Has Brian Eno Changed How we Percieve Sound?
When we think of music today we no longer just think of musicians performing. The Idea of what music is has evolved aurally, artistically and technologically. Music can be made using a vast variety of instrumentation and recording techniques. Electronic music and sampling are common in popular music today. When I first heard Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails their use of unusual sounds fascinated me. I wanted to go deeper into the possibilities of what you could do with sound. Through further research, I found out that one of the most important figures in establishing new ways to look at sound was Brian Eno. So the purpose of my essay is to explore the recording aesthetics of Brian Eno and if this change in aesthetics has changed how we perceive sound.
Brian Eno's aesthetics reject technical prowess and musical virtuosity and embrace the idea of removing yourself from the process. Much like Andy Warhol removing his finger print from visual art, Eno was removing his finger print from audio art. I would argue that in both cases they still leave a finger print and that it is impossible not to, but the intention to remove oneself is an ideal in their aesthetics. Eno claims he is not a musician and approaches music with a meticulous randomness using a combination of mathematics and spirituality. Often using techniques based on a set of oracle cards he published called "Oblique Strategies" which he calls on during his creative process much like a psychic uses tarot cards. In "Oblique Strategies" he states "Honour thy error as a hidden intention." (Eno 1975). I think his aesthetics are largely about letting go enough to encourage spirituality. You can clearly feel this sense of spiritual release in his four-part ambient works and almost everything he's done since.
Some of Eno's compositions aim to retrain our consciousness to focus on the sounds in between sounds. The technique explored in the phase tape pieces of Steve Reich. Eno himself talks about the impact that the piece "It's Gonna Rain" had on him. This piece used the technique of many tape machines playing the same thing and running at different speeds making them fall out of synch. Which results in our brain focusing on the sounds that happen, in between the sounds that we would normally hear. You can clearly hear this technique used on Track 2 of "Music for airports". Music for Airports is often regarded as the first Ambient album. Eno himself coined the term ambient and that has now become a widely used term to describe an entire genre and also subgenres within many genres.
Eno spawned his career playing in Roxy Music, since leaving the band he has moved further and further away from the aesthetics of rock music and has actually stated his lack of interest in modern rock or pop music because he doesn't feel the spiritual connection to it anymore. Moving away from rock music in itself is a part of his aesthetics. Preferring quiet to loud, slow to fast and a nonconformist, experimental approach to capturing sound. Removing himself from his art and feeling unimportant, the opposite of being a rock star. Simon Frith (1995) states that Rock music is the music of the youth and many would argue that as people mature they abandon modern music clinging to the music of their youth. I, however, believe this is very different for each individual we all have the same child within us and are capable of taking in new ideas at any age. children are not stupid and adults are not boring.
Brian Eno worked with David Bowie and Tony Visconti on the Berlin trilogy (Low, Heroes, and Lodger). The many changing faces of David Bowie have often left quite a mark on popular culture and the aesthetics of these albums had a massive impact on what came next in popular music. Bands such as Joy Division, Human League, Gary Numan, U2, Talking Heads and Depeche Mode went on to bring electronic music to the masses. This influence would carry through to all the various genres of electronic and ambient music and permeate our culture. Eno's ideas have influenced artists who have gone on to influence the way we think about music as art, the way we present ourselves, our attitudes and our principles.
Brian Eno's music has been used in birthing suites and maternity wards albums such as "Discreet Music" and "Neroli." This can create a consistent atmosphere and allow for a certain level of meditation. My wife and I used "I Dormienti" during the birth of our first daughter Rei Protea Mitchell, we did a course in Hypno-birthing and found his music very in line with those principles and useful through the pregnancy and birthing process. We continued to use his music after the birth. The album we used during birth, "I Dormienti" (The Sleeping) was used as the soundtrack to a gallery of Mimmo Palidino's sculptures. With the aim to accompany the visual art by displaying sound in new spaces and in a new way.
Ambient soundscapes used in birthing suites and art galleries may be something that is not a part of most people's everyday life but Eno's sound design has been etched into our consciousness through the sound design in Microsoft word. From that gorgeous little sound, you hear when you turn your computer on to the sound it makes when an icon pops up on the screen or a download is complete. These sounds have become just as much a part of the fabric of sound around us, as the sound of the wind in the trees or the birds singing.
Eno has gone on to create an interactive mobile the phone app, "Bloom," allowing people to create their own ambient pieces of music simply by touching the phone screen incorporating visual and tactile elements into the process of creating a relaxing space. This app has sold more than any of Eno's albums, which is almost a self-fulfilled prophecy of Eno removing himself from his work. When you use the app the music it creates is very Brian Eno even though you are making the sounds yourself.
Eno has very recently been involved in experimental therapy using sound as part of a series of treatments on cancer patients. Taking his intuitions of how sound effects our neurology into bold new territories and science is only just scratching the surface of these almost spiritual ambitions. Sound Therapy has been used in psychology to explore neurological training and exploration for children, psychologically challenged and the elderly. I believe sound can heal us emotionally and to extend that thought into sound healing us physically is not outside the spectrum of possibilities.
In Conclusion, it is hard to deny that the way that we perceive sound has changed. The sound of technology surrounds the modern world the way once only nature could. Brian Eno is not the alpha and omega of this change but an undeniable part of it. I believe that Eno has helped to change the way we view music as art or even as anti-art. He has stretched the boundaries and given us a wider spectrum of how sound affects us. Therefore has changed the way that we perceive sound.