Throughout his career Brian Eno has been in demand as a producer. Opal's official biographical note by Mark Edwards noted:
his production technique is more akin to the way a management consultant works than the way a conventional record producer works; that is, rather than sit behind a mixing desk for months on end, Eno likes to pop in regularly, but only occasionally, enough to steer the project, but not so much that he can't hear the music with a fresh pair of ears.
This article pulls together a number of quotes to explain Eno's attitude towards production. If you're a musician, artist, or writer, and you're looking for a different angle on your work, some of the following ideas may be worth trying out.
One of the techniques Eno applies in the studio is to encourage the participants to move outside their usual modes of behaviour, by drawing Oblique Strategy cards, playing games, and adopting new roles. This may be as simple as swapping instruments (bassist becomes drummer, lead guitarist takes over vocals etc.), or as involved as a game of charades.
The following text is sourced from the appendix of Eno's 1995 diary, A Year with Swollen Appendices; it previously appeared in a slightly different form in the October 1995 edition of the magazine RAYGUN. Both are currently out of print.
Roles and game-playing
By Brian Eno
During the Outside sessions I was trying to find some new ways of making improvisations go somewhere they wouldn't otherwise. The usual problem with improvisational work is that it is either too homogeneous (everyone settling in mutually familiar territory and droning on endlessly) or too chaotic (people making things that don't cohere in any interesting ways at all).
I had been thinking about game-playing a lot. It was an approach that Roy Ascott had pioneered at Ipswich Art School during my time there, and I had most recently seen it working with my wife's family. At Christmas and other times the whole family play quite elaborate games which allow normally retiring people to become suddenly enormously extrovert and funny. Watching them, it occurred to me that the great thing about games is that they in some sense free you from being yourself: you are 'allowed' forms of behaviour that otherwise would be gratuitous, embarrassing or completely irrational. Accordingly, I came up with these role-playing games for musicians.
In the first game I gave each musician one of these role-sheets, but no one knew what instructions the others were operating under – so that individuals were in different cultural universes. Initially people got roles that related to the instruments, but for later improvisations I swapped them round (but again covertly). It wasn't until afterwards that everyone found out where everyone else had been...
The second experiment, 'Notes on the vernacular music of the Acrux region', was an attempt to imagine a new musical culture, and to invent roles for musicians within it.
The idea is not that games such as this should dominate the proceedings, but simply that they should give you a different place to start. If you've managed that, you hopefully rely on the musical intelligence and curiosity of the players to explore the new territory fruitfully. Since we were a group of players for whom that was likely to be true – Reeves Gabrels, Erdal Kizilcay, Mike Garson, Sterling Campbell, David Bowie and myself – we got good very results from these.
One interesting thing here: in both these games I wrote roles for the co-producer/engineer (Dave Richards) and the assistant engineer (Domonik Tarqua), so that they were also active in the improvisations. Their contributions proved to be very important.
The RAYGUN introduction:
I wrote these "games for musicians" during the recording sessions for what has now become the David Bowie album Outside. The sessions took place at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, right on the edge of Lake Geneva.
At Montreux, David had assembled a great team – Mike Garson on piano, Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Sterling Campbell on drums, Erdal Kizilcay on everything and bass, and then the two of us. It quickly became clear that here were six people who had the talent and good humor (you need both) to be able to work together in a new, experimental way.
I wanted the sessions to be improvisation based, but I wanted also to think of some structuring devices that would prevent the improvs from falling into the lowest-common-denominator grooves ("the blues" is the most common one). What I was after was a way of using the breadth of the players to create a music that was stylistically stretched, where there was a level of musical tension, a resistance to simple cohesion. So I came up with the games.
I printed them up and handed one to each of the musicians (and also to the engineer, Dave Richards, and the assistant engineer). I asked everyone keep his character secret. After that, we played "in character." It has to be said that we slipped frequently out of character, but nonetheless these set us off on a new foot and allowed us to come up with some kinds of music that we certainly wouldn't have made otherwise. Any absurdities could be blamed on the game: The game takes responsibility and lets you be someone else.
