Brian Eno on Creating Music and Art As Imaginary Landscapes (1989)

In Imag­i­nary Land­scapes, doc­u­men­tar­i­ans Dun­can Ward and Gabriel­la Car­daz­zo paint an impres­sion­is­tic video por­trait of Bri­an Eno: record pro­duc­er, visu­al artist, col­lab­o­ra­tor with the likes of U2 and David Bowie, ambi­ent music-invent­ing musi­cian, self-pro­claimed “syn­the­sist,” ear­ly mem­ber of Roxy Music, and co-cre­ator of the Oblique Strate­gies. Even if you’ve nev­er han­dled an actu­al deck of Oblique Strate­gies cards — and few have — you’ve sure­ly heard one or two of the Strate­gies them­selves in the air: “Hon­or thy error as a hid­den inten­tion.” “The most impor­tant thing is the most eas­i­ly for­got­ten.” “Do some­thing bor­ing.” The idea is to draw a card and fol­low its edict when­ev­er you hit a cre­ative block. This should, in the­o­ry, get you around the block, no mat­ter what you’re try­ing to cre­ate. Eno first pub­lished the Oblique Strate­gies with painter Peter Schmidt in 1975, and here in Imag­i­nary Land­scapes, four­teen years lat­er, you can hear him still excit­ed about the cards’ basic premise: if you fol­low arbi­trary rules and the­o­ret­i­cal posi­tions, they’ll lead you to cre­ative deci­sions you nev­er would have oth­er­wise made.

This short doc­u­men­tary com­bines inter­views of Eno with footage of him craft­ing sounds in his stu­dio, sim­u­lat­ing the echoes of a cave, say, then turn­ing that cave into a liq­uid. It weaves these seg­ments togeth­er with a trip through Amer­i­can cities like Los Ange­les, San Fran­cis­co, and New York, then back to the Wood­bridge, Suf­folk of Eno’s youth, then on to Venice, one of the world’s places that draws him irre­sistibly with its water­i­ness. Place itself emerges as one of Eno’s dri­ving con­cepts, not sim­ply as a source of inspi­ra­tion (though it seems to work that way for his video Mis­tak­en Mem­o­ries of Medieval Man­hat­tan), but as a form. When Eno talks about mak­ing albums, or images, or instal­la­tions, he talks about them as places for audi­ences to exist. In any phys­i­cal place, you’re pre­sent­ed with a cer­tain set of choic­es. You can’t always tell the delib­er­ate­ly designed ele­ments from the “nat­ur­al” ones, and hav­ing a rich expe­ri­ence demands that you active­ly use your own aware­ness. This, so Eno explains, guides how he builds “places” — imag­i­nary land­scapes, if you will — for lis­ten­ers, gallery­go­ers, record­ing artists, or him­self, try­ing to open up “the spaces between cat­e­gories” and “make use of the watcher’s brain as part of the process.” Look into his more recent projects, like his iPhone apps or his col­lab­o­ra­tions with bands like Cold­play or his tour­ing exhi­bi­tion 77 Mil­lion Paint­ings, and you’ll find him build­ing them still.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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