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Brian Eno (pronounced ) (born Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno on 15 May 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England) is an English electronic musician, music theorist and record producer. As a solo artist, he is probably best known as the father of modern ambient music, though he is also a highly celebrated record producer.
With an art school background and inspiration from minimalism, Eno first came to prominence as the keyboard and synthesizer player of the 1970s glam and art rock band Roxy Music. After leaving the group, Eno recorded four highly idiosyncratic and original rock albums, before turning to more abstract soundscapes on records such as Discreet Music (1975) and Ambient 1/Music for Airports (1978). Since then he has made dozens of albums, many with similarly-minded collaborators such as Harold Budd, Cluster, John Cale, David Byrne and Robert Fripp.
Eno also became involved in pop music collaborations beginning in the late 1970s, joining David Bowie on his avant-garde 'Berlin Trilogy' and helping to popularise the band Devo and the punk rock-influenced "No Wave" scene. Eno is also notable for introducing the concepts of chance music to pop and rock and roll. Eno's production and songwriting credits include critical and commercial successes by Talking Heads and U2, such as Remain in Light and The Joshua Tree, as well as work with James, Slowdive and Paul Simon.
Eno has pursued several artistic ventures parallel to his music career, including visual art installations, a regular column in the newspaper The Observer and, with artist Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards recommending various artistic strategies.
Education and early musical career
Eno was educated at the St. Joseph's College, Birkfield, Ipswich, which was founded by the Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle teaching order of brothers, from whom he took part of his name, Ipswich Art School and the Winchester School of Art, graduating from the latter in 1969. While at art school, he developed an interest in using tape recorders as musical instruments, and he experimented with his first (sometimes improvisational) bands. While at Ipswich, his interest in music was encouraged by one of his teachers, the painter Tom Phillips. Phillips recalls devising "Piano Tennis" with Eno in which, after having amassed a number of second-hand pianos they stripped them and lined them up in a hall striking tennis balls at them. It was through Phillips that Eno became involved in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra. The first released recording on which Eno was involved as a musician is the Deutsche Grammophon edition of Cardew's The Great Learning (recorded in February 1971), as one of the many voices to be heard in The Scratch Orchestra's recital of Cardew's The Great Learning Paragraph 7. Another early recording was the soundtrack of Berlin Horse by Malcom Le Grice, a 9:00 min. 2 x 16mm double projection, released in 1970 and first presented in 1971.
Eno started his professional musical career in London, as a member of the glam/art-rock band Roxy Music, working with them from 1971 to 1973. As a self-described "non-musician," Eno performed from behind the mixing desk at the band's earliest live shows, where his efforts went far beyond the usual sound balancing of the volume levels: he would alter the sounds by processing the other band members' instruments through his VCS3 synthesizer, tape recorders and other electronic devices, frequently singing backing vocals as well. Eno soon joined the rest of Roxy Music on stage, where his flamboyant costumes became a hallmark of the band's visual appeal. Eno left the group after completing the tour to promote their second album, For Your Pleasure. By Eno's later account, his departure was partially result of disagreements with Roxy's lead singer and principal songwriter, Bryan Ferry, and partially due to his growing boredom with the life of a touring rock star.
Eno embarked on a solo career almost immediately. Between 1973 and 1977 he created four influential solo albums of electronically-inflected pop songs – Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and after Science. Tiger Mountain contains the galloping "Third Uncle", one of Eno's best-known songs, due in part to its later being covered by Bauhaus (these four albums are consistently good sellers on CD). Critic Dave Thompson writes that the song is "a near punk attack of riffing guitars and clattering percussion, "Third Uncle" could, in other hands, be a heavy metal anthem, albeit one whose lyrical content would tongue-tie the most slavish air guitarist."
All four of his vocal albums were remastered and reissued in 2004 by Virgin's Astralwerks label. Due to Eno's decision not to add any extra tracks of the original material, a handful of tracks originally issued as singles have not been reissued. ("Seven Deadly Finns" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" were included on the deleted Eno Vocal Box set and the single mix of "King's Lead Hat" has never been reissued.)
During this period, Eno also toured with Phil Manzanera in the band 801, a "supergroup" that played more or less mutated selections from albums by Eno, Manzanera, and Quiet Sun, as well as covers of classic songs by The Beatles and The Kinks.
In 1972, Eno developed a tape-delay system first utilized by Eno and Robert Fripp (from King Crimson), coined as 'Frippertronics', and the pair released an album in 1973 called Fripp & Eno (No Pussyfooting). It is said the technique was borrowed from minimalist composer Terry Riley, whose tape delay feedback system with a pair of Revox tape recorders (a setup Riley used to call the "Time Lag Accumulator") was first used on Riley's album Music for The Gift in 1963. In 1975, Fripp and Eno released a second album, Evening Star, and also played several live shows in Europe.