It's 2008. You are a musician in one of the new 'Neo-Science' bands, playing in an underground club in the Afro-Chinese ghetto in Osaka, not far from the university. The whole audience is high on 'Dreamwater', an auditory hallucinogen so powerful that it can be transmitted by sweat condensation alone. You are also feeling its effects, finding yourself fascinated by intricate single-note rhythm patterns, shard-like Rosetta-stone sonic hieroglyphs. You are in no particular key – making random bursts of data which you beam into the performance. You are lost in the abstracted rational beauty of a system no one else fully understands, sending out messages that can't be translated. You are a great artist, and the audience is expecting something intellectually challenging from you.
As a kid, your favourite record (in your Dad's record collection) was Trout Mask Replica.
You are a player in a Neo-M-Base improvising collective. It is 1999, the eve of the millennium. The world is holding its breath, and things are tense internationally. You are playing atonal ice-like sheets of sound, which hang limpid in the air, making a shifting background tint behind the music. You think of yourself as the 'tonal geology' of the music – the harmonic underpinning from which everything else grows. When you are featured, you cascade through glacial arpeggios – incredibly slow and grand, or tumbling with intricate internal confusion. Between these cascades you fire out short staccato bursts of knotty tonality.
You love the old albums of The Mahavishnu Orchestra.
You are a member of an early-21st-century 'Art and Language' band. You make incantations, permutations of something between speech and singing. The language you use is mysterious and rich – and you use a melange of several languages, since anyway most of your audience now speak a new patois which effortlessly blends English, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese and Wolof. Using on-stage computers, instant sampling techniques and long-delay echo systems, you are able to build up dense clouds of coloured words during performance. Your audience regards you as the greatest exponent of live abstract poetry.
Samuel Beckett is a big influence.
You are a musician at Asteroid, a space-based club (currently in orbit 180 miles above the surface of the moon) catering mainly to the shaven, tattooed and androgynous craft-maintenance staff who gather there at weekends. They are a tough crowd who like it weird and heavy, jerky and skeletal, and who dance in new, sexy, violent styles. These people have musical tastes formed during their early teens in the mid nineties.
Your big influence as a kid was The Funkadelics.
It's 2005. You are a musician in a Soul-Arab band in a North-African rolesex club. The clientele are rich, sophisticated and unshockable – this is to the Arab world what New York was to the US in the eighties. You play a kind of repetitive atonal funk with occasional wildly ambitious ornaments to impress your future father-in-law, the minister of networks for Siliconia, who is in the audience.
You love the recordings of Farid el Atrache.
You are in a suburb of Lagos, the new Silicon Valley, where the ultra-largescale- integration industries are all located. The place is littered with weird nightclubs catering to the eclectic international community there – clubs offering 'Neo-Science' bands, 'Art and Language' bands, and 'New Afrotech'. Yours was one of the first New Afrotech bands to appear. The music you make is eclectic: it's a heavy dance music, based on influences as diverse as soul, Silicon Techno and Somadelia, but of course all with a very strong African flavour. This manifests in highly percussive and rhythmically complex orchestrations, an aggressive edge reminiscent of the great Nigerian bandleader Fela Ransome Kuti, and long pieces that open up slowly with multiple climaxes and breakdowns. You are considered one of the great 'Crack Rhythm' players on the club scene.
Your biggest early influence was Tunde Williams, the trumpet player and horn orchestrator for Fela in the mid seventies.
It's 2005. You are MO-tech for NAFTA's leading ForceFunk band. The job originated in the sixties and was then called 'stage technician', but, as things became increasingly complex technically, it became clear that many important musical decisions were being resolved in the technological choices made before the band ever mounted the stage. In a sea of options, the person who chooses between them helps determine the work. So the job of modus-operandi technician came into being. Your job is to arrange things before performances – choosing what various people should be playing, for instance, which presets on synthesizers should be engaged, which drums should be used, etc. – in such a way that the musicians are put into interestingly new and challenging positions, to notice which of these arrangements work and to encourage them, and also to notice which don't and to change them.
