Brian Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Download His 2015 John Peel Lecture

Eno Peel Lecture

Image by BBC Radio 6

“Sym­phonies, per­fume, sports cars, graf­fi­ti, needle­point, mon­u­ments, tat­toos, slang, Ming vas­es, doo­dles, poo­dles, apple strudels. Still life, Sec­ond Life, bed knobs and boob jobs” — why do we make any of these things? That ques­tion has dri­ven much of the career (and indeed life) of Bri­an Eno, the man who invent­ed ambi­ent music and has brought his dis­tinc­tive, at once intel­lec­tu­al and vis­cer­al sen­si­bil­i­ty to the work of bands like Roxy Music, U2, and Cold­play as well as the realm of visu­al art. Back in Sep­tem­ber, he laid out all the illu­mi­nat­ing and enter­tain­ing answers at which he has thus far arrived in giv­ing the BBC’s 2015 John Peel Lec­ture.

We fea­tured Eno’s wide-rang­ing talk on the nature of art and cul­ture, as well as its util­i­ty to the human race, back when the Beeb offered it stream­ing for a lim­it­ed time only. But now they’ve made it freely avail­able to down­load and lis­ten to as you please: you can down­load the MP3 at this link.

You can also fol­low along, if you like, with the PDF tran­script avail­able here, which will cer­tain­ly be of assis­tance when you go to look up all the peo­ple, ideas, works of art, and pieces of his­to­ry Eno ref­er­ences along the way, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to the “STEM” sub­jects, Baked Alas­ka, black Chanel frocks, the Rie­mann hypoth­e­sis, Lit­tle Dor­rit, Morse Peck­ham, Coro­na­tion Street, air­plane sim­u­la­tors, the dole, Lord Rei­th, John Peel him­self, Basic Income, Lin­ux, and col­lec­tive joy.

If you haven’t had enough Eno after that — and here at Open Cul­ture, we nev­er get enough Eno — have a look at and a lis­ten to clips of a con­ver­sa­tion he recent­ly had with sci­ence writer Steven John­son, all of which have an intel­lec­tu­al over­lap with the Peel Lec­ture. The first deals with music, some­thing this self-pro­fessed “non-musi­cian” has done much more than his share of think­ing about. The sec­ond has to do with punch­lines, or rather, Eno’s con­cep­tion of a piece of art, not as a thing with val­ue in and of itself, but as a kind of punch­line on the order of “I used to have a car like that.” (To hear its set­up, you’ll have to watch the video.)

In the third, John­son and Eno dis­cuss an idea at the core of the Peel Lec­ture, Eno’s famous def­i­n­i­tion of cul­ture, and lat­er art: “Every­thing you don’t have to do.” That cov­ers all the afore­men­tioned sym­phonies, per­fume, sports cars, graf­fi­ti, needle­point, mon­u­ments, tat­toos, slang, Ming vas­es, doo­dles, poo­dles, apple strudels, still life, Sec­ond Life, bed knobs and boob jobs: “All of those things are sort of unnec­es­sary in the sense that we could all sur­vive with­out doing any of them,” Eno says, “but in fact we don’t. We all engage with them.” And if you want to know why we should keep engag­ing with them, and in fact engage with them more vig­or­ous­ly than ever, Eno can tell you.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear 150 Tracks High­light­ing Bri­an Eno’s Career as a Musi­cian, Com­pos­er & Pro­duc­er & Stream His 2015 John Peel Lec­ture

Jump Start Your Cre­ative Process with Bri­an Eno’s “Oblique Strate­gies”

Revis­it the Radio Ses­sions and Record Col­lec­tion of Ground­break­ing BBC DJ John Peel

Bri­an Eno Lists 20 Books for Rebuild­ing Civ­i­liza­tion & 59 Books For Build­ing Your Intel­lec­tu­al World

Lis­ten to “Bri­an Eno Day,” a 12-Hour Radio Show Spent With Eno & His Music (Record­ed in 1988)

When Bri­an Eno & Oth­er Artists Peed in Mar­cel Duchamp’s Famous Uri­nal

Prof. Iggy Pop Deliv­ers the BBC’s 2014 John Peel Lec­ture on “Free Music in a Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Toad says:

    He does well here to under­mine his notion of music as being cru­cial­ly about the “dif­fer­ences” as soon as he’s pre­sent­ed it. There’s no deny­ing the “sur­prise” ele­ment in the con­struc­tion of music, as the inter­view­er men­tions, and there is a thrill in music that seems com­plete­ly new in some way or anoth­er, as Eno is dis­cussing. But the oppo­site is equal­ly true for many of us, as Eno points out: old, famil­iar melodies can some­times be the most trans­port­ing.

    Upon Paul Bley’s recent death, some­one linked to an inter­view where he was empha­siz­ing new­ness as the only cri­te­ria for good music–if you’ve played it before, it’s crap, is what he said in almost so many words. Much of music his­to­ry is writ­ten that way–it’s only inno­va­tion that counts. But the expe­ri­ence of music in our lives does­n’t con­firm that, we seem to sometimes–often–find “beau­ty” even in expe­ri­ences that have been repeat­ed many times over, as we dig deep­er into the rich soil of old ground.

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