Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Brian Eno's Diary



I’ve long been an admirer of Brian Eno, and have lately been having a blast with his diary, "A Year With Swollen Appendices," which he kept in 1995. During the course of that year, he worked as producer with Bowie, U2 and James, in addition to his own musical projects, and found time to daily record his reflections—personal, quotidian, philosophical, unacademic, intuitive, autodidactic, humorous, and always interesting. I thought I’d collage a few choice ones:

April 17: [About his two little daughters] The girls naming their dolls: Irial comes up with names like Barassiwa, or Sharamooshala, or Ilazia Ha, all of which have very obscure pronunciations, whereas Darla’s are carefully considered permutations of Flower, Love, Heart And Beauty (such as Heart Love, Beauty Flower, Beauty Love Flower, etc.)

June 7: We all went to see Peter Gabriel in the evening at his enormous new/semi-derelict house in Holland Park. What a project to embark upon! He's a born DIY-er, but on a sort of cosmic scale…His interesting qualities are vision and stubbornness in about equal mixture—he’s so tenacious to his ideas. I give them up as soon as there's the least resistance, and try to find another way. He's like an army, unstoppable; I'm a guerilla, avoiding the main roads and looking for a good spot to snipe from.

We went for a coffee, and I asked him for a dress for Pagan Fun Wear. He had the idea to make something like a table worn as a dress, with gold cutlery, plates and serviettes on it—a meal served. Great idea, but very hard to get made in the time (especially since he wants to approve it first).

August 2: [On art] Trying to make things that can become better in other people's minds than they were in yours.

September 8: One history of music would chart the evolution and triumph of noise over purity in music. The Renaissance looked for clear, pure tones and coherent, stackable voices. Since then it has been outside all the way, with composer after composer looking for more raspy and complicated timbres. Indeed, if one measured noisiness of instrumentation on a scale of 100, the classical palette would stop at about 50, but the rock palette wouldn’t even start until about 30 (and would then continue all the way out to about 90—a figure constantly rising).

Distortion and complexity are the sources of noise. Rock music is built on distortion: on the idea that things are enriched, not degraded, by noise. To allow something to become noisy is to allow it to support multiple readings. It is a way of multiplying resonances. It is also a way of "making the medium fail”—thus giving the impression that what you are doing is bursting out of the material: "I'm too big for this medium."

October 3: Bowie called from a distant American hotel room to relay the O.J. verdict to me as it was delivered, describing the scene in court etc. Then it was on our TV too, so we were watching it together. I don't know what city he was in—Detroit, I think. Incredible tension, with Ito slowly going over all the rules. Then the verdict—and the beautiful sad face of Marcia Clark, outwitted by shysters.

March 22: Home early. Cinema: The Madness Of King George—betweeen so-so and OK. Like most movies, I shall probably never think of it again.

October 19: Reading Boorstin’s The Creators: what a bastard Beethoven sounds—arrogant, paranoid, disagreeable. Why am I still surprised when people turn out to be not at all like their work? A suspicion of the idea that art is the place where you become what you'd like to be—Peter Schmidt’s "more desirable reality"—rather than what you already are?

October 24: Interviews in the morning and visit to VH1 to do a chat show with J. D. Considine and others. Everyone talks ten-to-the-dozen and has immediate and passionate opinions about absolutely everything. This is TV passion—instant, intense, forgettable. I feel like a tweedy egghead snail—slow, careful.

[A letter to Dave Stewart of Eurythmics] A few years ago I came up with a new word. I was fed up with the old art-history idea of genius—the notion that gifted individuals turn up out of nowhere and light the way for all the rest of us dummies to follow. I became (and still am) more and more convinced that the important changes in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. I call this “scenius”—it means "the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene". It is the communal form of the concept of genius. This word is now starting to gain some currency—the philosopher James Ogilvy uses it in his most recent book.

One of the reasons I'm attached to this idea is that it is capable of dignifying many more forms of human innovation under its umbrella than the old idea of genius, which exemplifies what I called the “Big Man” theory of history—where events are changed by the occasional brilliant or terrible man, working in heroic isolation. I would prefer to believe that the world is constantly being remade by all its inhabitants: that it is a cooperative enterprise. Folk arts and popular arts have always been criticized because they tend to exhibit evolutionary incremental change—because they lack sufficient “Big Men” making shockingly radical and unpopular steps into the future. Instead the pop scene carries much of its audience with it—something the fine arts people are inclined to distrust: the secret question is, "How can it possibly be good if so many people like it?"

I think I've always been fascinated by diaries and journals (pre-blog blogs), and the latest addition to my collection is Kurt Cobain's, which is very smart and very funny—highly recommended. Feel free to recommend any of your favorites in the genre if you like.

24 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

Steely Dan fever is spreading.
The Pop View says: "Steely Dan? Is that what I’m reduced to? Christ, what’s next — posting James Taylor songs? Discussing the relative merits of New Edition and New Kids on the Block? (Although there’s a fascinating discussion to be had on how Maurice Starr is the black Colonel Tom Parker.)"

January 25, 2006 12:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

On Wikipedia in the Village Voice:
"Last fall, students at the University of South Florida contributed to Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, by writing entries for numpty, mohoger, japsoc, and gavilan. The definitions they gave were foggy (numpty, "tea from the land of nump"; gavilan, "a species of left-wing American focused solely on doom and gloom"). Their English professor, Alex Duensing, encouraged them to dream up more entries. When members of Wikipedia protested, he argued that his class had a "fundamental right to shape reality.""

