Even if you don't know who Brian Eno is, you know his music. The British composer and musician is responsible for classic albums like 'Here Come The Warm Jets' and 'Ambient 1: Music for Airports,' but he has also produced albums by Coldplay, U2 and the Talking Heads. Whether composing, playing or producing, Eno's music is essential and inescapable.
'77 Million Paintings,' an audio-visual installation by Eno, is on display in New York through June 2, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. He also recently stopped by the RBMA auditorium for an expansive conversation about his past and present work. Here are five things we learned.
1. This Is the Biggest Indoor Version of '77 Million Paintings' Ever
Eno has presented several versions of his '77 Million Paintings' installation. The largest outdoor version was in Sydney, Australia; the biggest indoor version is the one happening in New York right now.
2. '77 Million Paintings' Lets in the Sounds of the City
One of the requirements for this version of '77 Million Paintings' is that it be presented in a quiet place. But Eno also invites the sounds happening outside of the building – out in the city – into the work. “The music that I'm using there is designed to make any sounds you hear outside sound like they're part of the music,” Eno explains. “ There's quite a lot of quasi-musical material in the music which could sound a little bit like traffic or people leaning on car horns or breathing heavily or the sorts of things people do in cities: sneezing, cursing each other, knifing each other... the outside doesn't sound like it's not part of the music.”
3. Eno Likes Rough Edges
While talking about the emergence of new sounds, Eno philosophized about how roughness tends to accompany innovation. “The reason we like the Velvet Underground is not for their gloss,” he says. “It is for their roughness ― for the feeling we have that this was really just breaking out, and they didn't know how to make it better. When something is new, we don't know how to make it better. In fact, you don't even think you could make it better; you just think, 'Jesus, this is amazing.' The newness is such a big thrill... it's not even relevant to care about cleaning up all the edges.”
4. Eno Has 200,809 Unreleased Pieces of Music in his Archive.
When a RBMA participant asks him when he knows that a particular piece of work is finished, Eno admits that he has over 200,000 pieces of unreleased music in his personal archive. That's a lot of music. A whole lot. So how does Eno know when he's done with a piece of music? “When there's a deadline,” he says.
5. Eno Don't Surf
“It is something I don't do, by the way, but I have watched with some interest,” says Eno about surfing. He uses surfing as an analogy for the act of 'surrendering' that his work requires from listeners: we must deliberately let go of control, and let the music carry us along. “What you see when you watch someone surfing,” he says, “is they take control momentarily to situate themselves on a wave, and then they surrender – they're carried along by it – then they take control again, and they surrender.”