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A Year with swollen appendices

By Brian Eno, Faber & Faber, pp. 424, $16.95


By Carter B. Horsley

This diary is full of the author's famous "oblique strategies," aphorisms to help and challenge the creative, non-complacent artist:

"Don't be afraid of using your own ideas."

". . .think of a context in which the problem would be an asset."

"Try to make things that can become better in other peoples' minds than they were in yours."

Book coverIt is also full of love for his family, gusto for food and deep intellectual reflection on the creative process.

His soul-searching bumps into a great gang of friends such as Pavarotti, Tom Stoppard, Laurie Anderson, Bono of U2, Paul McCartney, Carol King, Julian Schnabel and Paul Simon, among many.

Perhaps the world's foremost collaborator, Eno has been a major creative force behind such music groups as The Velvet Underground, the Talking Heads and U2, has made highly influential recordings with Robert Fripp, Paul Hassell, Moebius, David Bowie and others, and is widely regarded as the founder and guiding light of New Age and/or ambient music, a title he's not the least bit interested in.

Stravinsky and Miles Davis were more prolific and produced many revolutions as well as many masterpieces in the 20th Century, but in the second half of the century the two most influential musicians have been the late John Cage and Brian Eno, the former probably proud of not having produced much, if any, beautiful music, and the latter probably proud of "chancing" upon the notion that from simple things unpredictable complexity can emerge. But if Cage was the minimalist father of experimental and Pop (as in Art) music, Eno is the wry progenitor of generative, evolving, mutating music whose theories do not overwhelm his ability to produce memorable beauty (as in side one of the 1975 masterpiece, "Evening Song," with Robert Fripp, and "The Shutov Assembly, recorded between 1985 and 1990 and released in 1992.)

 (In August, 1997, Eno released a new album entitled "The Drop" that, unfortunately, has no album notes, but is one of his better ones, especially the last long cut.  The album has a fair bit of very nice piano playing that is "treated" with a marvelous reverb effect.)

Both Cage and Eno share a Spartan simplicity and a yearning for immediacy.

On a traipse through Egypt, he recounts encountering a boy on a bike passing by repeating, "I am here."  Eno observes: "Perhaps the central and single message of humanity."

Eno's humanity is much in evidence in his reflections on Bob Geldorf's historic Live Aid concert and in his trips to and anguish over the more recent Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian catastrophe.

Passionate, incisive and brilliant, Eno's diary not only offers fascinating insights into music-making, but also hilarity:

"Starting to think that all of the world's major problems can be solved with either oyster sauce or backing vocals."

"A proposal that car-horns be tunable by their owners. Interesting to see what social harmony or discord would then develop."

"There are many futures and one status quo."

"Took a long walk this morning - down 7th Avenue to 42nd street. Such nostalgic air - cool but clear, straight up Manhattan fresh off the Atlantic, having crossed the Sargasso Sea, then accented with all those residual traces of faint fishiness, cinnamon muffins, subway urine, women's perfumes, bacon, coffee, newsprint."

Eno recalls Japanese calligraphers who spend "a whole day spent grinding inks and preparing brushes and paper, and then, as the sun begins to go down, a single burst of fast and inspired action. . .more and more I want to try that Japanese model: to get everything in place (including your mind, of course) first, and then to just give yourself one chance. It seems thrilling."

The appendices in the title refer, of course, to the quite lengthy and important notes, as in an appendix, at the back (third, or so) of the book.

I once was in Manny's Music store on west 48th Street buying a synthesizer and talking to my guru there, Rick Stevenson, when Eno came in. Rick offered to introduce me, but I shuddered and declined, telling myself I would never disturb an important artist contemplating a new instrument. Hypocrite that I am, I did talk briefly to Pat Metheny once at Manny's, but while I really like Metheny, I idolize Eno for he changed my life. I have loved jazz since staying up late at night when I was still a teenager to listen to Mort Fega and Symphony Sid with their great jazz radio programs that started at midnight trying to sort out Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," and dancing holes in my socks to Miles's "Sketches of Spain," but I always felt I had no creative talent.

In 1981, however, I happened by chance to hear the title track of his best album with Fripp, "Evening Star." I was so transported that I made my first visit to the music stores on West 48th Street, asked to see synthesizers and bought a brand new Moog Source for about $1,100, which was a great deal of money for me, then and now. I had never seen a synthesizer, which Eno was listed as using on the album, and could not, then and still now, read music. Since then, I've added at least 20 more to my sonic arsenal and have been pretty happy ever since no matter how severe economic realities have been. I am not thrilled with all of Eno's recordings, but I just relistened to "Evening Star" and was thrilled.

"I'm finding something increasingly unsatisfactory about putting a record on - knowing that someone else knows exactly what's going to happen next," Eno muses in his diary, adding, at another point, that in the future some child will gasp at an adult and ask if it was really true that people once listened to the same piece of music "over and over again."

If Eno sees an end to "the era of reproduction" and finds the computer revolution very disappointing so far, he is nonetheless an optimist: "the good news is that the simple ideas have not all been used up."

To my great delight, I happened about a major talk by Eno on the Internet at the Hotwired web site that consists of about a 50-minute lecture, brilliant and funny, of course, that can be heard directly on the Web with Real Audio.  The site starts with an introduction to a conference on Imagination held in June, 1996, and also features extended remarks by Laurie Anderson and Spike Lee.  Go to the conference index site by clicking here and scroll down to the Interview with Brian Eno link, and also look at the conference's website's excellent bio site on Eno.

There is an excellent Eno website at http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno with many links and discography.

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