I talk to many young painters, because I teach art in schools. I ask them:
Why do you think that what you do ends at the edges of this canvas?
Think of the frame. What frame are you working in? Not just that bit of wood around the edge, but the room you’re in, the light you’re in, the time and place you’re in. How can you redesign it?
I would say that to musicians, too. I see them spending a lot of time working on the internal details of what they’re doing and far less time working on the ways of positioning it in the world.
By "positioning it" I don’t only mean thinking of ways to get it to a record company, but thinking of where it could go, and where it fits in the cultural picture. What else does it relate to?Brian Eno
A non-musician is thrilled to be doing music - quite happy to sit there and plunk one note all day- and is very alert to the effect of that.
Nonmusicians really LISTEN sometimes, because that’s the only thing they have available to them.Brian Eno
Music is actually a contingent combination of sounds whose emotional resonances are entirely dependent on the audience’s personal and shared histories as listeners.Brian Eno
We should imagine we’re making hypothetical film soundtracks, not making songs.
This is always a very liberating idea, because a film soundtrack doesn’t have to have a center - the film itself is the center. It allows you to make music that is pure atmosphere.Brian Eno
If you have a bunch of people sitting in one room and working on one piece of music, and getting immersed in that piece of music, everyone’s thinking they should say something just to prove that they’re still paying attention, because it’s embarrassing to sit in a corner for four hours.
It’s much more important for people to genuinely feel they have something to contribute than just interject for the sake of it.Brian Eno
Cut a vital connection.
That’s a very interesting thing to do because most pieces of music are based around some centre, like a drum track or a drone, which really holds everything together. Just try taking that element out of the music and see what happens.Brian Eno
Don’t be ashamed of your own ideas. Most musicians get applauded for sounding like someone else.
People try something out that they think is exciting, and everyone looks a little unsure. Then they play an old James Brown riff and everyone’s saying: ’Wow! That’s what we want!’
Most of the time musicians are being encouraged to sound recognizable. What I’m doing [as a producer] is encouraging them at the points when they’re not.Brian Eno
The idea of the producer as someone who mediates and converses between the completely non-technical musician and non-artistic engineer, which was the old picture, is now dead because most musicians now occupy all three of those roles.Brian Eno
A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities - this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do.
The most useful thing you can do is to get rid of some of those options before you start.Brian Eno
One of my mottoes is that if you want to get unusual results, work fast and work cheap, because there’s more of a chance that you’ll get somewhere that nobody else did.
Nearly always, the effect of spending a lot of money is to make things more normal.Brian Eno
I wanted to use the studio like a microscope for sound, which is what good engineers do.Brian Eno
I started coming to the studio with less worked-out pieces, and eventually with nothing at all. I would just start working with that thing, "the studio", as the instrument.
There is nothing outside of this process - this process called recording is the creative process. We don’t have the canvas standing in front of any landscape, you are going to make the landscape here and now.Brian Eno
Artists who don’t censor their own work: Picasso, Miles Davis, Prince. They’re all people who just put it out, and have almost no critical self-censorship. They say, "Let the market decide; let the world decide." You might not be the best person to judge it.
That’s a kind of humility, actually: it’s a mixture of arrogance, which says, "I know I’m fucking good." But a humility, which says, "I’m not the person to decide."Brian Eno
The poem the reader reads may be better than that which the writer wrote.
Try to make things that can become better than what you thought you were doing.Brian Eno
The great benefit of computer sequencers is that they remove the issue of skill, and replace it with the issue of judgement.
With Cubase or Photoshop, anybody can actually do anything, and you can make stuff that sounds very much like stuff you’d hear on the radio, or looks very much like anything you see in magazines.
So the question becomes not whether you can do it or not, because any drudge can do it if they’re prepared to sit in front of the computer for a few days, the question then is, "Of all the things you can now do, which do you choose to do? "Brian Eno
Do what you’ve been doing all the time, but now do what you do wholeheartedly.
Endorse the process. Expect to live your whole life as an artist.Brian Eno
I always liked the cusp where something feels if it’s familiar but strange at the same time.
It doesn’t immediately assault you as being completely weird. You feel seduced by it. But at the same time you can’t put your finger on what it is that you recognize. It’s a very good feeling.Brian Eno
We talk to our kids in one way, to our friends at work in another, to our lovers in yet another, to the lady in the corner shop in another.