You are especially impressed by artists such as Aphex Twin and the Ambient school.
You are a leading recordist at Ground Zero studios in Hiroshima, the largest studio in the Matsui media empire. It is 1998. You are famous for your surprises – when the band listens back to the take, you will, unbeknown to them, have set up a landscape of sound within which their performance is located. You regard yourself as a 'sonic backdrop painter'. You work using treatments or existing 'environmental' sounds and triggered loops or overdubs – any way you please. You work closely with your star assistant, whose taste you frequently consult and who has a library of sound effects that you draw on.
Your favourite historical figure is Shadow Morton.
© Brian Eno 1995
According to RAYGUN, the roles were distributed thus:
- Reeves Gabrels
- Mike Garson
- David Bowie (who references Wolof in Algeria Touchshriek's monologue)
- Erdal Kizilcay
- Sterling Campbell
- Brian Eno
- Domonik Tarqua
- Dave Richards
The 1.Outside briefing notes provided to journalists apparently cited two further roles:
- You are the last survivor of a catastrophic event and you will endeavour to play in such a way as to prevent feelings of loneliness developing within yourself.
- You are a disgruntled member of a South African rock band. Play the notes they won't allow.
But interviewed by Rick Moody for the New York Times, Bowie gave a different version of the last role!
Each card would determine their character ... for at least the beginning of the improvisation. Things like: 'You are a disgruntled ex-member of the Clash and are wanting to set up a competitive band.'
Michael Hann in the Financial Times (September 2017) wrote:
...some of the musicians involved found Eno's contributions baffling at first. Carlos Alomar, Bowie's longtime rhythm guitarist, recalls Eno's use of "Oblique Strategies" cards, whereby creative blocks were solved by drawing a card with a seemingly irrelevant instruction on it.
"They are, for lack of a better term, a mantra, a prediction, a premonition, a circumstance," Alomar says.
"'You’re a farmer.'
What the hell? I just picked a card from a deck that says I'm a farmer. What the hell has that got to do with my part? Well it means you have to play a part, you have to let it grow, you have to water it, you have to take your time."
Or, he says, Eno might try experiments.
"'How about I put some chords on a blackboard and just point at the chords, and the rhythm section play those chords?'
We're like, 'OK, but that sounds kind of stupid.'
But he would do that. He would do another where he would count and he would say, 'Carlos, play from 51 to 72.'
'I don’t know.'
'Can you let me hear something, so at least I know what key I’m in.'
So he'd let you hear one thing. And then when they play it back, they add all the 59 other tracks that they had."
Slowdive's Neil Halstead told Alex Maiolo of Reverb.com:
it was interesting working with him because he did things like take the clock off the wall in the studio and did 10–minute "sessions," then we'd move onto another idea. We got all of these ideas down in the space of two hours. It was a lesson in spontaneity and seeing what could happen. It was his Oblique Strategy of the day.
The ideas were stitched together, and Brian added his effects. It was a new way to work because up until then, we would just work on one idea for ages. We were used to working with single takes for an instrument track, so it was interesting to get out of our comfort zone.
It's all in the preparation
Eno is clear that before going into the studio it is important to prepare – by limiting the number of options, by ensuring everything is at hand, or planning-in special surprises (if that's not too contradictory).
Limiting options: in a September 1994 interview with Mark Cunningham for The Mix, Brian Eno explained:
I place a lot of store on conceptual preparation before I go into the studio. A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities – this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do. The most useful thing you can do is to get rid of some of those options before you start. It's like going into a Chinese restaurant and being presented with a 322-page menu and thinking: 'God, I just want something to eat!'
From time to time, Eno, gamesman of the studio, liked to invent new and personal challenges for him to follow that always seemed to involve me. One morning, he called in advance of our session to say that he was making a rule to use only instruments that were already in studio A and then he paused and asked, "Are the tympani’s there?" When I said, no, he told me to make sure they were there before he arrived otherwise he couldn’t use them. (Obviously, he wasn’t averse to cheating at his own game).
