Melody Maker | Info Freako | 19 February 1994
THE LIFE OF BRIAN
Can you print some information about Brian Eno's lecture and video work. How, when and why did he first get into these non-musical activities? Come to that, how did somebody who has often said he doesn't think of himself as a musician first get into music?
Marc Serles, Jersey
Brian Eno's first love was art, not music. But although he never posed in front of a mirror with a pretend guitar, unlike most teenage boys, he began to develop the idea of using a tape recorder as a musical instrument while he was still at school. By the time he went to study at Winchester Art College in 1966, he had amassed a huge collection of recording systems and started making avant-garde electronic music. In 1968, at the age of 20, he wrote a book called "Music For Non Musicians".
While president of the Winchester Student Union, Eno invited experimental musicians such as Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff to lecture at the college. In turn, Eno was himself asked to give a series of talks on musical trends by Andy Mackay, his opposite number at Reading University. A couple of years later, he bumped into Mackay on a London Underground train, a chance meeting which led to him joining forces with Mackay and Brian Ferry in Roxy Music. Ferry was another former art student.
Eno left Roxy Music in 1973, after a personality clash with Ferry, and embarked upon the solo work which has so inspired the current generation of ambient musicians. In the mid-1970s, he also undertook several lecture tours of British colleges. He has since travelled the world to talk on subjects as varied as art, defence, haircuts, pets, perfume, "The Recording Studio As A Compositional Tool" and "David Bowie's Wedding". He has even addressed the European Commission on "The Future Of Culture".
Eno's boyhood interest in visual art was rekindled with the onset of the video age. In the late 1970s, he started producing films for audiences to watch as they listened to his ambient scores in darkened spaces. Eno saw video as a kind of hi-tech painting, in which colours and shapes were as important as the actual images. One of his most famous early audio-visual installations was "Mistaken Memories Of Medieval Manhattan", a slow motion tour of the New York City skyline.
The success of these works prompted Eno to take his ideas a step further and, from about 1983, he began placing TV monitors inside sculptures made of card, metal and perspex. The moving lights of the videos illuminated the sculptures and the images on the screens were given a three-dimensional effect. Since the mid-1980s, he has also utilised natural elements like rock, wood and soil into his sculptures. Little wonder that his name is now as familiar in the art world as it is in music circles.
During the last 15 years or so, Eno has staged more than 100 audio-visual events in museums, galleries and a wide range of public places throughout the world. Some of the more unusual venues he has used include Grand Central Station in New York, Tegal Airport in Berlin, the Church of San Carpoforo in Milan, The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Tenkawa Shrine in Japan. He was also responsible for designing and producing many of the video images of U2's "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa" tours.
No guide to Brian Eno's extra-curricular activities could be complete without mentioning "Oblique Strategies", a set of cards which he created with painter Peter Schmidt in the late 1970s. The instructions printed on the cards are meant to encourage lateral thinking. In addition to all of this, Eno is also a member of a computer-networked association of around 100 artists, sceintists and intellectuals. He clearly qualifies on all three fronts.