When we make these shifts we are exercising our understanding of the worlds from which they are listening to us, and we are also projecting onwards our own view of the world in which we would like this conversation to be taking place.
When you think about it, this is an enormous and complex talent that humans spend their lives exercising, rehearsing, refining.Brian Eno
We do feel that we have experiences of value when we hear pieces of music or read books or see films or admire textiles, don’t we?
And when we do, where exactly is it coming from if not from the object?Brian Eno
’Culture’ is everything we don’t have to do.
Culture consists of the gratuitous stylistic extras that we add to the things we do have to do.
You have to eat, but you don’t have to decorate elaborately prepared curries with silver leaf. You have to move around, but you don’t have to dance.
Culture is a biological drive for humans. It is not something that we just add on at the end, after we’ve dealt with all those survival problems, but something we keep doing all the time.Brian Eno
People are hearing a lot more context than music, so perhaps I accept that I am now primarily a context maker.
My art is not just what comes out of the end of my trumpet or appears on a record, but a larger experience which is intimately connected to who I appear to be, to my life and charisma.
The ’music’, the sonic bit, could end up being quite a small part of the whole experience.
Developing the context- the package, the delivery system, the buzz, the spin, the story - might itself become the art. Like perfume...Brian Eno
When you listen to Miles Davis, how much of what you hear is music, and how much is context?
Context is everything that isn’t physically contained in the grooves of the record. It includes your knowledge that everyone else says he’s great: that must modify the way you hear him. That he was a handsome and imposing man, a member of a romantic minority, that he played with Charlie Parker, that he spans generations, that he underwent various addictions, that he married Cicely Tyson, that he dressed well, that Jean-Luc Godard liked him, that he wore shades and was very cool, that he himself said little about his work, and so on.
Surely all that affects how you hear him: I mean, could it possibly have felt the same if he’d been an overweight heating engineer from Oslo?
When you listen to music, aren’t you also ’listening’ to all the stuff around it, too?Brian Eno
[on being a producer] The way I work is I try to find out what isn’t being done that ought to be done. Sometimes that means somebody ought to make the tea. Sometimes it means somebody ought to re-write the whole bloody song.Brian Eno
Music is slightly familiar territory. It’s very heavily populated now. It’s not so thrilling. It’s become rather specialised. I like to go into the studio and concentrate directly on that experience rather than walking in with a song and playing it.Brian Eno
The way children learn is by pretending, imagining what it would be like to be in another situation, which is the essence of culture.
There’s this crazy supposition that at the age of 16 or 18 you should suddenly switch all that off because you now know what you’re doing, but the people I find interesting are the ones who carry on playing that game.Brian Eno
Being completely free to choose what to do is actually quite difficult: it can lead you to very depressive crises.
If your time is structured you don’t have this problem of "what am I going to do today?"Brian Eno
Being a record producer is the best paid form of cowardice. Producers often get praised but they have to do a really bad job for anyone to criticise them.Brian Eno
Singers are like Arabs. They abhor a vacuum. And a vacuum is defined as "when I’m not singing".Brian Eno
Cooking is a way of listening to the radio.Brian Eno
Listen to those drums - like someone bashing on the bars of a prison.Brian Eno
It’s disgraceful how long records take to make nowadays. But I’m Mr Stingy, Mr Cut Through Options. That’s one reason people like working with me I think, because I say "Do this, this is fine, we’ll make it work."
Exploring all the options is not the issue. It’s making one of them work.Brian Eno
What matters in modern music is not the part you can write down, the words and the tune, but the rest - the texture, the atmosphere, the references and associations.Brian Eno
I like to write words that are on the border between meaning and nonsense, so you’re not quite sure whether they mean anything or not.Brian Eno
When people censor themselves they’re just as likely to get rid of the good bits as the bad bits.Brian Eno
A strong opinion is very useful to other people.Brian Eno
[about making records] We’re making magazines not novels.Brian Eno
I’m always grumbling when I produce, but it’s the people who are dissatisfied who get things changed.Brian Eno
What you really want to be doing is to be writing lyrics that are outside of your own understanding.
