Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI (/ˈiːnoʊ/; born 15 May 1948 and originally christened Brian Peter George Eno) is an English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, and visual artist. He is best known for his pioneering work in ambient and electronic music as well as his contributions to rock, worldbeat, chance, and generative music styles. A self-described "non-musician", Eno has advocated a methodology of "theory over practice" throughout his career, and has helped to introduce a variety of unique recording techniques and conceptual approaches into contemporary music. He has been described as one of popular music's most influential and innovative figures.
Born in Suffolk, Eno studied painting and experimental music at art school in the late 1960s before joining glam rock group Roxy Music as synthesizer player in 1971. After recording two albums with the band, he departed in 1973 to record a number of solo albums, ultimately helping to develop ambient music with works such as Another Green World (1975), Discreet Music (1975), and Music for Airports (1978). He took part in frequent collaborations with artists such as Robert Fripp, Cluster, David Bowie on his "Berlin Trilogy", and David Byrne on 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. During the 1970s, Eno would also begin a parallel career as a producer, which included work on albums by Talking Heads and Devo, the no wave compilation No New York (1978), and works by avant-garde artists such as John Cale, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, and Harold Budd, among others.
In subsequent decades, Eno continued to record solo albums, collaborate, and produce for other artists, including U2, Coldplay, Laurie Anderson, James, Grace Jones, Slowdive, and James Blake. Dating back to his time as a student, he has also pursued a variety of multimedia projects in parallel with his music career, including sound installations and his mid-70s co-development of Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards featuring cryptic aphorisms intended to break creative blocks and encourage lateral thinking. He continues to release music, produce, and write, and maintains a regular column in Prospect Magazine.
Early life and education
Brian Eno was born in 1948 at Phyllis Memorial Hospital, Woodbridge, Suffolk, the son of Catholic parents William Arnold Eno (1916-1988), who had followed his father and grandfather into the postal service, and Maria Alphonsine Eno (née Buslot, 1922-2005), a woman originally from Belgium who William had met during his service in World War II. The unusual surname Eno, long established in Suffolk, derives from the French Huguenot surname Hennot. Maria had already had a daughter (Brian's half-sister Rita), and together William and Maria would have two further children, Roger (b. 1959) and Arlette (b. 1961).
Eno was educated at St Joseph's College, Ipswich, which was founded by the De La Salle Brothers order of Catholic brothers (from whom he took part of his name when a student there), at Ipswich Art School in cybernetic theorist Roy Ascott's Groundcourse and the Winchester School of Art, graduating in 1969. At the Winchester School of Art, Eno attended a lecture by Pete Townshend of the Who about the use of tape machines by non-musicians, citing the lecture as the moment he realised he could make music even though he was not a musician at that point.
In school, Eno used a tape recorder as a musical instrument and experimented with his first, sometimes improvisational, bands. St. Joseph's College teacher and painter Tom Phillips encouraged him, recalling "Piano Tennis" with Eno, in which, after collecting pianos, they stripped and aligned them in a hall, striking them with tennis balls. From that collaboration, he became involved in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra. The first released recording in which Eno played is the Deutsche Grammophon edition of Cardew's The Great Learning (recorded February 1971), as one of the voices in the recital of Paragraph 7 of The Great Learning. Another early recording was the Berlin Horse soundtrack, by Malcom Le Grice, a nine-minute, 2 × 16 mm-double-projection, released in 1970 and presented in 1971.
Eno's professional music career began in London, as a member (1971–1973) of the glam/art rock band Roxy Music, initially not appearing on stage with them at live shows, but operating the mixing desk, processing the band's sound with a VCS3 synthesiser and tape recorders, and singing backing vocals. He then progressed to appearing on stage as a performing member of the group, usually flamboyantly costumed. He quit the band on completing the promotional tour for the band's second album, For Your Pleasure, because of disagreements with lead singer Bryan Ferry and boredom with the rock star life.
In 1992, he described his Roxy Music tenure as important to his career: "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting [saxophonist Andy Mackay], I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music. If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now". During his period with Roxy Music, and for his first three solo albums, he was credited on records only as 'Eno'.
