‘Two Voices,’ from my album with Peter Schwalm, is an intact dream-poem. I awoke one night with an image of a piece of paper and all the words of the poem written on it, so I just blundered down to the kitchen table and ‘copied it out.’
A big ego means that you have some confidence in your abilities, really, and that you’re prepared to take the risk of trying them out.
A part of me has become immortal, out of my control.
A way to make new music is to imagine looking back at the past from a future and imagine music that could have existed but didn’t. Like East African free jazz, which as far as I know does not exist.
Agressive music can only shock you once. Afterwards its impact declines. It’s inevitable.
All cultures have these feelings about non-functional areas of activity. And the more time people have on their hands, the more they commit it to those areas.
Although cover notes for classical music albums tend to say that the trill of flutes suggests mountain streams and so on, I don’t think anybody listens to music with the expectation that they’re going to be presented with a sort of landscape painting.
Although designers continue to dream of ‘transparency’ – technologies that just do their job without making their presence felt – both creators and audiences actually like technologies with ‘personality.’
Anything popular is populist, and populist is rarely a good adjective.
As soon as I hear a sound, it always suggests a mood to me.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the ambition of the great painters was to make paintings that were like music, which was then considered as the noblest art.
Avant-garde music is sort of research music. You’re glad someone’s done it but you don’t necessarily want to listen to it.
By the mid-’60s, recorded music was much more like painting than it was like traditional music. When you went into the studio, you could put a sound down, then you could squeeze it around, spread it all around the canvas.
Classical – perhaps I should say ‘orchestral’ – music is so digital, so cut up, rhythmically, pitchwise and in terms of the roles of the musicians. It’s all in little boxes. The reason you get child prodigies in chess, arithmetic, and classical composition is that they are all worlds of discontinuous, parceled-up possibilities.
Control and surrender have to be kept in balance. That’s what surfers do – take control of the situation, then be carried, then take control. In the last few thousand years, we’ve become incredibly adept technically. We’ve treasured the controlling part of ourselves and neglected the surrendering part.
Democracy is a daring concept – a hope that we’ll be best governed if all of us participate in the act of government. It is meant to be a conversation, a place where the intelligence and local knowledge of the electorate sums together to arrive at actions that reflect the participation of the largest possible number of people.
Editing is now the easiest thing on earth to do, and all the things that evolved out of word processing – ‘Oh, let’s put that sentence there, let’s get rid of this’ – have become commonplace in films and music too.
Emotion creates reality, reality demands action.
Even though I’m known as a pop musician, I have a seriousness about what I do.
Every band I’ve worked with also wants to be countercultural in the sense that they want to feel that they’ve gone somewhere that nobody else has been.
Every collaboration helps you grow. With Bowie, it’s different every time. I know how to create settings, unusual aural environments. That inspires him. He’s very quick.
Everybody is entertained to death.
Everybody thinks that when new technologies come along that they’re transparent and you can just do your job well on it. But technologies always import a whole new set of values with them.
Feelings are more dangerous than ideas, because they aren’t susceptible to rational evaluation. They grow quietly, spreading underground, and erupt suddenly, all over the place.
For instance, I’m always fascinated to see whether, given the kind of fairly known and established form called popular music, whether there is some magic combination that nobody has hit upon before.
For me it’s always contingent on getting a sound-the sound always suggests what kind of melody it should be. So it’s always sound first and then the line afterwards.
For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time.
Gospel music is never pessimistic, it’s never ‘oh my god, its all going down the tubes’, like the blues often is.
Honor thy error as a hidden intention.
Human development thus far has been fueled and guided by the feeling that things could be, and are probably going to be, better.
I always use the same guitar; I got this guitar years and years ago for nine pounds. It’s still got the same strings on it.
I believe in singing to such an extent that, if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing becomes a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for cooperation with others.
I believe in singing.
I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness, and a better sense of humor.
I belong to a gospel choir. They know I am an atheist but they are very tolerant.
I do like Burial; he’s so curiously clumsy, you can’t help but be moved. It’s so un-Hollywood, and the rhythms are so un-danceable.
I do love being in my studio. Especially at night.
I do sometimes look back at things I’ve written in the past, and think, ‘I just don’t remember being the person who wrote that.’
I don’t like celebrity programmes – but I do like programmes about how ideas are formed and evolve.
I don’t like headphones very much, and I rarely listen to music on headphones.
I don’t live in the past at all; I’m always wanting to do something new. I make a point of constantly trying to forget and get things out of my mind.
