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The World Changing Artist: Working With Brian Eno

Posted: 04/11/11 00:00

Brian Eno was the first 'full time' artist I had ever met when we first began work on what would become the album Drums Between the Bells and its sister EP Panic of Looking.

I always felt like I was on a trip in the early days.

There was a garden shed in the middle of his studio the first time I visited. In the shed was a microscope. Curious, I thought, I wish I had one of those. Actually, I wish everybody could have one of those. Also nearby were some equally curious colonies for a studio: vials of scent for making perfume, a collection of colourful cigarette cartons from almost every nation in the world, and a pretty strange diagram on the wall that seemed to be showcasing different gradings of mullet haircut.

Hanging in a row on the far wall - like low slung strip lights - were several cheap stereos. They emitted the most engrossing generative music in shuffled sequences of sound and silence, never the same twice, like the real time soundtrack to a glacier ride. And several years later, while we worked, I sat and watched an early incarnation of a generative system of colours and motifs slowly creeping from one combination to crumble into another on a flat screen; 77 Million Paintings was in an early design phase.

These two immersive experiences could alter every time you engaged with them. You could call one 'music' and the other 'painting' but they were really the same, settling into your frame as they changed, almost imperceptibly, a little like the different levels of relaxation that can dawn on a person watching the sea. So a mind that may sit down worrying about the gas bill would soon find itself instead inhabiting a single movement of sound or image, that would break and wash again, and before long may even be meditating on a long forgotten happy memory, a fully restored UN or what might really be going on at CERN.

What they both epitomised was a focus not on end result, but ongoing creation. They encouraged every viewer or listener to create their own world, and never to hold on too tightly to what they had created.

Why do I mention all of this, and Brian's shed? Really because we approached making the works that became Drums Between the Bells and Panic of Looking in a similar vein, introducing 'words' or 'lyrics' to the mix, putting them on the same microscope slides to see what else they could suggest. 'Words and Music' belongs to a song tradition, and so do the tracks we made, but we were keen to open out the relationships implicit in that tradition, and our holy grail was this kind of pure 'active listening'. All of the tracks tell a story about this search, lyrics and voices and music taking their turns and moonlighting in each other's worlds.

My ideal vision as a 'poet' has always been this, making work with accessible and honest images that invites people in to make their own story, buckling into a vision but always leaving space in between the lines where my experience reaches limits and theirs takes over. I can enjoy 'poetic tradition' but I don't let it sway me from working from this one basic inclusive condition.

I would need a whole book just to explain Brian's approach to 'collecting' his artistic vocabularies and I have been inspired as much by this as any of the aspects of working with him. It is the most committed of 'full time jobs'. Brian remains curious and unsatisfied every single day and firmly believes, as I do, that what artists explore can change the world, and not in any Hollywood sense, but as a slow ongoing feedback between culture and society where possibilities are imagined.

We made dancing skeletons on and off for eight years, each time with different voices and selected lyrics and soundscapes we had been crafting. So it really is very lucky Brian ended up teaming up with Warp Records. Through them, we were able to get a real deadline, no need for expedition allegory now, we had a month to assess our experiments, and either finish them or bin them. 'That should sharpen our pencils', Brian said, with that twinkle in his eye.

A 'full version' of this article is available here : http://rickholland.posterous.com/

Panic of Looking is released on Warp Records on November 7th/8th

 

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