Eno embarked on a solo career almost immediately. Between 1973 and 1977 he created four albums of electronically inflected art pop: Here Come the Warm Jets (1973), Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974), Another Green World (1975), and Before and After Science (1977). Tiger Mountain contains the galloping "Third Uncle", one of Eno's best-known songs, owing in part to its later being covered by Bauhaus and 801. 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."
These four 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 Box II: Vocal and the single mix of "King's Lead Hat", the title of which is an anagram of "Talking Heads", has never been reissued).
During this period, Eno also played three dates with Phil Manzanera in the band 801, a "supergroup" that performed more or less mutated selections from albums by Eno, Manzanera, and Quiet Sun, as well as covers of songs by The Beatles ("Tomorrow Never Knows") and The Kinks ("You Really Got Me").
In 1972, Eno and Robert Fripp (from King Crimson) developed the "Frippertronics" tape delay system; a year later, the pair released the proto-ambient album (No Pussyfooting) (1973). The technique involved two Revox tape recorders set up side by side, with the tape unspooling from the first deck being carried over to the second deck to be spooled. This enabled sound recorded on the first deck to be played back by the second deck at a time delay that varied with the distance between the two decks and the speed of the tape (typically a few seconds). The technique was borrowed from minimalist composer Terry Riley, whose similar 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 (1963). In 1975, Fripp and Eno released a second album, Evening Star, and 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 (again created via an elaborate tape-delay methodology, which Eno diagrammed on the back cover of the LP), 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 with Eno producing.
In 1975 Eno performed as the Wolf in a rock version of Sergei Prokofiev's classic Peter and the Wolf. Produced by Robin Lumley and Jack Lancaster, the album featured Gary Moore, Manfred Mann, Phil Collins, Stephane Grapelli, Chris Spedding, Cozy Powell, Jon Hiseman, Bill Bruford and Alvin Lee. Also in 1975, Eno provided synthesisers and treatments on Quiet Sun's Mainstream album alongside Phil Manzanera, Charles Hayward, Dave Jarrett, and Bill MacCormick, and he performed on and contributed songs and vocals to Manzanera's Diamond Head album.
In September 1976 Eno recorded with the Krautrock/Kosmische Musik group Harmonia at their studio in Forst, Germany. This material was not released until 1997 as Tracks and Traces by Harmonia '76. It was again reissued in 2009 with additional tracks and credited to Harmonia & Eno '76.
From 1976 to 1978 Eno collaborated with David Bowie on Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger), and from 1978 to 1980 with Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light).
Eno considered joining XTC in 1980.
In 1980 Eno provided a film score for Herbert Vesely's Egon Schiele – Exzess und Bestrafung, also known as Egon Schiele – Excess and Punishment. The ambient-style score was an unusual choice for a historical piece, but it worked effectively with the film's themes of sexual obsession and death.
In 1981, after he returned from Ghana and before making On Land, Robert Quine played him Miles Davis' 1974 track "He Loved Him Madly", a melancholy tribute to Duke Ellington influenced by both African music and Karlheinz Stockhausen: as Eno stated in the liner notes for On Land, "Teo Macero's revolutionary production on that piece seemed to me to have the "spacious" quality I was after, and like Federico Fellini's 1973 film Amarcord, it too became a touchstone to which I returned frequently."
In 1980–1981 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 United States, along with sampling recordings from around the world transposed over music predominantly inspired by African and Middle Eastern rhythms.
In 1983 Eno collaborated with his brother, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois on the album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. Many of the sounds created on this album can be heard again on later albums produced by both Eno and Lanois. Tracks from the album are also used as part of the musical score for the Al Reinert film, For All Mankind (1989).
In 1992 Eno released an album featuring heavily syncopated rhythms entitled Nerve Net, with contributions from several former collaborators including 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, and the entire album was eventually released in 2014 as part of an expanded re-release of Nerve Net.) Eno also released in 1992 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 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. He has presented this music in his own, and other artists', art and sound installations, most notably I Dormienti (The Sleepers), Lightness: Music for the Marble Palace, Music for Civic Recovery Centre, The Quiet Room and Music for Prague.
