“How is Brian Eno still finding uncharted waters after half a century spent making music?” asked The Verge’s Jamieson Cox after the release of Eno’s 25th album, The Ship. Calling it a “dark near-masterpiece,” The Onion’s A.V. Club expressed similar astonishment. The album “can hold its own among the very best in a career full of brilliant work…. Forty-one years after Another Green World, Eno is still foraging for new musical ground, and what he’s able to come up with is nothing short of miraculous. When listening to The Ship, we get the sense that he will never stop.”
Should you think that an exaggeration, note that since The Ship, Eno has already released yet another critically acclaimed ambient album, Reflection—like its predecessor, a somber soundtrack for somber times. And like another endlessly productive multimedia artist of his generation, Laurie Anderson, Eno hasn’t only continued to make work that feels deeply connected to the moment, but he has adapted to wave after wave of technological innovation, this time around, harnessing artificial intelligence to create a “generative film” drawn from The Ship’s title track (below).
You can see a trailer for the film at the top of the post, but this hardly does the experience justice, since each viewer’s—or user’s—experience of it will be different. As Pitchfork describes the project: “On a website, ‘The Ship’ plays, and the user can click on tweets of news stories, which appear alongside historical photos.” The film utilizes “a bespoke artificial intelligence programme,” the site explains, “developed by the Dentsu Lab Tokyo,” exploring “various historical photographic images and real-time news feeds to compose a collective photographic memory of humankind.” (Dentsu received a prestigious prize nomination from the European Commission for their work.)
It’s a conceptually grandiose project—which makes sense given its source material. The Ship, the musical project, takes its inspiration from the Titanic, “the ship that could never sink,” Eno told The New York Times, “and… the First World War was the war that we couldn’t possibly lose—this mentality suffused powerful men. They get this idea that, ‘We’re unstoppable, so therefore, we’ll go ahead and do it….’ And they can’t.” Eno continues in this vein of tragic exploration with the film, remarking in a statement:
Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia: the hubris of our ever-growing power contrasts with the paranoia that we’re permanently and increasingly under threat. At the zenith we realise we have to come down again… we know that we have more than we deserve or can defend, so we become nervous. Somebody, something is going to take it all from us: that is the dread of the wealthy. Paranoia leads to defensiveness, and we all end up in the trenches facing each other across the mud.
The interactive visual representation takes these themes even further, asking how much we as spectators of hubris and paranoia are complicit in perpetuating them, or perhaps changing and shaping their direction through technology: “Does the machine intelligence produce a point of view independent of its makers or its viewers? Or are we—human and machine—ultimately co-creating new and unexpected meanings?”
You be the judge. See your own personalized version of Eno’s The Ship film here.