BBC Four aired Another Green World, an hour-long program on The Domed One which contains a greater quantity of closer, more revealing footage than anything I've seen about him. Much is shot in his personal workspace, and as a fan of seeing the personal workspaces of those whose output I admire — I'd watch, or make, docs just about those — I was delighted. I find Eno's office aesthetically appealing and give the look and feel of the documentary a similar thumbs-up. It's got vivid archival footage, though not nearly enough of it, and some of the most pleasing B-roll I've seen in years — Eno cycling, Eno on the beach, Eno's bookshelves, that sort of meditative stuff.
Alas, the producers also lean on that accursed documentarian's trope, the Grainy, Semi-Ironic Old Stock Footage Tangentially Related to the Subject. This is easier to take in an English production than in American one, which tends to indulge the clichéd impulse to satirize the country's New Frontier hokiness, but still. Whenever someone besides Errol Morris pulls this move, it has a way of going sour. Access to the sprawling, no doubt labyrinthine BBC clip archives seems to be a blessing as well as a curse, and in any case it must present enormous temptation. But what might this show have looked like if those weren't available? I can't help but think it'd have been forced into more interesting choices.
The program's content is sound — though again, there's a bit too little of it — and it prompted the following reactions from me:
"I started making music deliberately to create a more desirable reality," Eno recalls. I like this as a goal for art-making — or for anything-making, really. It's not the only acceptable one, nor would I even argue that it's the "best," but I personally find it quite valid indeed. If I want to make something, I want to make it so as to envision a reality where that thing exists. A different aim of art would be, for example, the oft-claimed desire to hold a mirror up to society so as to force it to face its wrongs. Michael Haneke does this, avowedly and aggressively, but I find the results it produces much more uneven (to put it mildly) than Eno's.
There's a gangly, afro'd fellow hanging around Eno's studio early on in the show. Upon first seeing him slouching in his chair, I thought, "Hey! That fellow's a dead ringer for Malcolm Gladwell." Turns out it actually is Malcolm Gladwell, though the reason for his presence remains obscure. (Maybe he suspects Eno is an Outlier of some kind, and thus requires further observation?) They do have a smart exchange later about technology's homogenization of songs and the "internal audience" phenomenon whereby Gladwell (admittedly) writes primarily for his editor, not his readership, and music producers (Eno asserts) produce for other producers. I bet internal audiences are even more powerful than this hints.
Eno wears one of those nerd cords on the back of his glasses. Dude, I know you're 60, but come on.
Some of the books visible on Eno's wall of shelves:
Frank McCormick, The Menace of Japan
Burdett and Sudjic, The Endless City (a fascinating looking Phaidon book I'd never seen before — given my current interest in Mexico City, which it covers, I may look for it)
Robert Wright, Nonzero
Bruce Mau, New Tokyo Life Style Think Zone
Koolhaas, Werlemann and Mau's S, M, L, XL
Something with "Nick Cave" on the spine
Robert McKee, STORY (oy)
Something about Gaudí
Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars, The Seven Cultures of Capitalism
Something by W.G. Sebald
Simon and Burns' The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood
"I make systems that produce music," Eno claims, as opposed, I assume, to simply making music. This perhaps explains his long-standing claim to be a "non-musician" who just happens to make music, though, in a sequence where he composes a track to the sound of the rain outside, he certainly appears to be making music like anyone else. But you never know what's going on inside the Dome. The notion that "simple systems can produce complex results," he says, remains "a revolutionary idea" to him. It's arguably the guiding light of most of his work to date.
Jeeziz, there's a lot of needless cutting in these interviews. Maybe something went wrong with one of the cameras?
Eno's other angle on the purpose of art: "What artists do is celebrate and draw attention to philosophical ideas." Though I'd never thought about it that way, I suppose I agree. But the thought comes in the context of Eno's growing yen for world governance, which, I will admit, squicks me a little bit. I'm not opposed to an Earth government per se; I'm just uncomfortable with government on an inescapable level. I'm one of those types that thinks the only thing a country really must offer its citizens is the right to emigrate, you see, and until we can emigrate from Earth...
One of Eno's early epiphanies, or Hansonian "viewquakes," came from reading Stafford Beer's Brain of the Firm, a book about cybernetics and corporate management, of all things. The foremost Beer historian (yes, there is one) even stops by Eno's office to chat with him about the man's influence. Beer was somewhat polymathic and seriously eccentric, which only stokes my interest in learning about him, though it seems to have taken a mind like Eno's to transpose his thoughts on business to music and visual art. This is kind of why I keep picking up Peter Drucker; I just know I could fruitfully plant his management-centric ideas in other fields.
(Still seeking a suitable spot for the pun Brian of the Firm.)
There's this aggravating passage where a dude stands in front of a 21st-century jukebox and keeps punching various tracks from bands and artists with whom Eno has worked. We hear brief, brief clips of these songs as names scroll up the screen, just like they used to do in those old compilation tape TV commercials. I never knew he'd collaborated — or at least played — with Icehouse on Measure of Measure, a record I actually own. 25 cents at Half Price Books. Sweet deal. (For the record, I also hadn't realized that its European cover art its so much cooler than its North American cover art.)
"Instead of shooting arrows at somebody else's target, which I've never been good at," Eno says, "I make my own target around wherever my arrow happens to have landed." Seems like a smart move. Maybe The Smart Move.
Discussing his newest installation, 77 Million Paintings, he describes viewers sitting there and watching the shifting visuals for up to "four hours, sometimes." Having seen it set up at Cal State Long Beach, I can understand the compulsion. I remained there for 45 minutes, but if I'd come by myself, it'd probably have been more like four hours. Truly, he'd crafted a little piece of "more desirable reality" right there.
Eno feels that, among the young, music isn't as vitally important as it once was, that "the currency is devalued in some way." He doesn't see the strong opinions and identity-building around music that he did when he was a lad, but that's not to say that he observes that kids enjoy music any less: "What they really like is going to festivals. What they really like is exchanging music on Facebook, not for the music but for the fact of the exchange, for the communication." He totally gets art as a social tool, and, I suspect, has gotten it for a long time. (At 25, I've only recently gotten it.) He claims to have over 1500 unreleased pieces sitting unreleased on his hard drive. "They are meaningless until I release them."
See also Imaginary Landscapes, from the mid-eighties.