One of Eno's better-known collaborations was with the members of U2, Luciano Pavarotti and several other artists in a group called Passengers. They produced the 1995 album Original Soundtracks 1, which reached No. 76 on the US Billboard charts and No. 12 in the UK Albums Chart. It featured a single, "Miss Sarajevo", which reached number 6 in the UK Singles Chart. This collaboration is chronicled in Eno's book A Year with Swollen Appendices, a diary published in 1996.
In 1996 Eno scored the six-part fantasy television series Neverwhere.
In 2004 Fripp and Eno recorded another ambient music 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 (a trend he continued with Everything That Happens Will Happen Today). The album differs from his 1970s 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, were added to the album, while one track, "Qu'ran", was removed in accordance with a strongly worded complaint from an Islamic organisation in London. An unusual interactive marketing strategy was employed for 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". Listeners can then remix and upload new mixes of these tracks to the website so that 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. The second edition of "77 Million Paintings" featuring improved morphing and a further two layers of sound was released on 14 January 2008. In June 2007, when commissioned in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California, Annabeth Robinson (AngryBeth Shortbread) recreated 77 Million Paintings in Second Life.
In 2007 Eno's music was featured in a movie adaption of Irvine Welsh's best-selling collection Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance. He also appeared playing keyboards in Voila, Belinda Carlisle's solo album sung entirely in French.
Also in 2007, Eno contributed a composition titled "Grafton Street" to Dido's third album, Safe Trip Home, released in November 2008.
In 2008, he released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today with David Byrne, designed the sound for the video game Spore and wrote a chapter to Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture, edited by Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky).
Eno revealed on radio in May 2009 that a skin graft he received as treatment for a severe burn on his arm was part human skin, part carbon fibre. He explained that as human skin is based on carbon, the experimental treatment was likely going to work out well for him, in spite of the fact that he feels a lightness in the affected arm.
In June 2009 Eno curated the Luminous Festival at Sydney Opera House, culminating in his first live appearance in many years. "Pure Scenius" consisted of three live improvised performances on the same day, featuring Eno, Australian improvisation trio The Necks, Karl Hyde from Underworld, electronic artist Jon Hopkins and guitarist Leo Abrahams.
Eno scored the music for Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lovely Bones, released in December 2009.
Eno released another solo album on Warp in late 2010. Small Craft on a Milk Sea, made in association with long-time collaborator Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins, was released on 2 November in the United States and 15 November in the UK. The album included five compositions as adaptions of those tracks that Eno wrote for The Lovely Bones.
Eno also sang backing vocals on Anna Calvi's debut album, on the songs "Desire" and "Suzanne & I". He later released Drums Between the Bells, a collaboration with poet Rick Holland, on 4 July 2011.
In November 2012, Eno released Lux, a 76-minute composition in four sections, through Warp.
Eno worked with French–Algerian Raï singer Rachid Taha on Taha's Tékitoi (2004) and Zoom (2013) albums, contributing percussion, bass, brass and vocals. Eno also performed with Taha at the Stop the War Coalition concert in London in 2005.
In May 2014, Eno and Underworld's Karl Hyde released Someday World, featuring various guest musicians: from Coldplay's Will Champion and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay to newer names such as 22-year-old Fred Gibson, who helped produce the record with Eno. Within weeks of the release, a second full-length album was announced titled High Life, which was released on 30 June 2014.
In January 2016, a new Eno ambient soundscape was premiered as part of Michael Benson's planetary photography exhibition "Otherworlds" in the Jerwood Gallery of London's Natural History Museum. In a statement Eno commented about the unnamed half-hour piece:
"We can’t experience space directly; those few who’ve been out there have done so inside precarious cocoons. They float in silence, for space has no air, nothing to vibrate - and therefore no sound. Nonetheless we can’t resist imagining space as a sonic experience, translating our feelings about it into music. In the past we saw the Universe as a perfect, divine creation - logical, finite, deterministic - and our art reflected that. The discoveries of the Space age have revealed instead a chaotic, unstable and vibrant reality, constantly changing. This music tries to reflect that new understanding."
On February 24, 2016, Eno announced a new ambient installment album, The Ship, which was released on April 29, 2016 on Warp.
In September 2016, Eno released a single in collaboration with the Portuguese synthpop band The Gift, titled Love Without Violins. Eno co-wrote and produced as well as sang on the track. The single was released under the band's own record label La Folie Records on 30 September. A new album was also announced to be released in 2017, which will feature Eno on several tracks and will be mixed by producer Flood. The Portuguese band will be sharing vocal duties, writing credits and instruments with Eno, who is also writing the lyrics with singer Sonia Tavares.