January 25, 2006 12:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach on Swimming in the Movies.

January 25, 2006 12:17 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

As far as diaries go, I'm glad I have Wim Wender's My Time with Antonioni which helped prepare me for Beyond the Clouds. I am currently reading Philip Roth's autobiography, The Facts which in 1988 discusses the gap between truth and what is now called "truthiness" in an essay by Roth's literary alter ego Zuckerman.

January 25, 2006 8:37 AM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

A suspicion of the idea that art is the place where you become what you'd like to be—Peter Schmidt’s "more desirable reality"—rather than what you already are?

That statement to me is 75%true and 25% false...

And I like his "Scenius" theory

January 25, 2006 10:06 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I'm with you, rakesh. If horror fiction and dystopian sci-fi are any indication, art could be a place to exorcise fears about a less-desirable society.

January 25, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Oh man-- I'd forgotten about the Eno diary. I loved that thing. Tell me if I'm making this stuff up but isn't there (1) an entry about Eno purifying his urine and drinking it and (2) another about Bowie going into the booth during the Outside sessions and laying down a bunch of elaborate vocal takes; Eno has no clue what the hell he's up to, Bowie exits the booth and says "Mix the three takes together" and--voila!--it's a crazy harmonic bit for "I'm Deranged." (If that's not in the diary, I swear I read it in Q or Mojo... or maybe I just made it up entirely.)

January 25, 2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ben--You're too polite. :-)
The urine wasn't, er, purified. He recorded the results of his experiment afterwards. "Doesn't taste like much of anything".
Yuck.
Yes, it's possible to take experimentalism too far...
Haven't run across the Bowie story yet; sounds cool though.
This is one of those books meant for "random access", not "sequential access". I just open up a page and dive in.

January 25, 2006 4:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I haven't seen The New World yet. (Soon, very soon.)
Matt Zoller Seitz has a post on it, which I won't read till afterwards.

January 25, 2006 4:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Over winter break, I lapsed once again into my nocturnal rhythms. Now that school's begun, and I have classes to be alert for, I need to get back to being a morning person, which is not happening; sleep deprivation all around. Need to break the bad night-owl cycle.

January 25, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello gloats over the Film Comment Selects schedule. :-)
And Ishtar looked like a disaster when I first saw it, years ago. But is it, er, misunderstood, or is it just really bad? (If anyone's seen it lately.)

January 25, 2006 5:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great Frank McCourt anecdote at TMFTML.

January 25, 2006 5:06 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

That McCourt interview is just fascinating.

January 25, 2006 6:27 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

One more Eno anecdote:
I'm reading the Low entry in the superb 33 1/3 series. In it we learn that Eno (unsuccessfully) lobbied to have "Non-Musician" entered as the occupation on his passport. The British Government did not find it amusing and rejected the request.

January 25, 2006 7:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ben, that's a beaut.
Thanks for the Low recommendation.
(I love the album; also Lodger.)
Haven't kept up with the 33 1/3 series in a while.

January 25, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

So far, at least seven for Code Unknown on Monday Feb 13:
Darren, Flickhead, David, Zach, Eric, Doug, et moi.
Possibly more as the day draws near.
And if we're going to do this kind of kinoblog kollective post on a semi-regular basis, we need a strong catchy name for it.
The Orgy was too Showgirls-specific.
We'll need something more universally applicable.

January 25, 2006 10:21 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

I think Darren was the one who originally came up with 'Blog-a-thon,' which I think works. I used it in the (hastily-thrown-together) banner announcement on the top of my blog. If anyone wants to use the banner on their site, feel free.

January 26, 2006 3:39 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Sure, Flickhead, that works.

January 26, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ben et al.--
If you wanna recommend any faves in the 33 1/3 series, please do. I have an Amazon cart itching to be nudged into the "free shipping" zone.

January 26, 2006 9:28 AM  
Anonymous sacha said...

Oooh, the entries are great--thanks for this. I'll go buy it.

Unrelated, I watched "You, Me, and Everyone We Know" last night. How great is that movie. I wanted to makeout with the whole cast.

January 26, 2006 5:23 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Of the 33 1/3 titles I've read, I'd recommend Low, Sign 'O' the Times, OK Computer, and Velvet Underground and Nico. Looking forward to reading the books on Entroducing... and Doolittle. (Over at the 33 1/3 blog--link above--they've announced 21 upcoming titles. I know you'll be happy, G.; two of the titles are 69 Love Songs and Aja.)

January 26, 2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Sacha--Speaking of diaries, I love the one from 1983 that you found in the alley and have posted hundreds of images from. It's the stuff of legend now. Could fetch a handy sum in a blog auction.

Ben--You're a master musicarchaeologist.
There's one on *Endtroducing*? Unbelievable. Have to get that right away. And the new ones sound great too. Had no idea the series had a blog of its own.

January 26, 2006 6:13 PM  
Anonymous sacha said...

The "1967, The Year of Perry Mason" diary I sometimes post enteries from was found in an alley.

I found that 1983 diary in the closet--it's mine! I've changed so little...

January 26, 2006 9:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

OMG. All this while, I've been thinking they're the same diary. [duh]
The 1983 diary now takes on a whole new significance. I need to re-peek at some of those posts.
Blog archives: what a great concept.

January 26, 2006 9:20 PM  

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