Eno was a prominent member of the performance art-classical orchestra the Portsmouth Sinfonia - having started playing with them in 1972. In 1973 he produced the orchestra's first album The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics (released in March 1974) and in 1974 he produced the live album Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Royal Albert Hall of their infamous May 1974 concert (released in October 1974.) In addition to producing both albums, Eno performed in the orchestra on both recordings - playing the clarinet. Eno also deployed the orchestra's famously dissonant string section on his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). The orchestra at this time included other musicians whose solo work he would subsequently release on his Obscure label including Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman. That year he also composed music for the album Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy, with Kevin Ayers, to accompany the poet June Campbell Cramer.
Eno continued his career by producing a larger number of highly eclectic and increasingly ambient electronic and acoustic albums. He is widely credited with coining the term "ambient music", low-volume music designed to modify one's perception of a surrounding environment.
His first such work, 1975's Discreet Music, is considered the landmark album of the genre. This was followed by his Ambient series (Music for Airports (Ambient 1), The Plateaux of Mirror (Ambient 2), Day of Radiance (Ambient 3) and On Land (Ambient 4)). Eno was the primary musician on these releases with the exception of "Ambient 2" which featured Harold Budd on keyboard, and "Ambient 3" where the American composer, Laraaji was the sole musician playing the zither and hammered dulcimer.
In 1981, having returned from Ghana and before On Land, he discovered Miles Davis' 1974 ambient jazz dirge "He Loved Him Madly": "Teo Macero's revolutionary production on that piece seemed to me to have the "spacious" quality I was after, and like "Amarcord", it too became a touchstone to which I returned frequently."
Eno describes himself as a "non-musician" and coined the term "treatments" to describe his modification of the sound of musical instruments, and to separate his role from that of the traditional instrumentalist. His skill at using "The Studio as a Compositional Tool" (the title of an essay by Eno) led in part to his career as a producer. His methods were recognized at the time (mid-1970s) as unique, so much so that on Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, he is credited with 'Enossification' and on John Cale's Island albums as playing the 'Eno'.
Obscure Records label
Eno started the Obscure Records label in Britain in 1975 to release works by lesser-known composers. The first group of three releases included his own composition, Discreet Music, and the now-famous The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryars. The second side of Discreet Music consisted of several versions of Pachelbel's Canon to which various algorithmic transformations have been applied, rendering it almost unrecognizable. Side 1 consisted of a tape loop system for generating music from relatively sparse input. These tapes had previously been used as backgrounds in some of his collaborations with Robert Fripp, most notably on Evening Star. Only ten Obscure albums were released, including works by John Adams, Michael Nyman, and John Cage. At this time he was also affiliating with artists in the Fluxus movement.
In 1980-81 Eno collaborated with David Byrne of Talking Heads on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which was built around radio broadcasts Eno collected while living in the USA, along with sampling recordings from around the world. He worked with David Bowie as a writer and musician on Bowie's influential 1977-79 'Berlin Trilogy' of albums, Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, on Bowie's later album Outside, and on the song "I'm Afraid of Americans". In 1980 Eno developed an interest in altered guitar tunings, which led to Guitarchitecture discussions with Chuck Hammer, former Lou Reed guitarist. Eno has also collaborated with John Cale, former member of Velvet Underground, on his trilogy Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy, Robert Wyatt on his Shleep CD, with Jon Hassell, with the German duo Cluster, with composer Harold Budd and others.
In 1992, Eno released an album featuring heavily syncopated rhythms entitled Nerve Net, with contributions from several old chums including Robert Fripp, Benmont Tench, Robert Quine and John Paul Jones. This album was a last-minute substitution for My Squelchy Life, which featured more pop oriented material, with Eno on vocals. (Several tracks from My Squelchy Life later appeared on 1993's retrospective box set Eno Box II: Vocals.) Eno also released in 1992 a work entitled The Shutov Assembly, recorded between 1985 and 1990. This album embraces atonality and abandons most conventional concepts of modes, scales and pitch. Much of the music shifts gradually and without discernible focus, and is one of Eno's most varied ambient collections. Conventional instrumentation is eschewed, save for treated keyboards.
During the 1990s, Eno became increasingly interested in self-generating musical systems, the results of which he called generative music. The basic premise of generative music is the blending of several independent musical tracks, of varying sounds, length, and in some cases, silence. When each individual track concludes, it starts again mixing with the other tracks and allowing the listener to hear an almost infinite combination. In one instance of generative music, Eno calculated that it would take almost 10,000 years to hear the entire possibilities of one individual piece. Eno has presented this music in his own, and other artists, art and sound installations, most notably "I Dormienti (The Sleepers)", "Music for the Marble Palace" and "The Quiet Club".