On 15 November 2016, Eno announced a new ambient album Reflection that was released on 1 January 2017.
Record producer and other projects
From the beginning of his solo career in 1973, Eno was 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.
Eno describes himself as a "non-musician" and used 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 recognised 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'; on Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard with a Direct inject anti-jazz raygun and on John Cale's Island albums as simply being "Eno".
Eno has contributed to recordings by artists as varied as Nico, Robert Calvert, Genesis, David Bowie, and Zvuki Mu, in various capacities such as use of his studio/synthesiser/electronic treatments, vocals, guitar, bass guitar, and as just being 'Eno'. In 1984, he (along with several other authors) composed and performed the "Prophecy Theme" for the David Lynch film Dune; the rest of the soundtrack was composed and 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.
He worked with 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. Recorded in France and Germany, the spacey effects on Low were largely created by Eno, who played a portable EMS Synthi A synthesizer. Producer Tony Visconti used an Eventide Harmonizer to alter the sound of the drums, claiming that the audio processor "f–s with the fabric of time."
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 with Mark "Flood" Ellis. In 1995, U2 and Eno joined forces to create the album Original Soundtracks 1 under the group name Passengers; songs from which included "Your Blue Room" and "Miss Sarajevo". When the album was released, the US charts were dominated by movie soundtrack albums and singles. Even though films are listed for each song, all but three are bogus. Once Eno pointed out that it was not a real ploy for radio airplay, but a spoof of one, U2 agreed to the concept. Eno also produced Laid (1993), Wah Wah (1994) Millionaires (1999) and Pleased to Meet You (2001) for James, performing as an extra musician on all four. He is credited for "frequent interference and occasional co-production" on their 1997 album Whiplash.
Eno played on the 1986 album Measure for Measure by Australian band Icehouse. 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 1993. In 1995, Eno provided one of several remixes of "Protection" by Massive Attack (originally from their Protection album) for release as a single.
In 2007, he produced the fourth studio album by Coldplay entitled Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, which was released in 2008. Also in 2008, he worked with Grace Jones on her album Hurricane, credited for "production consultation" and as a member of the band, playing keyboards, treatments and background vocals. He worked on the twelfth studio album by U2, again with Lanois, titled No Line on the Horizon. It was recorded in Morocco, south France and Dublin and released in Europe on 27 February 2009.
In 2011, Eno and Coldplay reunited and Eno contributed "enoxification" and additional composition on Coldplay's fifth studio album Mylo Xyloto, released on 24 October of that year.
The Microsoft Sound
In 1994, Microsoft designers Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk approached Eno to compose music for the Windows 95 project. The result was the six-second start-up music-sound of the Windows 95 operating system, "The Microsoft Sound". In an interview with Joel Selvin in the San Francisco Chronicle he said:
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 31/4 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 eighty-four 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.
Eno shed further light on the composition of the sound on the BBC Radio 4 show The Museum of Curiosity, admitting that he created it using a Macintosh computer, and stating "I wrote it on a Mac. I've never used a PC in my life; I don't like them."
Eno had spoken of an early and ongoing interest in playing with light in a similar way to the ambient manner in which he manipulated sound, but only started experimenting with the medium of video in 1978. Eno describes the first video camera he received, which would become his main tool for creating ambient video and light installations:
"One afternoon while I was working in the studio with Talking Heads, the roadie from Foreigner, working in an adjacent studio, came in and asked whether anyone wanted to buy some video equipment. I'd never really thought much about video, and found most 'video art' completely unmemorable, but the prospect of actually owning a video camera was at that time quite exotic."
The Panasonic industrial camera Eno received had significant design flaws preventing the camera from sitting upright without the assistance of a tripod. This led to his works' being filmed in vertical format, forcing the viewer to flip his television set on its side to view it in the proper orientation. The pieces Eno produced with this method, such as Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan (1980) and Thursday Afternoon (1984) (accompanied by the album of the same title), were labelled as 'Video Paintings.' He explained the genre title in the music magazine NME:
"I was delighted to find this other way of using video because at last here's video which draws from another source, which is painting... I call them 'video paintings' because if you say to people 'I make videos', they think of Sting's new rock video or some really boring, grimy 'Video Art'. It's just a way of saying, 'I make videos that don't move very fast."