They feel like this is what you want to be singing. But you don’t know why.Brian Eno
Somebody in an interview said recently, "What do the words mean?" And I said, "What do the chords mean?"Brian Eno
This is exactly what I’ve always liked about pop music: its ability to create crazy emotional landscapes and invite you to come and dance in them.Brian Eno
After making a rough mix, Bono listens to and studies this comp over the next few days, changes a word or a line or a verse, rephrases and re-sings, and the process takes place again. In this way, he begins to hone in on a performance, an attitude, a persona. He discovers who is singing the song, and what kind of world that person inhabits.Brian Eno
But the bottleneck (in most records, probably) is lyric writing. Why? Because the lyricist assumes the really specific job of focusing the music, of pointing it somewhere.
You can know what you DON’T want, and a lot of the process of making a record comes to be the task of finding a cultural space that isn’t already ringing with unwanted resonances and over-tones.
This can be a new space, one that no one had identified before, or, it can be an old one that suddenly sounds fresh again.Brian Eno
"Hollywoodization": This is the process where things are evened out, rationalized, nicely lit from all sides, carefully balanced, studiously tested against all known formulae, referred to several committees, and finally made triumphantly unnoticeable.Brian Eno
Should a record be a picture of where you are now, or of all the places you could just as likely be?Brian Eno
Are you really making a record that’s recorded in a garage, or are you making a record that reminds you of the feeling of records that are made in garages? (the way a film-maker might use a hand-held camera to give the impression of documentary urgency)
Does it make a difference if people hearing the record say, "That record sounds like trash," rather than, "They’ve deliberately chosen to make a record that sounds like trash."?Brian Eno
Psychedelia, glam, R&B and soul. These earlier eras of pop music were characterized not by the search for perfection but by bizarre enthusiams, small budgets, erratic technique, crummy equipment and wild abandon.Brian Eno
[about producing Achtung Baby for U2] Buzzwords on this record were trashy, throwaway, dark, sexy, and industrial (all good) and earnest, polite, sweet, righteous, rockist and linear (all bad).
It was good if a song took you on a journey or made you think your hi-fi was broken, bad if it reminded you of recording studios or U2.Brian Eno
"Cool" people stay around the edges and observe the mistakes and triumphs of uncool people (and then write about them).Brian Eno
The more time you spend on an old idea, the more energy you invest in it, the more solid it becomes, and the more it will exclude new ideas.Brian Eno
You have to have a measure of arrogance in dealing with anybody in the business. You have to feel that you’re right, because ultimately you’re not able to trust anyone else’s judgment of your work.
If your judgment isn’t clear, then their judgment will make no sense to you either.Brian Eno
Write as if you’ve discovered a very dusty inscribed stone somewhere, and you’re trying to scrape off all the muck to find out what’s underneath it, and you keep coming up with one word here, another one there, and you’re trying to imagine what might be in between those words.
The only temptation to resist is the temptation to fall into a simple meaning.Brian Eno
The most important thing in a piece of music is to seduce people to the point where they start searching.
If the music doesn’t do that, it doesn’t do anything. If it just presents itself and just sits there, if it either declares itself too clearly or is too obscure to even appear to be saying anything, then it seems to me to have failed.
Sitting on that line is very interesting.Brian Eno
The important thing about lyrics is not exactly what they say, but that they lead you to believe they are saying something.
All the best lyrics I can think of, if you question me about them, I don’t know what they’re saying, but somehow they’re very evocative.
It leaves a space in which the listener can project his or her own meaning into.Brian Eno
Removal of context is an important point in the magic of music.
Deliberately dismantle or shift contexts around so that something comes from an area where you didn’t expect it, or something appears and it has a certain mysteriousness to it. There are ingredients mixed together that you have never heard together before, and that produces a strangeness.Brian Eno
If you’re working with electronic media in the recording studio, judgment becomes a very important issue and skill becomes a less important issue.Brian Eno
Beware the panic effect that accompanies the high cost of studio time:
One becomes increasingly oriented toward results, and progressively less inclined to engage in experimental activities that might not lead anywhere.
As a result of this, one focuses one’s attention on the safe bet, on the tried and tested techniques.Brian Eno
Repetition doesn’t really exist.
