So, I suppose that project means a lot to me because I know it came from
me. It was like that story of the Ugly Duckling, which one day said, I am
Digital_Angel-guest: Since you were one of the originators of electronic
music, what do you think of the electronic music being produced today,
from the dance stuff to things like Nine Inch Nails?
Brian: Well, I'm very flattered to be called one of the originators of
electronic music, but I think that I should point out that there were
people doing it before me! From Edgar Varese to Jimi Hendrix, there was a
lot of it about. I think there is some fabulous stuff going on, and I am
particularly keen on the kind of music where people start to use the
failures of digitalism as the language of their music. The sorts of
distortion that are characteristic of digital equipment, for example. But
as I said in the introduction, to me, the most interesting problem
doesn't have to do with electronics, electronics is sort of easy for me.
What's really hard, what's really interesting, though it is very old
fashioned, is songwriting. That's the tough nut to crack.
MR_Soffil-guest: Speaking of new things, do you have any desire to take
the ambient/space music concept into the realm of 'Mind Synch'
technology? What I refer to is creating a 'score' that is linked to a
light synching brain wave system. You know those 'masks w/earphones' in
the sharper image catalogue, that flash lights in synch to brain waves,
Brian: My experience with such technology, which is quite an extensive
experience, is that they are so far very uninteresting. Because the
relationship between what the eye does and what the ear does, for
example, are very complex. They don't translate linearly, and they don't
translate in any simple fashion at all. For example, you might decide to
organize the notes of the scale as different colors, let's say, to
represent the notes of the scale by different colors. If you do that, the
melody will manifest as a sequence of color experiences. The only thing I
can guarantee for sure is that the emotional experience of those colors
will have no discernible connection whatsoever of those notes.
Brian: So, the problem with those kinds of translations is that they
aren't really translations. They are translations at the most basic
level. It's a little bit like saying every four letter word will be
represented by a loud sound. So, in that sentence, the word "love" and
the word "kill" and the word "dial" and the word "link"
would all have
the same value. Whereas a person knows in any meaningful sense, they
don't have the same value. So, this is a whole long answer, but
basically, I have no faith in these technologies. But I am willing to
keep looking at them.
scotchy-guest: What do you think of the use of "loops" in modern music?
Do you use any computer programs to help create layers of music when you
produce? And would you ever consider letting someone use a loop from your
music - say, from "Warm Jets" in their tunes?
Brian: I'm slightly bored with that. There was a time when I really loved
that kind of repetition. And I loved it better than hearing a musician
play the same thing over and over. This was during my German period in
the '70s. Then I discovered that I liked hearing, I preferred hearing,
what happens when a human being tries to act like a loop. I liked hearing
the way they failed. Well, people have used loops from my music. I don't
really think about it.
spam-guest: What was the inspiration for the lyric to "Burning Airlines
Give You So Much More"?
Brian: That lyric started out as "Turkish Airlines Give You So Much
More". I wrote that song just after the crash of Turkish Airlines DC-10
outside Paris. Someone left the cargo door open on the plane, and there
was depressurization, and they ended up in a field outside of Paris. This
is all history to me, I don't think about it. I write songs, they are
like conversations I have with myself, after, I can't remember much about
them. I just remember a feeling. It is the feeling I remember of that,
that someone from our world, from the West, shooting across China in a
plane. And meanwhile, down below, in a rice paddy, is some old guy with
long mustaches, thinking about the things that humans have been thinking
about for the last 5,000 years. And, I think that was what that song was
about, the difference between flying at speed through the modern world,
which is the same world that this man inhabits.
Michael_Benson-guest: Brian, I'm wondering when we'll see a new release
from you. It seems there has been a real scattering of interesting
limited release material -- white cubes (Come to think of it, I wonder if
Apple stole that idea? But their cube is allegedly silent), double CD
theater music import-only's from Japan, etc. But what about a more
widely-released work, whether ambient or (maybe I shouldn't go _there_)
Brian: Yep. Well I should go there. I am working on something new, and
something vocal. But, since I have set myself some very interesting
problems of revolutionizing songwriting, it is taking me a little time to
do it! But anyway, thank you for asking about it, thanks for reminding me
that is what I ought to be doing.
estlin-guest: Do you think that music has a responsibility to culture and
society? Or is it all art for art's sake?
Brian: That's a very deep question. Because those two things may not be
opposed. You know, one of the interesting things about mathematicians, I
mean research mathematicians, is that they work in the most obscure and
archaic areas of number theory, which often have no imaginable connection
to any human concern whatsoever. And then, it always turns out, twenty
years later, or two hundred years later, that their mathematics have a
way of solving a problem we really want to solve. Those people are just
doing math for math's sake, and in that respect, a lot of the more
obscure things that artists do often seem to connect in a very strange
way with the things that people need to help them think their way
through, FEEL their way through, the new world.
Brian: My problem with artists in general, myself included, is that we
don't feel sufficient responsibility to articulate what we are doing and
why we are doing it. We are lazy. We are incoherent. We are
over-romantic. We love the image of ourselves as incandescent balls of
passion, burning a hole through a world of bureaucracy. I hate that
image! We've really got to start taking ourselves more seriously. Which
is to say, we've got to start trying to figure out what it is we are
about. This means asking a very difficult question. That is, what is the
point of art? Why do people want it? What difference does it make to
their lives? We need to ask that question because we can't coast along
any more on the assumption that because we are artists we are
automatically important. Perhaps we are not. Or, if we are, in which way
Garageband: Brian, thank you for being here today. What final thoughts
would you leave with the audience?
Brian: I just told you, those were my final thoughts! I can't think of
any better ones than that.
Garageband: Thanks for spending some time with garageband.com
Garageband: Advisory Board member Brian Eno.
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