These works presented Eno with the opportunity to expand his ambient aesthetic into a visual form, manipulating the medium of video to produce something not present in the normal television experience. His video works were shown around the world in exhibitions in New York and Tokyo, as well as released on the compilation 14 Video Paintings in 2005.
Eno continued his video experimentation through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, leading to further experimentation with the television as a malleable light source and onto his generative works such as 77 Million Paintings in 2006.
Although the term (the phrase) "Generative Music" did not exist as a descriptor of the genre, or more accurately the means of music creation, before Brian Eno coined it such in 1995 various methods had been utilized in its creation for quite some time. In many interviews and lectures one example Brian gives is a simple system known as wind chimes. As Brian states, These systems and the creation of them had been a focus of his since his attendance at Ipswich Art School, back in 1965:
"I got interested in the idea of music that could make itself, in a sense, in the mid 1960s really, when I first heard composers like Terry Riley, and when I first started playing with tape recorders,"
Brian started to release excerpts of results from his 'generative music' systems as early as 1975 with the album Discreet Music. Then again in 1978 with Music for Airports:
Music for Airports, at least one of the pieces on there, is structurally very, very simple. There are sung notes, sung by three women and my self. One of the notes repeats every 23 1/2 seconds. It is in fact a long [recorded tape] loop running around a series of tubular aluminum chairs in Conny Plank's studio. The next lowest loop repeats every 25 7/8 seconds or something like that. The third one every 29 15/16 seconds or something. What I mean is they all repeat in cycles that are called incommensurable -- they are not likely to come back into sync again. So this is the piece moving along in time. Your experience of the piece of course is a moment in time, there. So as the piece progresses, what you hear are the various clusterings and configurations of these six basic elements. The basic elements in that particular piece never change. They stay the same. But the piece does appear to have quite a lot of variety. In fact it's about eight minutes long on that record, but I did have a thirty minute version which I would bore friends who would listen to it. The thing about pieces like this of course is that they are actually of almost infinite length if the numbers involved are complex enough. They simply don't ever re-configure in the same way again. This is music for free in a sense. The considerations that are important, then, become questions of how the system works and most important of all what you feed into the system.— Brian Eno, Generative Music: A talk delivered in San Francisco, June 8, 1996
As well, from the late 1970s to the present Eno has created art installations - of which many, if not all, have been accompanied by his music systems. Typically these are generative music systems consisting of several layers of musical elements (of his creation), sometimes combined with location recordings. In the late 1990s Eno explained one of the music systems he had set up for an installation: "The way that this piece of music works is that there are 12 CDs and each CD is on random shuffle, and the piece just keeps on shuffling itself." It's stated that he conceived of the self-generating music idea via genetic science where two mammals come together to conceive of a child whose characteristics are unknown.
In 1996 Eno collaborated in developing the SSEYO Koan generative music system (by Pete Cole and Tim Cole of Intermorphic) that he used in composing the hybrid music in the album Generative Music 1 - only playable on the Koan generative music system. Later more Koan music was released, including Wander (2001) and Dark Symphony (2007).
In 2006 the software program 77 Million Paintings was developed and released for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. The program displays artwork by Eno, full screen, while his music plays. Randomised combinations generated by the software of both the overlaid image slideshow and music layers effectively ensures that the same combination of images, as well as the generative musical soundscape, is never played twice. A second edition of 77 Million Paintings, featuring improved image morphing and a further two layers of sound, was released on 14 January 2008.