In 2004, Fripp and Eno recorded another ambient collaboration album, The Equatorial Stars.
Eno returned in June 2005 with Another Day on Earth, his first major album since Wrong Way Up (with John Cale) to prominently feature vocals. The album differs from his 70s solo work as musical production has changed since then, evident in its semi-electronic production.
In early 2006, Eno collaborated with David Byrne, again, for the reissue of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in celebration of the influential album's 25th anniversary. Eight previously unreleased tracks, recorded during the initial sessions in 1980/81, are featured. An unusual interactive marketing strategy that coincided with its re-release, the album’s promotional website features the ability for anyone to officially and legally download the multi-tracks of two songs from the album, "A Secret Life" and "Help Me Somebody". Individuals can then remix and upload new mixes of these tracks to the website so others can listen to and rate them.
In late 2006, Eno released "77 Million Paintings", a program of generative video and music specifically for the PC. As its title suggests, there is a possible combination of 77 million paintings where the viewer will see different combinations of video slides prepared by Eno each time the program is launched. Likewise, the accompanying music is generated by the program so that it's almost certain the listener will never quite hear the same arrangement twice.
Eno is currently working on the soundtrack to Will Wright's upcoming game, Spore.
In 2007, Eno's music will be featured in a movie adaption of Irvine Welsh's best-selling collection Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance.
Producing records and other projects
From the very beginning of his solo career in 1973, Eno has been much in demand as a producer - though his management now describe him as a "sonic landscaper" rather than a producer. The first album with Eno credited as producer was Lucky Leif and the Longships by Robert Calvert. Eno's lengthy string of producer credits includes albums for Talking Heads, U2, Devo, Ultravox and James. He also produced part of the 1993 album When I Was a Boy by Jane Siberry. He won the best producer award at the 1994 and 1996 BRIT Awards.
Despite being a self-professed "non-musician", Eno has contributed to recordings by artists as varied as Nico, Robert Calvert, Genesis, Edikanfo, and Zvuki Mu, in various capacities such as use of his studio/synthesizer/electronic treatments, vocals, guitar, bass guitar, and even just as being 'Eno'. In 1984, he composed and performed the "Prophecy Theme" for the David Lynch film Dune, the rest of the soundtrack was performed by the group Toto. Eno produced performance artist Laurie Anderson's Bright Red album, and also composed for it. The work is avant-garde spoken word with haunting and magnifying sounds. Eno played on David Byrne's musical score for The Catherine Wheel, a project commissioned by Twyla Tharp to accompany her Broadway dance project of the same name.
Eno co-produced The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987), Achtung Baby (1991), and All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000) for U2 with his frequent collaborator Daniel Lanois, and produced 1993's Zooropa for the band alone. In 1995, U2 and Eno joined forces to create the album Original Soundtracks 1 under the group name Passengers. Notable songs from OST1 include "Your Blue Room" and "Miss Sarajevo".
Eno played on the 1986 album Measure for Measure by Australian band Icehouse. In 1993, he remixed two tracks for Depeche Mode, I Feel You and In Your Room, both single releases from the album Songs of Faith and Devotion.
In 2006, he produced Paul Simon's album Surprise. As of 2007 he is producing what will be U2's 15th studio album, along with Daniel Lanois, in Morocco, as well as Coldplay's fourth studio album which is due for release in 2008.
The Microsoft Sound
In 1994 Eno was approached by Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk, senior designers at Microsoft on the Cairo project. The result was the six-second start-up sound for the Windows 95 operating system, commonly called The Microsoft Sound. From an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:
“ The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I'd been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, "Here's a specific problem – solve it." The thing from the agency said, "We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional," this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said "and it must be 3¼ seconds long." I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It's like making a tiny little jewel. In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I'd finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time. ”
He collaborated on the development of SSEYO's Koan generative music system (created by Pete Cole and Tim Cole of intermorphic), which he used to create his hybrid album Generative Music 1.
Brian Eno, 1996:
“ Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesisers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved. Koan Software is probably the best of these systems, allowing a composer to control not one but one hundred and fifty musical and sonic parameters within which the computer then improvises (as wind improvises the wind chimes).
The works I have made with this system symbolise to me the beginning of a new era of music. Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again.
But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.