I don’t want to do free jazz! Because free jazz – which is the musical equivalent of free marketeering – isn’t actually free at all. It’s just constrained by what your muscles can do.
I enjoy working with complicated equipment. A lot of my things started just with a rhythm box, but I feed it through so many things that what comes out sounds very complex and rich.
I felt extremely uncomfortable as the focal point, in the spotlight. I really like the behind the scenes role, because all my freedom is there.
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.
I had a lot of trouble with engineers, because their whole background is learning from a functional point of view, and then learning how to perform that function.
I had wanted a tape recorder since I was tiny. I thought it was a magic thing. I never got one until just before I went to art school.
I hardly ever go into the studio with a work complete in my head. It emerges from communal activity.
I hate talking about music, to tell you the truth.
I hate the rock music tradition. I can’t bear it!
I have a definite talent for convincing people to try something new. I am a good salesman. When I’m on form, I can sell anything.
I have lived in countries that were coming out of conflict: Ireland, South Africa, the Czech republic. People there are overflowing with energy.
I have the ’77 Million Paintings’ running in my studio a lot of the time. Occasionally I’ll look up from what I’m doing and I think, ‘God, I’ve never seen anything like that before!’ And that’s a real thrill.
I know that if I had a television in my flat I would convince myself that everything on it was really interesting. I would say, ‘I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!’ is so sociologically fascinating that I think I’d better watch.
I like the idea of a kind of eternal music, but I didn’t want it to be eternally repetitive, either. I wanted it to be eternally changing. So I developed two ideas in that way. ‘Discreet Music’ was like that, and ‘Music for Airports.’ What you hear on the recordings is a little part of one of those processes working itself out.
I love San Francisco and Brighton has something of San Francisco about it. It’s by the sea, there’s a big gay community, a feeling of people being there because they enjoy their life there.
I love good, loud speakers.
I make a lot of pieces of music that I never release as CDs.
I never wanted to write the sort of song that said, ‘Look at how abnormal and crazy and out there I am, man!’
I often say to people that producing is the best-paid form of cowardice. When you produce things, you almost always get credit if it’s a good record, but you hardly ever get the blame if it’s not! You don’t really take responsibility for your work.
I often work by avoidance.
I periodically realize every few years that the only person whose taste I really trust is me.
I see TV as a picture medium rather than a narrative medium.
I set up situations that involve abandoning control and finding out what happens.
I suppose I am reluctant about being any sort of ‘star’ and I didn’t particularly want to be portrayed as one.
I take sounds and change them into words.
I think I’ve committed the one really bad English crime, which is I’ve risen above my station. I was supposed to be a pop star, and suddenly I’m claiming that I’m an artist of some kind.
I think audiences are quite comfortable watching something coming into being.
I think everyone’s inherently snobbish. Things that are very popular are not taken seriously, because the snobbish side of one says, ‘Well, if everyone likes it it can’t be that good.’ Whereas if only I and a couple of other people like it, then it must be really something special.
I think generally playing live is a crap idea. So much of stage work is the presentation of personality, and I’ve never been interested in that.
I think it’s a myth that American public or any other public is so stupid that they need to be constantly pricked.
I think most artists would be happy to have bigger audiences rather than smaller ones. It doesn’t mean that they are going to change their work in order necessarily to get it, but they’re happy if they do get it.
I think one of my pursuits over the years is trying to answer the question of, ‘What else can you do with a voice other than stand in front of a microphone and sing?’
I think that technology is always invented for historical reasons, to solve a historical problem. But they very soon reveal themselves to be capable of doing things that aren’t historical that nobody had ever thought of doing before.
I think there’s a lot of similarity between what people try to do with religion with what they want from art. In fact, I very specifically think that they are same thing. Not that religion and art are the same, but that they both tap into the same need we have for surrender.
I think we’re about ready for a new feeling to enter music. I think that will come from the Arabic world.
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.
I trust my taste. I trust it completely and I always have done, and I’ve always thought it isn’t that different from everybody else’s.
I used to think that, given enough goodwill, anybody would be able to ‘get’ any music, no matter how distant the culture from which it came. And then I heard Chinese opera.
I want to make something that is breathtaking. Of course, you can’t make something that is always breathtaking, or you would never be able to breathe. You would collapse.
I want to rethink ‘surrender’ as an active verb.
I wanted to get rid of the element that had been considered essential in pop music: the voice.
I would like to see a future where artists think that they have a right to contemplate things like global warming.