Eno has also participated, as composer, with Peter Chilvers as consultant, in the creation of the score for the video game Spore (2008) by Electronic Arts – in which much of the music is presented in a generative manner. Most notably, generative music is featured for each of the game's editors/creators, where a player can create or edit; cells, creatures, buildings, vehicles, spaceships and more (for use in game play). As well, while the player visits a planet generative music plays that gives the planet a kind of musical ambience - where the kind of music that plays is dependent on the state of the planet (its ability to support life). The game also features an area to edit the generative music for specifically the player's own cities (colonies) - where musical elements can be added or removed, along with the option to customize a repeating score. Then during game play the layers randomly play all together while the player's location is at one of their own cities. However, the music for aliens and their colonies (cities) merely use the looping of a single track, rather than a generative music system. Once a music track is assigned to an alien species that species will always have that specific music associated with it for the duration of gameplay. There are 20 different music tracks that get randomly assigned - which differs from the music used for the robot alien species known as "Grox" - in that they always have the same music track that serves as their theme. While a good deal of the game's soundtrack is generative often other methods are used, such as the straight looping (as mentioned for the alien themes). Longer tracks are looped for space travel and the "Galactic view" (main menu). The "Sporepedia" menus also loops a longer music track, but is programmed to fade up randomly at different parts of the track.
Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers set up the website generativemusic.com and created generative music applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad: Bloom (2008), Trope (2009), Scape (2012) – and Sandra O'Neill and Chilvers created Air (2009), based on concepts developed by Eno in his Ambient 1: Music for Airports album.
It was in 2013 when Brian created two permanent light and sound installations at Montefiore Hospital in Hove, East Sussex, England. In the hospital's reception area "77 Million Paintings for Montefiore" consists of eight plasma monitors mounted on the wall in a diagonally radiating flower-like pattern. They display an ever-gently-evolving collage of colored patterns and shapes while Brian's generative ambient music system plays discreetly in the background. The other aptly named "Quiet Room for Montefiore" (available for patients, visitors and staff) is a space set apart for meditative reflection. It is a moderately sized room with three large panels displaying dissolves of subtle colors in patterns that are reminiscent of Mondrian paintings. The environment brings Brian's ambient music more into focus as to allow its occupant(s) to cognitively drift, contemplate, or simply relax.
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 (1969) and Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971) by Gavin Bryars. The second side of Discreet Music consisted of several versions of Pachelbel's Canon, the composition which Eno had previously chosen to precede Roxy Music's appearances on stage, to which various algorithmic transformations have been applied, rendering it almost unrecognisable. Side one 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 Fripp, most notably on Evening Star. Only ten albums were released on Obscure, including works by John Adams, Michael Nyman, and John Cage. At this time Eno was also affiliating with artists in the Fluxus movement.
Eno has also been active in other artistic fields. In March 2008 he collaborated with the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino on a show of the latter's works with Eno's soundscapes at Ara Pacis in Rome. In 2013, Eno sold limited edition prints of artwork from his 2012 album Lux from his website.
Eno appeared as Father Brian Eno at the "It's Great Being a Priest!" convention, in "Going to America", the final episode of the television sitcom Father Ted, which originally aired on 1 May 1998 on Channel 4.
Eno is frequently referred to as one of popular music's most influential artists. Critic Jason Ankeny at AllMusic argues that Eno "forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence." Eno has spread his techniques and theories primarily through his production; his distinctive style affected a number of projects in which he has been involved, including Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" (helping to popularise minimalism) and the albums he produced for Talking Heads (incorporating, on Eno's advice, African music and polyrhythms), Devo, and other groups. Eno's first collaboration with David Byrne, 1981's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, pioneered sampling techniques that would prove to be influential in hip-hop, and broke ground by incorporating world music into popular Western music forms. Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies have been used by many bands, and Eno's production style has proven influential in several general respects: "his recording techniques have helped change the way that modern musicians – particularly electronic musicians – view the studio. No longer is it just a passive medium through which they communicate their ideas but itself a new instrument with seemingly endless possibilities."
While not the only inventor of ambient music, Eno is seen as a major contributor to the genre. The Ambient Music Guide argues that he has brought from "relative obscurity into the popular consciousness" fundamental ideas about ambient music, including "the idea of modern music as subtle atmosphere, as chill-out, as impressionistic, as something that creates space for quiet reflection or relaxation." His groundbreaking work in electronic music has been said to have brought widespread attention to and innovations in the role of electronic technology in recording.
"I've often eulogised Eno's musical abilities," remarked Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, "but alongside his talent he's also a very nice guy. Sickening, isn't it?"
