Sound Stories

Brian Eno on Playing With Light

Ed Gillett

Guest Writer

In the new episode from The Lighthouse, Brian Eno speaks about his visual art practice in conversation with curator and historian Hans-Ulrich Obrist. With this companion blog post, you can follow along as the two delve deep into Eno’s bold visual explorations.

Brian Eno has been re-writing the rule book for the past five decades. As a musician, composer, producer, and visual artist he has and continues to innovate. The Lighthouse, his collaboration with Sonos Radio, echoes several of the concepts which have defined his work as a musician, producer, and visual artist, from open-minded experimentation and the sensory overlaps between sound and vision, to the use of technology to explore new forms of creativity. But the collaboration is also a bold step forward, using a treasure trove of unreleased work and random generation to construct novel worlds of sound.

In an exclusive program for Sonos Radio, Eno guides us through the inspirations behind The Lighthouse. Interviewed by curator and critic Hans-Ulrich Obrist, they touch on everything from childhood dreams of tape recorders to music as part of an infinite process. To listen to their full conversation, click here.

“Unlike many people who left art school and went into music, I also carried on doing visual art. And I noticed that gradually the two different practices were drawing closer together. At a certain point, I realized that I wanted to make music that was kind of like painting, and I want to make paintings that were sort of like music. So I think it was all to do with the understanding of time, really. What happens if you have a picture that changes very slowly? It’s different when something is changing. It asks you to stay and look at it for longer. And so I started really playing around with light.”

“One of the things I like doing is taking technology that exists for a given reason and finding something else to do with it.”

“I can remember very clearly the first time I ever saw a tape recorder; I thought how amazing it was that music could be stored like that. And of course, the next thing I thought was: what would happen if you played it backwards?”

“In the late seventies, I started working with video, but just [letting] the event, whatever it was, happen in front of the camera. I was living down on West 8th street at the time and my apartment faced south. So I took the camera and laid it down on its side, pointing downtown. And then I thought, well, I'll just turn the TV round, and suddenly I wasn't looking at television anymore. I was looking at a picture.”

“A big consideration for me with all my installations was how do I make people stay longer? I didn't want people to take a quick look and then they move on to the next picture. And of course, this was connected to music. Music says something is changing, slows people down a bit, which I think is useful. When you walk into a church and there's a beautiful window there, the sun streaming through...maybe these are contemporary, non-religious stained glass windows.”

“It became very clear to me that the idea of art as a static, fixed, finished thing was not an idea that excited me anymore. Classical music is designed like architecture, with a view of what the goal is, how it is going to be when it's finished, whereas the music [Steve] Reich and [Terry] Riley and other people were composing was more like gardening. It was more like saying ‘Here are some seeds, I'm going to plant them and see what happens.’ I started to think I was more a gardener than an architect, and I still think that.”

“Drawing is important to me because it's the quickest way for me to find certain things out. A lot of the work I do begins with drawings, actually, including music.”

“I conceive of things as shapes and as systems and how those systems interweave with each other. If I make a drawing of it, does that drawing look interesting? Does it look like that would be something I would want to listen to? In a way, modern ways of making music are much more similar to painting than to traditional music.”

“I really don't finish things until I have a sense of what they are supposed to do in the world. What is this going to be? What will it turn into? If I do this to it, what will happen? My archive of unreleased work has 7,502 pieces of music. None of them are finished, but when I want to make something for a specific task, I usually start by taking one of these, and saying, Okay, this, I think I could make into that piece.”

“I don't know how to meditate, so I don't know if it's the same thing or not, but what I do like is just letting my mind wander, which means, first of all, forgetting about the fact that there's all this news going on. I don't want to be in that world of constant activity and other people's stuff. I seek occasions to enter that childlike state again. It doesn't mean you become more stupid or less adult or anything like that, but you've become less preoccupied I think, and more open to sensation, more open to your own deeper thoughts, the things that you know are always there and you don't often focus on.”

The Lighthouse represents Brian Eno’s ongoing exploration of this childlike, meditative space—a unique soundscape rooted equally in the restless experimentation which continues to underpin his art and the peace waiting to be rediscovered within each of us.

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