As far as your mind is concerned, nothing happens the same twice, even if in every technical sense, the thing is identical. Your perception is constantly shifting. It doesn’t stay in one place.Brian Eno
Musicians and other artists interact constantly with at least two types of systems: systems of aesthetics (what will sound good? what type of music to work with?) and economic systems that reward, or fail to reward, their efforts.
If you’re confronting a set of results that you don’t want, rather than trying to force the existing system to yield up a different kind of results, you might better spend your energy creating an alternative system!
This could mean anything from establishing your own concert outlet for non-commercial music to designing your own microtonal scale.Brian Eno
The greater you understand the structure of something, the more amazed you’ll be at the tiniest movement within it. In that sense the possibilities are limitless.Brian Eno
When you place a piece of work in the world, you place it in terms of a set of expectations.
(Eno reaches into his pocket and draws out the latest album by rap group De La Soul.)
When this group released this album, they put it in a package that tells you exactly what kind of focus to bring to hearing it. You’re not going to listen to this the way you listen to Mahler or to Stan Kenton.Brian Eno
People in the arts often want to aim for the biggest, most obvious target, and hit it smack in the bull’s eye.
Of course with everybody else aiming there as well that makes it very hard and expensive to hit.
I prefer to shoot the arrow, then paint the target around it. You make the niches in which you finally reside.Brian Eno
One of the risks is that people are frightened of taking positions.
In the art world, particularly with painting, people are terrified now about saying that they don’t like something, because they might be wrong.Brian Eno
I love bass guitar, because it has so little to do, yet it’s so important.Brian Eno
Music has narrowed down into being not that which is audible, but that which is recordable.Brian Eno
Often in life you are confronted by many possibilities. The best thing you can do is just go for one with a quick decision, then make that choice work for you. It takes you to interesting places with surprising results.Brian Eno
Classical music is weighted very much towards purity and distinction from normal sounds - what makes them musical is that you know they deliberately don’t sound like anything else in the world.
What pop music keeps doing is shifting the other way, absorbing more and more of the world.Brian Eno
You could invent a world in reverse, by inventing the artifacts that ought to be in it first.
You think of what kind of music would be in that world, then you make the music and the world forms itself around the music.Brian Eno
There are two ways of being an artist. One is to really explore one furrow - like Randy Newman or Joni Mitchell. They’re people who’ve got one territory and they really, really examine it. Saying, "This is my language and I’ll get better and better at speaking it."
But I’m not that type of artist. I’m really thrilled by suggesting other ways of talking, other languages one could speak. Once an idea has been floated as convincingly as I think it needs to be, I don’t want to go on flogging it forever! It doesn’t mean I stop doing it, but I don’t want to make it exclusively ’my thing’.Brian Eno
Treat the recording studio as a laboratory for conceptual thinking -- rather than as a mere tool.Brian Eno
John Cage made you realize that there wasn’t a thing called noise, it was just music you hadn’t appreciated.Brian Eno
Composition is a way of living out your philosophy and calling it art.Brian Eno
The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.
There’s no point in saying, "I don’t have an idea today, so I’ll just smoke some drugs." You should stay alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide with one another.
A lot of factors go toward creating a work: technological considerations that suddenly are a little exciting to you, some feeling or mood, a nice day, you just had a talk with a friend. All sorts of things will coincide - and that moment doesn’t last for long. It’s like things in orbit; they’ll move away again.Brian Eno
Every increase in your knowledge is a simultaneous decrease. You learn and you unlearn at the same time. A new certainty is a new doubt as well.Brian Eno
The special things you can do in a recording studio: Obviously, echoes are evocative because they remind you of places. But the echoes on "On Land" aren’t like anything that could possibly exist. On some of these things I’m using 70-second reverbs. Nothing like that exists in nature or in artifact; even the Taj Mahal, which has very long reverberation, is only about 12 seconds. Nonetheless, [the 70-second decay] is evocative of a type of space. It’s dramatized, just like Fellini amplifies the lady’s breasts.Brian Eno
What do Fellini’s films have to do with naturalism? He works with the inaccuracies of memory. It’s the opposite direction from naturalism: elevating things to mythical, archetypal status. Make them more dreamlike. That’s a feeling I like a lot.Brian Eno
You work on a piece of music, you put in certain ingredients, and suddenly they react in a way you hadn’t predicted. If you’re alert to that reaction, that’s what you work from. If you’re stupid, you try to cancel that reaction out.
