“Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” — From the first card of the first deck of Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas, by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt
At 53, Brian Eno — producer, artist, professor, diarist, thinker, multi-instrumentalist, and self-proclaimed nonmusician — continues to influence the realms of pop music, musical experimentation, installation art, and cultural theory. His mark on the evolution of music and creative theory is staggering. Few contemporary artists, from Aphex Twin to Radiohead, can deny having incorporated Eno's vocabulary into their work. Despite his numerous contributions, it is his ambient and experimental work that illuminates him most brightly under history's gaze, having earned him the title “father of ambient music.”
Eno himself coined the term ambient when describing the minimal sound of his landmark 1975 album Discreet Music, a genre solidified by his 1978 release Ambient 1: Music for Airports and 1984's Thursday Afternoon. His career took flight in the early '70s when he graduated from art school to pop stardom in flamboyant, cross-dressing style as the man on synthesizer and tapes in the seminal art-rock group Roxy Music. In 1973, after recording the band's eponymous debut album and For Your Pleasure, Eno quit Roxy Music because of conflicts with singer Bryan Ferry; Eno immediately recorded the esoteric No Pussyfooting with Robert Fripp. His work with Fripp and Frippertronics paved the way for future experimentation with distorted and looped guitar sounds. Always a step ahead of his time, Eno was also an early pioneer of sampling, which he featured on his 1981 collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
Throughout the years, Eno has collaborated as producer and musician with artists such as Talking Heads, John Cale, and James. He helped reshape the face of pop on David Bowie's Low, Heroes, and Lodger releases and U2's The Joshua Tree, The Unforgettable Fire, Achtung Baby, and Zooropa.
In a lecture delivered at San Francisco's Imagination Conference in 1996, Eno explained how he is less interested in the artist than in systems of art making: “All of my ambient music really was based on that kind of principle, on the idea that it's possible to think of a system or a set of rules, which once set in motion will create music for you. … I quickly realized that, for me, this was the future for computers: computers seen not as ways of crunching huge quantities of data or storing enormous ready-made forests of material, but as the way of growing little seeds.”
Reflecting that theory is Eno's interest in generative music, music that creates itself through software, which has less to do with new technology than with a love of creative possibilities. Coupled with his ongoing aesthetic desire to explore and influence the listener's perception of time and space, he becomes both scientist and magician seeking to discover the essence of human experience. But Eno — pop star and experimental guru — lives somewhere between magic and science, in a supremely human space where intent and accident meet to create the most interesting conversations.