Eno's "unconventional studio predilections", in common with those of Peter Gabriel, were an influence on the recording of "In the Air Tonight", the single which launched the solo career of his former drummer Phil Collins. Collins said he "learned a lot" from working with Eno. Both Half Man Half Biscuit (in the song "Eno Collaboration" on the EP of the same name) and MGMT have written songs about Eno. The band LCD Soundsystem has frequently cited Eno as a key influence on their own sound and music.
In 2011 Belgian academics from the Royal Museum for Central Africa named a species of Afrotropical spider Pseudocorinna brianeno in his honour.
In September 2016, Eno cited the conceptual, video and installation artist Jeremy Deller as a source of current inspiration for the website Just Six Degrees. "Deller's work is often technically very ambitious, involving organising large groups of volunteers and helpers, but he himself is almost invisible in the end result. I’m inspired by this quietly subversive way of being an artist, setting up situations and then letting them play out. To me it's a form of social generative art where the ‘generators’ are people and their experiences, and where the role of the artist is to create a context within which they collide and create."
Personal life and beliefs
In 1967, at the age of 18, Eno married his first wife Sarah Grenville. They had a daughter, Hannah, born in July 1967, before divorcing. Eno married his manager Anthea Norman-Taylor in 1988; they have two daughters, Irial and Darla.
Eno has referred to himself as "kind of an Evangelical Atheist" but has also professed an interest in religion.
In 1996, Eno and others started the Long Now Foundation to educate the public about the very long-term future of society. He is also a columnist for the British newspaper The Observer.
The Nokia 8800 Sirocco Edition mobile phone features exclusive music composed by Eno. Between 8 January 2007 and 12 February 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.
In December 2007, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, appointed Eno – then aged 59 – as his youth affairs adviser.
In 2006, Eno was one of more than 100 artists and writers who signed an open letter calling for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions and in January 2009 he spoke out against Israel's military action on the Gaza Strip by writing an opinion for CounterPunch and participating in a large-scale protest in London. In 2014, Eno again protested publicly against what he called a "one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing" and a "war [with] no moral justification," in reference to the 2014 military operation of Israel into Gaza. He was also a co-signatory, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker and others, to a letter published in The Guardian that labelled the conflict as an "inhumane and illegal act of military aggression" and called for "a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid."
In 2013, Eno became a patron of Videre Est Credere (Latin for "to see is to believe"), a UK human rights charity. Videre describes itself as "give[ing] local activists the equipment, training and support needed to safely capture compelling video evidence of human rights violations. This captured footage is verified, analysed and then distributed to those who can create change." He participates alongside movie producers Uri Fruchtmann and Terry Gilliam – along with executive director of Greenpeace UK John Sauven.
In 2015, Eno wrote an article for The Guardian in support of the left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership contest.
On 3 December 2015 Eno appeared in a filmed public forum in London, England, titled "Basic income: How do we get there?", about the benefits and need for a basic income. It was hosted by Basic Income UK and also included economist Frances Coppola and anthropologist David Graeber.
In Autumn 2016 he became elected member of the 12 person Coordinating Collective (CC) of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), together with Noam Chomsky among other world-famous activists.
Solo studio albums
- Here Come the Warm Jets (1974), Island
- Taking Tiger Mountain (1974), Island
- Another Green World (1975), Island
- Discreet Music (1975), Obscure
- Before and After Science (1977), Polydor
- Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), Polydor
- Music for Films (1978), Polydor
- Ambient 4: On Land (1982), EG
- Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983), E.G.
- More Music for Films (1983), E.G.
- Thursday Afternoon (1985), E.G.
- Nerve Net (1992), Opal
- The Shutov Assembly (1992), Warner Bros.
- Neroli (1993), All Saints
- The Drop (1997), Thirsty Ear
- Another Day on Earth (2005), Hannibal
- Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010), Warp
- The Ship (2016), Warp
- Reflection (2017), Warp
Ambient installation albums
- Extracts from Music for White Cube, London 1997 (1997), Opal
- Lightness: Music for the Marble Palace (1997), Opal
- I Dormienti (1999), Opal
- Kite Stories (1999), Opal
- Music for Civic Recovery Centre (2000), Opal
- Compact Forest Proposal (2001), Opal
- January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now (2003), Opal
- Making Space (2010), Opal
- Lux (2012), Warp