A lot of people have such a fixed image of what the product should be that they refuse to allow any deviation. Again and again, they’ll force the music into a mold until it goes where they want it to go. This generally leads to quite uninteresting music - or uninteresting anything.Brian Eno
As soon as you externalize an idea you see facets of it that weren’t clear when it was just floating around in your head.Brian Eno
The problem with thinking about your own past is you forget its genesis and start to feel useless awe towards your earlier self.Brian Eno
I don’t have the enthusiasm to push through projects that seem familiar to me.Brian Eno
Admirers can be a tremendous force for conservatism.Brian Eno
I like talking about ideas. I find them terribly interesting.Brian Eno
Culture is all human behaviour, outside of pure instinct. Everything we do is cultural: gardening, cooking, different fashions, architecture.
What artists (don’t?) do a lot, in music in particular, is look at culture in the world. Music doesn’t depict something, it’s (often) about other music.Brian Eno
I really begin by allowing myself to make a mess, and then seeing if I can get out of it.
If your first move is brilliant, you’re in trouble. You don’t really know how to follow it; you’re frightened of ruining it.
So to make a mess is a good beginning - and I’m quite good at doing that.Brian Eno
I want to make things that put me in the position of innocence, that recreate the feeling of innocence in you.Brian Eno
I can’t duplicate my own successes, because part of the creation of that effect is making something happen that you didn’t expectBrian Eno
I like to change speeds is because it does something to the timbre of sound that I like, by bringing upper harmonics into hearing range, by halving the frequency of them.Brian Eno
Having no silence in music is like having no black or white in a painting.Brian Eno
With all fashion, what we do is play at being somebody else. We play at inhabiting another kind of world.
I’m role-playing effectively when I’m making fashion choices. I’m also engaging in some kind of game with myself and the rest of the world. I’m entering into some kind of simulator.
I’m saying, "What would it be like to be the kind of person that wears these kinds of glasses?"Brian Eno
As a maker you tend to put in twice as much as you need as a listener. It’s a symptom of contemporary production. Old records don’t have that problem.
With the facilities that you have today, you tend to plug every hole - you put more and more in. But as a listener you’re much less demanding... you can take things that are much simpler, much more open, and much slower.
It’s often happened that I’ve made a piece and ended up slowing it down by as much as half.Brian Eno
Things are always least interesting when they’re most clear, in a way, when everybody understands what’s going on.
I suppose the quality I’ve always liked in music is the sense of being baffled... "God, I like this, but I don’t know why!"
I suppose one of the reasons one becomes a composer is that you want to recreate that thrill for yourself. You want to do something that makes you say "God, where did that come from?"Brian Eno
It is the very act of "concentrating" on writing music which makes it difficult to do, since ideas normally arise when one is not focused but when one is "open" in some way.Brian Eno
Most studio units - traditionally regarded as simple devices for altering or modifying a set sound - can be employed as instruments in their own right.Brian Eno
If you had a sign above every studio door saying ’This Studio is a Musical Instrument’ it would make such a different approach to recordingBrian Eno
There’s a real bogey among rock musicians about talking about music - they seem to think that if you discuss it, the magic dies or something. I disagree.
I think that if you can argue yourself out of doing something, you should.
Anything that’s strong enough will stand up to any amount of analysis.Brian Eno
As soon as I’d made up the shape of the song, I made a plan of it on paper, sketching out all the spaces where I wanted words, and began running through it, just singing whatever came into my head. And every time I hit on a phrase I liked, I’d write it down in its particular place in the framework.
Gradually I’d arrive at a kind of ’found’ document made up of half-obscured fragments - and all I then had to do was fill in the blanks by reconstructing what I thought each lyric was about. Automatic writing, in fact.Brian Eno
All my favourite songs had lyrics which I didn’t quite understand.
What I liked about that was that it seemed to be saying something, but it was unspecific. It gave a definite feeling to the song without being a particular statement.Brian Eno
I remember being with my wife’s family, who are are quite shy. We started playing Charades, and within 10 minutes people are singing the theme from such-and-such with all the acting that goes with it.
