Brian Eno: Visual Music

Nenad Georgievski By

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Eno married young while at art school and had been considering a career as an art teacher when he took an underground train and met saxophonist Andy Mackay, an event that was crucial to his music career and diverted him to a totally different route. As he told one journalist "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy I joined Roxy Music and as a result of that I have a career in music I wouldn't have otherwise. If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform or missed that train, I probably would have been an art teacher now." What followed was his engagement with Roxy Music which success sparked his career in music.

Creativity can also be defined as looking at things that everyone can see, but not to be thinking about them in the same way as everyone else. Certainly, Eno had different ideas of how to approach areas of interest, mostly music, and he was inspired by the most unlikely of sources. On the intellectual front Eno had absorbed strong ideas about the dynamics of organizations from Norbert Wiener (the American mathematician and inventor of cybernetics), Stafford Beer (leader in the development of operational research and management cybernetics) and Morse Peckham (professor of comparative literature). From all of them he learnt and took different things— from Peckham he took the conclusion that art had a biological quality while Beer's thinking led Eno to suspect that any system creates its own dynamics (which gave him the idea for one of his most famous oblique strategies "Honor Thy Mistake as a Hidden intention." Other important sources were the ideas of composers John Cage and especially Steve Reich, whose "It's Gonna Rain," together with linguist Noam Chomsky's ideas about generative grammar, sparked the idea for generative music.

The period between 1978—1983 is one of his most prolific and celebrated periods in his career and Eno spent most of the time living in the US, apart from travels to Africa and the Far East. It was the start of Eno's true revolutions in music and its comprehension as he introduced the concept of space and time into an industry with a short attention span. Besides producing records by new wave artists in NY he began releasing records under the name they are known now— ambient. Music for Airports (Polydoor, 1978) was a milestone in his career and it functioned on several levels. According to Eno the music was supposed to be "as ignorable as interesting," but he also saw those ambient recordings as "sonic murals" or "sound paintings." which is the best description of the works he did with pianist and composer Harold Budd or on records such as On Land (EG, 1982) and Thursday Afternoon. (EG, 1985) Much like classical composer Erik Satie so has Eno dubbed himself a non-musician and also took the concept for "furniture music" from him when he defined his greatest achievement by his now well-known maxim "music that is as ignorable as it is interesting" or "as the color of the light or the sound of rain."

Parallel to that outburst of music creativity, Eno also became interested in video art. He bought a video camera that he accidently left by the window of his apartment in Manhattan for four days thus burning out the camera's color tube. As a result the video he recorded captured Manhattan skylines in vibrant and odd colors. He named the video Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan. That was a start for further work in this domain, most notably, Thursday Afternoon which portrayed a nude woman whose movements were slowed down: in combination with the music it became hypnotic. Further, Eno created several videos and multimedia installations that were reactionary to the fast—cutting and image moving contemporary culture.

The next stage in Eno's video work consisted of exhibitions of video sculptures that eventually led to the "Quiet Club" installations. The sculptures were made from plastic or cardboard boxes that were cut in various shapes and were placed on a wall or on the floor. In every creation there was a video monitor on which were displayed different types of images. Those installations were exhibited in art galleries, where Eno exhibited his work either solo or in group exhibitions. Since the mid-80s, Eno had been professing the idea for a "Quiet Club" that would replace many aspects of a city like quiet parks, quiet libraries, gentleman's clubs as opposed to the noise and dynamics of a contemporary city. All of these ideas about generative systems, generative music and video installations were morphed into 77 Million Paintings, which is software that generates music and images randomly. It consists of 13 screen monitors that slowly transit from one combination of images to another.


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