I wouldn’t call myself a synaesthete in the sense that Nabokov was. But I’ll talk about a sound as being cold blue or dark brown. For descriptive purposes, yes, I often see colors when I’m listening to music and think, ‘Oh, there’s not enough sort of yellowy stuff in here, or not enough white.’
I’d been making music that was intended to be like painting, in the sense that it’s environmental, without the customary narrative and episodic quality that music normally has. I called this ‘ambient music.’ But at the same time I was trying to make visual art become more like music, in that it changed the way that music changes.
I’d love it if American kids were listening to Muslim music.
I’m a painter in sound.
I’m actually an evangelical atheist, but there is something I recognise about religion: that it gives people a chance to surrender.
I’m always interested in what you can do with technology that people haven’t thought of doing yet.
I’m always interested in what you can do with technology that people haven’t thought of doing yet. I think that’s sort of a characteristic of the way I’ve worked ever since I started.
I’m an atheist, and the concept of god for me is all part of what I call ‘the last illusion.’ The last illusion is someone knows what is going on. Nearly everyone has that illusion somewhere, and it manifests not only in the terms of the idea that there is a god but that it knows what’s going on but that the planets know what’s going on.
I’m bloody awful at multi-tasking.
I’m fascinated by musicians who don’t completely understand their territory; that’s when you do your best work.
I’m not interested in possible complexities. I regard song structure as a graph paper.
I’m often accused of being ahead of my time, but it’s simply not true. The truth is that everybody else is behind.
I’m very good with technology, I always have been, and with machines in general. They seem not threatening like other people find them, but a source of fun and amusement.
I’m very opinionated.
I’ve discovered this new electronic technique that creates new speech out of stuff that’s already there.
I’ve got a feeling that music might not be the most interesting place to be in the world of things.
I’ve got nothing against records – I’ve spent my life making them – but they are a kind of historical blip.
I’ve had quite a lot of luck with dreams. I’ve often awoken in the night with a phrase or even a whole song in my head.
I’ve noticed a terrible thing, which is I will agree to anything if it’s far enough in the future.
If I had a stock of fabulous sounds I would just always use them. I wouldn’t bother to find new ones.
If I tried to make a commercial album, it would be a complete flop. I have no idea what the world at large likes.
If you are part of a religion that very strongly insists that you believe then to decide not to do that is quite a big hurdle to jump over. You never forget the thought process you went through. It becomes part of your whole intellectual picture.
If you grow up in a very strong religion like Catholicism you certainly cultivate in yourself a certain taste for the intensity of ideas.
If you want to make computers that really work, create a design team composed only of healthy, active women with lots else to do in their lives, and give them carte blanche.
If you want to make someone feel emotion, you have to make them let go. Listening to something is an act of surrender.
If you watch any good player, they’re using different parts of their body and working with instruments that respond to those movements. They’re moving in many dimensions at once.
If you’re in a forest, the quality of the echo is very strange because echoes back off so many surfaces of all those trees that you get this strange, itchy ricochet effect.
If you’ve spent a long time developing a skill and techniques, and now some 14 year-old upstart can get exactly the same result, you might feel a bit miffed I suppose, but that has happened forever.
In England and Europe, we have this huge music called ambient – ambient techno, ambient house, ambient hip-hop, ambient this, ambient that.
In my normal life I’m a very unadventurous person.
In the 1960s when the recording studio suddenly really took off as a tool, it was the kids from art school who knew how to use it, not the kids from music school. Music students were all stuck in the notion of music as performance, ephemeral. Whereas for art students, music as painting? They knew how to do that.
In the 1960s, people were trying to get away from the pop song format. Tracks were getting longer, or much, much shorter.
In the future, you won’t buy artists’ works; you’ll buy software that makes original pieces of ‘their’ works, or that recreates their way of looking at things. You could buy a Shostakovich box, or you could buy a Brahms box. You might want some Shostakovich slow-movement-like music to be generated. So then you use that box.
In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, it now seems clear that the shock of the attacks was exploited in America.
Instruments sound interesting, not because of their sound, but because of the relationship a player has with them. Instrumentalists build a rapport with their instruments, which is what you like and respond to.
It must be quite mysterious to some people why I bother to carry on. Because, you know, I don’t sell that many records.
It’s actually very easy for democracy to disappear.
It’s insane that, since the Beatles and Dylan, it’s assumed that all musicians should do everything themselves. It’s that ridiculous, teenage idea that when Mick Jagger sings, he’s telling you something about his own life. It’s so arrogant to think that people would want to know about it anyway!
It’s nice, I think, when people use your music for things you didn’t think of.
It’s not the destination that matters. It’s the change of scene.
Law is always better than war.