I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "you mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"
Using the pseudonym CSJ Bofop, 1996:
“ Each of the twelve pieces on Generative Music 1 has a distinctive character. There are, of course, the ambient works ranging from the dark, almost mournful Densities III (complete with distant bells), to translucent Lysis (Tungsten). These are contrasted with pieces in dramatically different styles, such as Komarek with its hard edged, angular melodies, reminiscent of Schoenberg's early serial experiments, and Klee 42 whose simple polyphony is similar to that of the early Renaissance. But of course, the great beauty of Generative Music is that those pieces will never sound quite that way again. ”
Eno has also been active in other artistic genres, producing videos for gallery display and collaborating with visual artists in other endeavours. One is the set of "Oblique Strategies" cards that he and artist Peter Schmidt produced in the mid-70s. Described as "100 Worthwhile Dilemmas" and intended as guides to shaking up the mind in the process of producing artistic endeavors. Another was his collaboration with artist Russell Mills on the book More Dark Than Shark. He was also the provider of music for Robert Sheckley's In the Land of Clear Colours, a narrated story with music originally published by a small art gallery in Spain.
In 1996, Brian Eno and others started the Long Now Foundation to educate the public into thinking about the very long term future of society. He is also a columnist for the British newspaper The Observer.
In 2002 a song called "An Ending (Ascent)", which he wrote and performed for the NASA film Apollo, was used in the film 28 Days Later.
In 2003, he appeared on a Channel 4 discussion about the Iraq war with a top military spokesman. Eno was highly critical of the war. In 2005, he spoke at an anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park, London. In March 2006, he spoke at an anti-war demonstration at Trafalgar Square. He noted that 2 billion people on this planet do not have clean drinking water, and that water could have been supplied to them for about one-fifth of the cost of the Iraq war.
2006 saw the release of "77 Million Paintings", a software/DVD/booklet package which provides a permanent version of the kind of visual and sound art which Eno has featured in his installation pieces.
In 2007, he appeared playing keyboards in Voila, Belinda Carlisle's solo album sung entirely in French.
In March 1967, then aged 18, Eno married Sarah Grenville. Their daughter Hannah was born in July 1967.
It has been frequently claimed that Eno dated British actress Julie Christie in the late 1970s and that they conceived a child together; this is entirely fictitious, and was based solely on the fact that they were once seen sharing a taxi. In January 1988, Eno married his manager, Anthea Norman-Taylor. They have two daughters, Irial and Darla.
He is the brother of fellow ambient musician and composer Roger Eno. The brothers collaborated with Canadian composer Daniel Lanois on the soundtrack album Apollo.
Appearances in popular culture
Brian Eno was the inspiration for the character Brent Mini in the 1981 novel Valis. The author of the book, Philip K. Dick, preferred classical music and was an aficionado of Eno's Discreet Music album. Another literary semi-personification of Brian is the keyboardist character Eno Barber, in Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet.
The character of I-No (pronounced the same as "Eno"), in the videogame series Guilty Gear is most likely a reference to Brian Eno. This is one of dozens of music references in the series.
The music for the game Fallout was inspired by Eno's music (especially Music for Films).
He once guest appeared as Father Brian Eno on the television sitcom Father Ted.
The song "Lay My Love" with John Cale was on the soundtrack More Music From Northern Exposure (1990-95) released in 1994.
The song "By This River," from the 1977 album Before and After Science, is featured in Alfonso Cuaron's 2001 film Y tu mamá también.
"Two Rapid Formations" and "Inland Sea" are featured in two Miami Vice episodes
1/1 from Music for Airports is featured in the film 9½ Weeks.
The Nokia 8800 Sirocco Edition mobile phone features exclusive music composed by Eno. Between January 8, 2007 and February 12, 2007, ten units of Nokia 8800 Sirocco Brian Eno Signature Edition mobile phones, individually numbered and engraved with Eno's signature were auctioned off. All proceeds went to two charities chosen by Eno: the Keiskamma Aids Treatment program and The World Land Trust.
The Swarovski crystal museum (or in German, Swarovski Kristallwelten) in the small town of Wattens, near Innsbruck in Austria, has its own exhibition dedicated to Brian Eno. One walks in, and watches a screen with vivid flashing lights, and a recording of Brian's voice plays, proclaiming peaceful and calming sentences.
Eno's song "By This River" was featured in Nanni Moretti's film La Stanza del Figlio (The Son's Room) and Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá tambien in 2001.
The opening scene of the first episode of Saxondale had the main character Tommy Saxondale state "I love the way Eno can paint a picture with music".
Oliver Stone's Wall Street features the songs "America is Waiting" and "Mea Culpa" from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne).
Steven Soderbergh's film Traffic features the Eno track "Ascent (An Ending)", from Apollo.
Keith Gordon's Waking the Dead features the song "Help Me Somebody" from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.