Brian Eno- Movements
Brian Eno is a pivotal figure-also a surprisingly physically diminutive one- in modern music with his DNA coursing through its veins whilst his sticky fingerprints are all over it and the fact that, since the mid-seventies, he has assumed more and more of an invisible peripheral role only serves to make him all the more enigmatic. Entering the fray playing synthesizer and tapes with Roxy Music-who can forget that TOTP performance of ‘Virginia Plain’ with Eno, at the opposite end of the stage from Bryan Ferry, hunched over his synthesiser in fantasy fur and lurex gloves twiddling knobs like some crazy rock and roll professor beamed in from Planet Xenon? – before collaborating with David Bowie during his most fruitful and experimental phase of his career and rounding the decade off by producing Talking Heads , taking them into unchartered waters.
In the interim he had a solo career and invented –or at least lent a name to- ‘ambient’ music which had previously not been considered an art form or entity in its own right. Subsequent decades have seen him work with other artists most notably U2 and James although the least said about Coldplay the better.
This hour long talk about ‘Music’ was as varied and off the wall as his career however and his occasional diversions from the topic in hand provided both highlights and insights whilst the smooth luxury of his voice ensured he held our attention throughout. At the denouement of his talk I felt he was only getting started and could have listened to him for another hour at least.
Opening by informing us that certain cultures –including some parts of Africa- don’t have a word for music but do have a word for dance we are taken on a Enoesque take on the form through the ages. Interesting stop offs were the first ‘Synthesiser’, a Telharmonium, which required thirty seven train carriages alone to transport it from town to town. Upon reaching its destination it then had to plug into a major power source such as a telephone exchange so the towns inhabitants just had to lift their receiver off its cradle to hear the strange sounds coming from the musician playing from the train.
The role of the producer-perhaps what Eno himself is best known and established as- was looked at closely with pioneering names such as George Martin and Phil Spector recognised for their legendary and groundbreaking achievements in this field and raising the role to an art in itself; giving an artist’s recorded artefacts a life of their own, vacuum packing them into a form which does not exist outside its own manifestation. Audiences and their crucial role were also brought into the discussion-a great photo of Iggy Pop crowd surfing illustrated the difference between the reverence of a classical concert and the irreverent and spontaneous nature of a rock and roll one- as well as a look at Elvis and his legendary and, for its time shocking, pelvis which introduced a new form of audience participation concentrating on the corporeal rather than the cerebral.
Along the way an amusing tale about his one and only time as a hired session hand when the New Seekers-of all people- enlisted his services. If ever there was an incongruous pairing then this was it and it is hardly surprising the fruits of this collaboration never made it past the studio. This is probably for the best but it would make for interesting listening.
Eno managed to make all this sound effortless-his honeyed tones provided some assist here- and was thoroughly charming and engaging throughout. An hour was no way long enough for him to cover his subject as thoroughly as he wanted to but he still managed to cram so much into this time and in no way did anyone feel cheated. Definitely a Festival 2013 highlight for me.