Lyrics are always misleading because they make people think that that’s what the music is about.
Lyrics are the only thing to do with music that haven’t been made easier technically.
Most game music is based on loops effectively.
Most of those melodies are me trying to find out what notes fit, and then hitting ones that don’t fit in a very interesting way.
Most people have no idea what something would sound like if it wasn’t an MP3.
Music in itself carries a whole set of messages which are very, very rich and complex, and the words either serve to exclude certain ones or point up certain others.
Musicians are there in front of you, and the spectators sense their tension, which is not the case when you’re listening to a record. Your attention is more relaxed. The emotional aspect is more important in live music.
My guitar only has five strings ’cause the top one broke and I decided not to put it back on: when I play chords I only play bar chords, and the top one always used to cut me there.
My kind of composing is more like the work of a gardener. The gardener takes his seeds and scatters them, knowing what he is planting but not quite what will grow where and when – and he won’t necessarily be able to reproduce it again afterwards either.
My lyrics are generated by various peculiar processes. Very random and similar to automatic writing.
My shows are not narratives.
Nearly all the things I do that are of any merit at all start off just being good fun, and I think I’m sort of building up to doing something else quite soon.
Of course, like anybody I repeat myself endlessly, but I don’t know that I’m doing it, usually.
Once I started working with generative music in the 1970s, I was flirting with ideas of making a kind of endless music – not like a record that you’d put on, which would play for a while and finish.
Once music ceases to be ephemeral – always disappearing – and becomes instead material… it leaves the condition of traditional music and enters the condition of painting. It becomes a painting, existing as material in space, not immaterial in time.
Once you’ve grown to accept something and it becomes part of the system you’ve inherited, you don’t even notice it any longer.
One of the interesting things about having little musical knowledge is that you generate surprising results sometimes; you move to places you wouldn’t if you knew better.
One of the things you do when you make a piece of art is you try to make the world you’d rather be in.
One of the things you’re doing when you make art, apart from entertaining yourself and other people, is trying to see what ways of working feel good, what feels right.
One often makes music to supplement one’s world.
Our experience of any painting is always the latest line in a long conversation we’ve been having with painting. There’s no way of looking at art as though you hadn’t seen art before.
Painting, I think it’s like jazz.
People assume that the meaning of a song is vested in the lyrics. To me, that has never been the case. There are very few songs that I can think of where I remember the words.
People do dismiss ambient music, don’t they? They call it ‘easy listening,’ as if to suggest that it should be hard to listen to.
People like Frank Zappa and Bryan Ferry knew we could pick and choose from the history of music, stick things together looking for friction and energy. They were more like playwrights; they invented characters and wrote a life around them.
People tend to play in their comfort zone, so the best things are achieved in a state of surprise, actually.
Perhaps when music has been shouting for so long, a quieter voice seems attractive.
Pop is totally results-oriented and there is a very strong feedback loop.
Pop music can absorb so many peculiar talents, ranging from the completely nonmusical poseur who just uses music as a kind of springboard for a sense of style, to people who just love putting all that complicated stuff together, brick by brick, on their computers, to people like me who like playing conceptual games and being surprised.
Robert Fripp and I will be recording another LP very soon. It should be even more monotonous than the first one!
Set up a situation that presents you with something slightly beyond your reach.
Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness.
Software options proliferate extremely easily – too easily, in fact – because too many options create tools that can’t ever be used intuitively. Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one’s mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment.
Some people are very good at being ‘stars’ and it suits them. I’m grudging about it and I find it annoying.
Something I’ve realized lately, to my shock, is that I am an optimist, in that I think humans are almost infinitely capable of self-change and self-modification, and that we really can build the future that we want if we’re smart about it.
Sometimes you recognize that there is a category of human experience that has not been identified but everyone knows about it. That is when I find a term to describe it.
The English don’t like concepts, really, not from a pop star. It’s alright if they come from an ‘intellectual,’, but from a pop star you’re getting ahead of yourself. Part of the class game is that you shouldn’t rise above your station, and to start talking about concepts if you’re in the pop world is getting a bit uppity, isn’t it?
The Marshall guitar amplifier doesn’t just get louder when you turn it up. It distorts the sound to produce a whole range of new harmonics, effectively turning a plucked string instrument into a bowed one.
The artists of the past who impressed me were the ones who really focused their work.
The basis of computer work is predicated on the idea that only the brain makes decisions and only the index finger does the work.
The big message of gospel is that you don’t have to keep fighting the universe; you can stop, and the universe is quite good to you. There is a loss of ego.
