Eno: A 1973 Mini-Doc Shows Brian Eno at the Beginning of His Solo Career

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

We’ve seen bits and pieces of the 1973 mini-doc Eno over the years, as it is such a rare and won­der­ful glimpse into the very begin­nings of Bri­an Eno’s career, and being the go-to footage for any doc about the man. Over the course of the film, we see Eno assembling/recording “The Paw-Paw Negro Blow­torch”, the sec­ond track on his debut album Here Come the Warm Jets. Right from the begin­ning, we see that Eno was true to his word and using the record­ing stu­dio as an instru­ment. With Derek Chan­dler by his side engi­neer­ing, we see Eno lay­er­ing one sound after anoth­er, remov­ing oth­ers, much like a painter. If you know the track, you notice it take form and shape, but there are things that would lat­er be “paint­ed over,” like a sitar solo (!) where the wigged out oscil­la­tor solo now sits. The film opens with Eno play­ing an arpeg­giat­ed bass line on a piano that also doesn’t make it into the song. (The bass instead is sup­plied by Bus­ta Jones, seen play­ing a two note riff with a lot of feel­ing.) Chris Sped­ding stops by to play “some­thing pure­ly Duane Eddy” on his gui­tar, ask­ing Eno “you’ll treat it lat­er?” “Prob­a­bly,” says Eno. (More like def­i­nite­ly).

“I have attempt­ed to replace the ele­ment of skill con­sid­ered nec­es­sary in music with the ele­ment of judge­ment,” Eno says ear­ly in the film, and a lis­ten to the fin­ished track reveals that judge­ment. And what do you know–the sitar *is* there, as are the piano lines, like a space in the can­vas where the orig­i­nal sketch can be seen.

We also get an amaz­ing, extend­ed glimpse at Eno’s note­books, which have popped up in var­i­ous books on Eno, includ­ing More Dark Than Shark and Visu­al Music. From the pro­fane to the pro­found, from draw­ings of gen­i­tals to detailed ana­log sys­tem dia­grams, it’s all here, and as far as we know the note­books, which he start­ed at 14, con­tin­ue to this day.

The film also makes the case for a lat­er Eno the­o­ry, that of the “sce­nius,” which he once described thus: “‘Sce­nius stands for the intel­li­gence and the intu­ition of a whole cul­tur­al scene. It is the com­mu­nal form of the con­cept of the genius.’”

For Eno in 1973, the sce­nius is the Por­to­bel­lo Road area where he can browse thrift stores, run into friends, and check in on designer/girlfriend Car­ol McNi­coll, who made all Eno’s glam out­fits. And he also talks about how Robert Fripp just stopped by on his way home one night and record­ed side one of their team-up album No Pussy­foot­ing.

All in all a ter­rif­ic look into the begin­ning of an artis­tic lega­cy, and a film that des­per­ate­ly needs a pris­tine new trans­fer. (And no, you will nev­er con­vince me that the Portsmouth Sin­fo­nia is any good.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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)

Bri­an Eno Reveals His Favorite Film Sound­tracks

Bri­an Eno Explains the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

Dis­cov­er the Appre­hen­sion Engine: Bri­an Eno Called It “the Most Ter­ri­fy­ing Musi­cal Instru­ment of All Time”

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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