Because they’re now in a frame which says, "You’re not yourself, you’re not responsible." I thought, that’s not a bad philosophy of life.Brian Eno
One of the things I do is cut the language up, so there are breaks in the middle of sentences and so on.
A few words will come out -- space -- another word -- another 6 words -- space -- another 2 words.
So the language really keeps falling apart.Brian Eno
People who are not native English speakers often speak English in a much more interesting way than people who are, because they make the words strange again.
If you are used to listening to English spoken by other English people it all just slips by. But suddenly, when you hear a foreigner speaking your own language, they alter the stress on things, they change the relationship, the balance between words. Suddenly they bring the language to life again. And they keep creating new meanings.Brian Eno
Language is still where it was in about the 14th century.
I like songs, and I like language, and I like the use of language. But I want it to be done in some original way.
Whoever does the words has a very hard job. That’s the sharp edge of the music. Whatever else the music is doing, if there are words there, you know that is going to be the focal point of the music for so many listeners. And you can really fuck it up with words. If they’re not good, you can totally wreck the whole thing.Brian Eno
If you’re a director and you want to instruct an actor - you can either say to him ’Okay, now move your arm towards him like that’, or you can say to him, ’Imagine who you are meant to be, and who he’s meant to be. Now what do you do to him?’.
You see what I mean? It’s like going a step further back in the composition process. So, instead of specifying the precise identity of something, you specify the little seed that will create an identity. You don’t have to actually write it in its details.Brian Eno
...a combination of instruments that are so recognizable, that come with a huge amount of cultural history, you know, like jazz piano sounds, the ride cymbal, etc.
As soon as you hear those instruments you have some kind of picture of how the music was made.
Within that, I place those things in an electronic landscape, which is completely another world, a world that never belonged to that music.Brian Eno
A friend of mine says that modern music is a form of space travel, because either you’re going out into space with the music, into weird new sounds and weird new impossible landscapes. Modern composers...create psychoacoustic spaces that actually don’t exist in nature.
So that’s one kind of space travel, going outwards. But the other kind, of course, is inner space travel, travelling into the strange new psychological spaces in our souls.Brian Eno
I want to believe that what I make is a good start, a strong place to begin. I then hope that at least it will be better in the user’s (listener’s) mind than it is in mine.
I want to plant seeds that will grow when they leave me.
If I thought the music was only going to remain as I left it, then why would I want to release it? You release things so that they will grow, and have interesting other lives without you. Just like kids.Brian Eno
Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part.
That is to say, I tend towards the roles of the planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.Brian Eno
If you think of culture as a great big garden, it has to have its compost as well. Lots of people are doing things that are not dramatic or radical or not even particularly interesting; they’re just digestive processes. A number of little things are being combined and tried out.
If you think about music in that way, it makes it much easier to accept that there might be lots of things you might not want to hear again. They happen and they pass and they become the compost for something else to grow from.Brian Eno
Avant-garde music is a sort of research music. You’re glad someone’s done it but you don’t necessarily want to listen to it.
It’s similar to the way I’m very happy people have gone to the North Pole. It extends my concept of the planet to know it exists, but I don’t want to live there, or even go there actually. But it’s a boundary condition.Brian Eno
Two different ways of making things: the hard way and the easy way.
The hard way is the way of the individual artist who establishes his own terrain, as it were. The easy way is the way of grace and the way of tradition, where you don’t even consider the possibility that you are there to make major innovations - you’re there to make 200 parts today.
One of the things I like about gospel music is that it has that same kind of humility, that the people who are singing it are not puckered-brow artists. There’s the same freshness and thrill that you see in all kinds of folk arts. People doing something that is shaped by a whole lot of quite unconscious factors, like the limitations of their own vocal range.Brian Eno
Some sound comes so heavily laden with intention that you can’t hear it for the intentions.
This is the great problem of lyrics... they always impose something that is so unmysterious.Brian Eno
Any information which is common, after several repetitions, you cease to hear.
You reject the common information, rather like if you gaze at something for a long time, you’ll cease to really see it.
You’ll see any aspect of it that’s changing, but the static elements you won’t see.Brian Eno
The idea is to produce things that are as strange and mysterious to you as the first music you ever heard.Brian Eno