The biggest crime in England is to rise above your station. It’s fine to be a pop star. ‘Oh, it’s great, lots of fun, aren’t they sweet, these pop stars! But to think you have anything to say about how the world should work? What arrogance!’
The computer brings out the worst in some people.
The dominant theory coming out of Hollywood is that peoples’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and they need more stimulation.
The earliest paintings I loved were always the most non-referential paintings you can imagine, by painters such as Mondrian. I was thrilled by them because they didn’t refer to anything else. They stood alone, and they were just charged magic objects that did not get their strength from being connected to anything else.
The lyrics are constructed as empirically as the music. I don’t set out to say anything very important.
The philosophical idea that there are no more distances, that we are all just one world, that we are all brothers, is such a drag! I like differences.
The point about melody and beat and lyric is that they exist to engage you in a very particular way. They want to occupy your attention.
The problem with fine art is that in most cases people have to make a special excursion to go and look at it: they can’t afford to own it. So it isn’t really part of their life in the way that music can be.
The prospect of music being detachable from time and place meant that one could start to think of music as a part of one’s furniture.
The reason I don’t tour is that I don’t know how to front a band. What would I do? I can’t really play anything well enough to deal with that situation.
The smart thing in the art world is to have one good idea and never have another.
The way ‘Lux’ was made is that there are 12 sections in here, though two of them are joined together. So there are really 11 sections, in a sense, and each one uses five notes out of a palette of seven notes, and my palette is all the white notes on the piano. That was the original palette.
The whole history of pop music had rested on the first person singular, with occasional intrusions of the second person singular.
There are certain sounds that I’ve found work well in nearly any context. Their function is not so much musical as spatial: they define the edges of the territory of the music.
We are increasingly likely to find ourselves in places with background music. No composers have thought to write for these modern spaces, which represent 30% of our musical experience.
Well, there are some things that I just can’t get out of my head, and they start to annoy me after a while. Sometimes they’re of my own creation, as well – and they’re just as annoying. It’s not only other people’s ear worms that bug me, it’s my own, as well.
What I believe is that people have many modes in which they can be. When we live in cities, the one we are in most of the time is the alert mode. The ‘take control of things’ mode, the ‘be careful, watch out’ mode, the ‘speed’ mode – the ‘Red Bull’ mode, actually. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s all part of what we are.
When I finish something, I want it out that day. Pop music is like the daily paper. Its got to be there then, not six months later.
When I first started making ambient music, I was setting up systems using synthesizers that generated pulses more or less randomly. The end result is a kind of music that continuously changes. Of course, until computers came along, all I could actually present of that work was a piece of its output.
When I started making my own records, I had this idea of drowning out the singer and putting the rest in the foreground. It was the background that interested me.
When I started working on ambient music, my idea was to make music that was more like painting.
When I was young, an eccentric uncle decided to teach me how to lie. Not, he explained, because he wanted me to lie, but because he thought I should know how it’s done so I would recognise when I was being lied to.
When I went back to England after a year away, the country seemed stuck, dozing in a fairy tale, stifled by the weight of tradition.
When governments rely increasingly on sophisticated public relations agencies, public debate disappears and is replaced by competing propaganda campaigns, with all the accompanying deceits. Advertising isn’t about truth or fairness or rationality, but about mobilising deeper and more primitive layers of the human mind.
When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it’s the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone’s talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false ‘intelligence’ and selected ‘leaks.’
When we go out to the country and just sit there, what we’re really doing is just switching off various kinds of alertness that we don’t have to use. When we do that, we are stopping being defensive. We are no longer shutting ourselves off from different types of experiences, we are welcoming them in.
When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings – to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.
With recording, everything changed. The prospect of music being detachable from time and place meant that one could start to think of music as a part of one’s furniture. It’s an idea that many composers have felt reluctant about because it seemed to them to diminish the importance of music.
You can’t have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits, it keeps becoming something else.
You can’t really imagine music without technology.
You either believe that people respond to authority, or that they respond to kindness and inclusion. I’m obviously in the latter camp. I think that people respond better to reward than punishment.
Zappa was very technical and impressed by things that were musically challenging – weird time signatures, strange keys, awkward chord sequences. Zappa was important to me as an example of everything I didn’t want to do. I’m very grateful to him, actually.
Quotes by Brian Eno
Quotes by Brian Eno
‘Two Voices,’ from my album with Peter Schwalm, is an intact dream-poem. I awoke one night with an image of a piece of paper and all the words of the poem written on it, so I just blundered down to the kitchen table and ‘copied it out.’