August 7, 2008

Pick apart the past, you’re not going back

Julia Fullerton-Batten, Beach Houses, 2005

* From a 1979 interview/article of Brian Eno by Lester Bangs:

"This brings up the famous 'I'm not a musician' quote from early in his career, which confounds fans and critics alike to this day. It seems like a conceit turned inside out, inasmuch as I've got almost a dozen albums of his music sitting here. 'Again,' he almost sighs, 'it was a case of taking a position deliberately in opposition to another one. I don't say it much anymore, but I said it when I said it because there was such an implicit and tacit belief that virtuosity was the sine qua non of music and there was no other way of approaching it. And that seemed to be so transparently false in terms of rock music in particular. I thought that it was well worth saying, 'Whatever I'm doing, it's not that,' and I thought the best way to say that was to say, Look, I'm a nonmusician. If you like what I do, it stands in defiance to that.'

"'When I say 'musician,' I wouldn't apply it to myself as a synthesizer player, or 'player' of tape recorders, because I usually mean someone with a digital skill that they then apply to an instrument. I don't really have that, so strictly speaking I'm a non-musician. None of my skills are manual, they're not to do with manipulation in that sense, they're more to do with ingenuity, I suppose.'

"And yet one wonders still how disingenuous all this might be. So I asked him point blank: 'Have you ever had any formal music or theory training at all?'


"'Have you ever felt the pressure that you should get some?'

"'No, I haven't, really. I can't think of a time that I ever thought that, though I must have at one time. The only thing I wanted to find out, which I did find out, was what 'modal' meant; that was I thought, a very interesting concept.'"
"It appears that the great and true love of his creative life is the tape recorder, and all of the things it can do. When he joined Roxy Music, he didn't even, strictly speaking, audition: they asked him to come and make some demos of the band, and while he was there he started fooling around with a synthesizer that was in the room; when they heard what he was getting out of it, they asked him to join. 'I'd never touched one before, but Andy (McKay, sax player) knew that I had been doing things with electronics for a long time, five or six years, particularly using tape. Since I was about fifteen, really. I had wanted a tape recorder since I was tiny. I thought it was just like a magic thing, and I always used to ask my parents if I could have one but I never got one, until just before I went to art school I got access to one and started playing with it, and then when I went to art school they had them there. I thought it was magic to be able to catch something identically on tape and then be able to play around with it, run it backwards; I thought that was great for years,' he laughs.

"'I can remember the first piece I did at art school; the sound source was this big metal lampshade, like they have in institutions, and it was like a very deep bell, and I did a piece where I just used that sound but at different speeds so it sounded like a lot of different bells. They were very close in pitch and they just beat together. It's not unlike many of the things I do now,' I suppose.

"'I'm very good with technology, I always have been, and with machines in general. They seem to me not threatening like other people find them, but a source of great fun and amusement, Iike grown up toys really. You can either take the attitude that it has a function and you can learn how to do it, or you can take an attitude that it's just a black box that you can manipulate any way you want. And that's always been the attitude I've taken, which is why I had a lot of trouble with engineers, because their whole background is learning it from a functional point of view, and then learning how to perform that function. So I made a rule very early on, which I've kept to, which was that I would never write down any setting that I got on the synthesizer, no matter how fabulous a sound I got. And the reason for that is that I know myself well enough to know that if I had a stock of fabulous sounds I would just always use them. I wouldn't bother to find new ones. So it was a way of trying to keep the instrument fresh. Also I let it decay, it keeps breaking down and changes all the time. There are a lot of things I've done before that I couldn't even do again if I wanted to.'

"In fact, though, if there has been one criticism of Eno's music over the past few years, it's Lydia Lunch's: that all his music does is "flow and weave," over and over again. That his quiescent, anti-emotional or emotionally ambiguous mode seems to dominate; that what we have in all these 'ambient' recordings and scores for unmade films and endless overdubs might just be still waters that don't necessarily run deep, a placidity so resolute as to be almost oppressive, fascist. Everybody who felt that way should be excited to hear that in the album he's working on now he's returned to what he calls the 'idiot energy' of his first album and the dancehall classic 'Baby's on Fire.'"

* 20 dunking mishaps.

* "A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor." -- Ring Lardner (1885 - 1933), 'How to Write Short Stories'


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