Think of “interviewing Brian Eno” (listen to it here) like a piece of his generative music. Yes, the man has no problems talking and actually encourages it. But input the same old questions about those same four albums (you know them, right?) and you get the same old answers as output. Feed in a completely different subject--like his favorite film soundtracks--and lo and behold, a very intriguing 80 minutes follows.
That’s what happened when Hugh Cornwell (lead vocalist of The Stranglers) interviewed Mr. Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno--that’s Brian to you--in 2013 for his short-lived internet radio show on film.
Eno has always had an interest in film. As he mentions in the second half of the show, he produced his 1976/78 album Music for Films not for any specific film, but in the hopes that they would be used for soundtracks in the future. Also, he hoped that the descriptive titles--“Alternative 3,” “Patrolling Wire Borders”--and the evocative music would lead listeners to create films in their heads. Since then every track has been used at least once, and documentarians like Adam Curtis have used Eno to great effect.
The only track, he reveals, on that album to be written for a film was closer “Final Sunset” put to great, transcendent use in Derek Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane.
But if you think Eno might choose similar ambient tracks or instrumentals during the rest of the interview, you’re in for a surprise.
As he grew up, Eno had no exposure to what was “cool” and what was not. And that led to an ear that heard things stripped of cultural context. When he plays a track from the musical Oklahoma called “The Farmer and the Cowboy,” we might just be able to put aside our memories of high school productions and hear the weird, humorous and very exciting vocal arrangement underneath. Similarly, despite not being the biggest fan of Elvis Presley at the time (“I was a snob,” Eno says), he selects this jaunty pop number “Didja Ever” from G.I. Blues. “One of the wittiest, cleverest bits of writing,” as he calls it, written by Sid Wayne and Sherman Edwards, who wrote at least one song in every subsequent Presley movie.
Eno also has space for the jazz of Miles Davis and the evocative score for Louis Malle’s 1961 film Elevator to the Gallows, in particular how it was recorded: improvised live while watching the screen. (Not mentioned: its huge influence on Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack.)
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.