Brian Eno Presents a Crash Course on How the Recording Studio Radically Changed Music: Hear His Influential Lecture “The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool” (1979)

The rapid devel­op­ment of stu­dio tech­nol­o­gy in the 1960s could seem like some­thing of an avalanche, start­ed, say, by Phil Spec­tor, expand­ed by Bri­an Wil­son, who spurred the Bea­t­les and George Mar­tin, who inspired dozens of artists to exper­i­ment in the stu­dio, includ­ing Jimi Hen­drix. By the time we get to the 70s it begins to seem like one man dri­ves for­ward the progress of stu­dio as instru­ment, Bri­an Eno—from his work with Robert Fripp, to the refine­ment of almost ful­ly syn­thet­ic ambi­ent music, to his ground­break­ing work on David Bowie’s Berlin Tril­o­gy” and Talk­ing Heads’ Remain in Light in 1980.

Eno called him­self a “non-musi­cian” who val­ued the­o­ry over prac­tice. But we know this to be untrue. He’s a pro­found­ly hyp­not­ic, engag­ing com­pos­er, play­er, and even singer, as well as a vir­tu­oso prac­ti­tion­er of the stu­dio record­ing arts, which, by 1979, he had honed suf­fi­cient­ly to expound on in a lec­ture titled “The Record­ing Stu­dio as a Com­po­si­tion­al Tool.” By ’79, when Eno deliv­ered the talk cap­tured above at the Inau­gur­al New Music Amer­i­can Fes­ti­val in New York, he had already done so three times. In 1983, Down Beat mag­a­zine pub­lished the influ­en­tial lec­ture (read it here).

Eno dis­plays the crit­i­cal acu­men of Wal­ter Ben­jamin in dis­cussing the his­to­ry and cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of his art form, with philo­soph­i­cal­ly punchy lines like his take on jazz: “the inter­est­ing thing about impro­vi­sa­tions is that they become more inter­est­ing as you lis­ten to them more times. What seemed like an almost arbi­trary col­li­sion of events comes to seem very mean­ing­ful on relis­ten­ing.” A very Eno-like obser­va­tion, under­lin­ing his cen­tral the­sis, which he deliv­ers in a mea­sured series of claus­es to con­struct a sen­tence as long as some of his com­po­si­tions, but one, nonethe­less, with per­fect clar­i­ty:

In this lec­ture, I want to indi­cate that record­ed music, in cer­tain of its aspects, is an entire­ly dif­fer­ent art form from tra­di­tion­al music, and that the con­tem­po­rary com­pos­er, peo­ple like me, those who work direct­ly in rela­tion to stu­dios and mul­ti-track­ing and in rela­tion to record­ing tape, are, in fact, engaged in a dif­fer­ent, a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent, busi­ness, from tra­di­tion­al com­posers.

How does Eno make his case? Record­ed music sub­sti­tutes the “space dimen­sion” for the “time dimen­sion,” and thus has a “detach­able aspect,” it’s portable—and nev­er more so than now. Eno seems to antic­i­pate the cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal moment in 1979 when he says, “not only is the whole his­to­ry of our music with us now, in some sense, on record, but the whole glob­al musi­cal cul­ture is also avail­able.” This results in a break with the Euro­pean clas­si­cal tra­di­tion as com­posers acquire “a cul­ture unbound­ed, both tem­po­ral­ly and geo­graph­i­cal­ly.”

Before the devel­op­ment of record­ing tech­nol­o­gy in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, lim­i­ta­tions of time and space ensured that every musi­cal per­for­mance was a one of a kind event, over for­ev­er when it end­ed. In the 20th cen­tu­ry, not only could record­ing engi­neers repro­duce a per­for­mance infi­nite­ly, but with the medi­um of tape, they could cut, splice, rearrange, manip­u­late, and oth­er­wise edit it togeth­er. With mul­ti-track­ing, they could cre­ate a uni­fied whole from sev­er­al dis­parate record­ings, often from dif­fer­ent times and places. And, as the audi­ence for record­ed music was a mass con­sumer mar­ket, pop­u­lar musi­cal tastes, to some extent, began to shift the kind of music that got made. (Eno has since expressed high­ly neg­a­tive crit­i­cism of con­tem­po­rary music that relies too heav­i­ly on stu­dio tech­nol­o­gy.)

Eno begins rather dri­ly, but once he gets going, the lec­ture becomes total­ly engross­ing. He cov­ers the mix­ing of Sly and the Fam­i­ly Stone’s Fresh, dis­cuss­es Sly Dun­bar and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s stu­dio inven­tions, and those of his own Anoth­er Green World and Music for Air­ports. He offers a crash course on basic stu­dio tech­nol­o­gy, and describes own­ing a record­ing of a record­ed tele­phone mes­sage from Ger­many that sought appre­hen­sion of the Baad­er Mein­hoff gang by play­ing a record­ing of one of their voic­es. He may be one of the most cool­ly dis­pas­sion­ate artists in mod­ern pop­u­lar music, but Bri­an Eno is nev­er bor­ing. Read a tran­script of the lec­ture here.

via Techcrunch

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Explains the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

Bri­an Eno Cre­ates a List of His 13 Favorite Records: From Gospel to Afrobeat, Shoegaze to Bul­gar­i­an Folk

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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