Eno: This article is a musical instrument

From an unknown publication. We don't know who wrote it, unfortunately. Or the date, although that could be 1975. Perhaps you could help us?

Studio = musical instrument
Gaining skills, losing innocence
Group of people = musical instrument
Eno's planned studio with Wyatt and Manzanera

Of all the people to interview about studios Brian Eno is perhaps one of the best. While many musicians can ramble on about studios in general and conventional terms, Eno has applied his usually unorthodox and questioning mind to the subject and come up with an attitude to recording that is refreshing enough to make anyone involved in recording music re-appraise his whole concept of just what a studio is for.

''If you had a sign above every studio door saying 'This Studio is a Musical Instrument' it would make such a different approach to recording'' he asserts as if unaware that he'd dropped something of a bombshell. ''You see my interest for quite a while has been in using the studio not as a machine that you feed input into and have it transferred onto a piece of tape. It's a means not simply of re-creating but of actually changing a sound. Sometimes it is even a source of that sound.''

"The only people who have really begun to solve this problem of the attitude to a studio are some of the Reggae people. You get an album like, say, King Tubby Meets the Upsetter where on the back of the album you get a picture of the consoles instead of the 'stars'. It just says, 'King Tubby's console and the Upsetter's console'."

Eno's use of tape machines as a source of that sound is perhaps best demonstrated on two of his albums with Robert Fripp, No Pussyfooting and the latest to be released, Evening Star. On these his doctored Revoxes produced both a drone effect which is quite hypnotic and a strangely lyrical sound. But, of course, you can go a hell of a lot further than merely employing tape machines, the E.Q. functions of a desk, digital delays, most studio units traditionally regarded as simple devices for altering or modifying a set sound. They can, and if Eno's ideas are followed through, should be employed as instruments in their own right.

Perhaps that fresh approach was borne of Eno's much quoted assertion of a few years back that he was a non-musician. Was that still the case?

''It was originally intended to indicate that my interest in music was in a set of ideas rather than in a set of techniques and it was intended to make a distinction between a body of opinion that saw music simply as a bundle of virtuosity and a bundle of skills which I don't think it is. Those skills are the vehicle for a set of ideas and it's the ideas that interest me. The obvious attraction of synthesizers for me was that there was no code of playing any of this new equipment and recording studio technology developed so quickly that nobody could say 'This is the right way to play a synthesizer'."

Of course, skills have been acquired during the years that Eno has been involved in both recording and playing - did that, following his argument, invalidate his original freshness?

"There are things that you can do when you're naive that you can't do when you're not naive anymore. For example, you'll never learn to draw like a child again so you have to accept that you can't do that and you say what you'll do is just draw as you are.''

His assertion that a studio is a musical instrument extends even further in that he also sees a group of people in the same light.

"You have a group of people together in a studio and you want to make a piece of music - that's why you're there, so what you have to do is look closely at that group of people and decide what particular strengths and weaknesses they have in what you're about to ask them to do. With session men most people treat them as if they're interchangeable. You get the best bass player you can but you tell him what to do. But the musicians I work with play a very creative role - they're not there as the executives of my ideas.''

"Perhaps every group of musicians should have written above them 'This Group is a Musical Instrument, treat it as such'."

''The idea for all this came from a remark that Robert Wyatt made to me when I asked him how Miles Davis did his arrangements, he said that he didn't rely on an arranger - he'd ring up a guy in New York and a guy in Paris and a guy in Los Angeles, tell them to be at such and such studio at 9 on November the 12th and take it from there. So, in that sense, his skill lies in choosing the artists as much as anything else."

Eno's feelings, quite logically, have led to him now building his own studio in collaboration with Phil Manzanera and Robert Wyatt. Presently things are still up in the air with final decision about the eventual location still not decided when the interview was held. Nevertheless, when the building is finalised the resulting studio should be very fine indeed.

Currently a search is under way for equipment but there's no real hurry until the building is finally chosen. Choices so far include an MCI 24 track tape machine, picked-up secondhand at little more than the cost of a secondhand 16 track which they had provisionally decided on. This will run through a 16 channel Helios desk prized from a now re-equipped Island Studios.

"The studio is rather purpose built for our needs because most studios have their limitations for our sort of work. A studio has to be set up (conventionally) to be profitable which means that they have to be able to record an orchestra one day and a flautist the next. Right from the start we decided that if we needed to record an orchestra we'd go to another studio and bring the tapes back to ours.''

''What we'll be buying for the studio really depends on what happens to be around at the time. One of the important things we've decided on though is that we'll be using DBX's rather than Dolbies because I believe that the DBX system of noise reduction is probably more versatile than the Dolby. Also to include a Dolby you have to do a lot of fairly complicated wiring whereas you just re-route through a DBX."

Monitor choice is also interesting. Quite deliberately Eno has chosen his own hi-fi system to be of average quality so that he can check-out his studio tapes on the sort of system most people will actually be listening to the final product on. Monitors, therefore, will follow the same philosophy.

"The monitors that I've most often found appealing to me are Lockwood's with Tannoy Reds. I find that a lot of the newer monitors with horns and whatever are very exciting to listen to but are also very tiring when you have to monitor on them for ten hours a day."

Moving further through studio technique, Eno now finds that the logical extension of his 'each studio is a musical instrument' theory is to record his synthesizers direct injected with him installed in the control room employing the desk as an extension of his synthesizer control panel, using the desk's E.Q. facilities as yet another control function and using the engineer in a more creative role than a mere obtainer of accurate sound reproduction.

Current production is that much of the new studio's work will be done in this way and as a result the control room is likely to occupy about 40 per cent of the total area available. This could even stretch to 50 per cent.

On the equipment side the synthesizer most often used by Brian is the AKS which he uses with two keyboards, one a touch keyboard and the other a fairly standard keyboard. Ocassionally he finds a use for a mini Moog but finds the sound a bit clean and more than a little predictable.

So, the result of Eno's moving from graphic art through to music and applying his approach of conveying an idea rather than a set of techniques moves through some strange areas. Although the idea, on the face of it, may seem a little rarified for the Rock business, they have a direct application and needn't be reflected in music which is obscure (although the title of his own record label, Obscure, may indicate it can well be). Some of Eno's music is as accessible as anything you'd hear on Radio One, but with a strongly definable air of quality about it which sets it apart from mere pop.