Being ready: In a 1993 BBC Radio 1 series called The Producers, Eno said:
Daniel Lanois is [...] very good at first of all paying attention to a situation, so that he doesn't sit and wait until someone wants to do something, and then say, "can you get a D.I. box from there, and a mic from over there, and..."
He thinks of everything that might happen, and he sets it all up before the band appears. He thinks, for example, that the guitar player, who is presently set up over there, might want to come and play in here. So he has a line laid ready, so when the guy says. "oh God, I wish I was in the control room", there he is, as simple as that.
Now this kind of attention to detail, when you describe it, can sound rather trivial and not that important, but it is absolutely crucial that someone is doing that. So many projects and so many great ideas founder on the lack of the right lead at the right time. It just gets lost somewhere, and the idea gets lost with it.
Full of surprises: speaking to Ingrid Sischy for the September 1995 issue of Interview magazine, David Bowie expanded on the way he and Eno set up their work on 1.Outside:
Brian and I had set ourselves the goal of completing a trilogy of albums in the late '70s – Low, "Heroes", and Lodger. We achieved that and we parted most amicably, and then we didn't see each other for fourteen years. We met again when Iman and I got married and he came to our wedding in 1992. Because of that meeting, we realized that we were thinking in very similar ways about experimenting in popular music, and that our interests were converging again, which really gave us the impetus to work together again.
Over the next few months we wrote each other mini manifestos about what we would and wouldn't do in the studio, so that at least when we went in we'd have a set of concepts that would enable us to avoid all the things we find boring and bland in popular music. We didn't want parameters. The only thing we knew was that we wouldn't be writing songs before we got in the studio. We would come in armed with fodder. Each of us had a certain plan that we wouldn't reveal to the other about what we wanted to do. We kept secrets from each other. That was really good, because it led to a lot of "Oh, I didn't know you were going to do that." It meant there was a huge surprise factor.
We also knew we needed to work with musicians who could adapt to our way of working. I went through all the musicians in my life who I admire as bright, intelligent, virtuosic players. There's an atmosphere of play in the way that Brian and I work. We wanted musicians who had the ability to throw themselves into what may have seemed an absurd situation and not be embarrassed by it, but who would embrace it. I needed adventurers, fellow seamen, fellow pirates.
Everything that came together on this album [1.Outside] came about through accident and synthesis and through Brian's take on cybernetics – that you take systems and, in destroying them, you recover the pieces that seem to work and make them into something new. Brian is a born cybernetician. He will take the most unlikely juxtapositions and philosophical ideas and throw them together into this kind of conceptual stew of his and produce this unfathomable, but fascinating animal. And he will continually stop and re-evaluate the work that's been done and then throw it in an entirely unexpected direction.
One thing that Brian and I realized is that he tends to take things from the street or from low art and elevate them to a high-art level. I do precisely the opposite. I steal from high art and take it down to the street or vulgar level. I think it's because of this difference that we work so well together. Where the two lines cross each other is where we do our best work, actually. I tend to do things more intuitively, and Brian approaches things from a far more analytical, conceptual position.
What Brian did specifically on Outside – and he'd done it in various ways on our '70s sessions – was put everybody in another space before they started playing. He walked into the session and said, "I've got something very interesting for us to look at today." And out of his little bag he pulled these six flash cards and gave one to each of us. He didn't tell me he was going to do this. He said, "I want you to read these cards and adopt the characters on them for as long as you can when we start playing." He said to our drummer [Sterling Campbell], "You are the disgruntled ex-member of a South African rock band. Play the notes that you were not allowed to play." And then the pianist [Mike Garson] was told, "You are the morale booster of a small rag-tag terrorist operation. You must keep spirits up at all costs." My card said, "You are a soothsayer and town crier in a society where all media networks have tumbled down," so I knew it was my job to pass on all the events of the day.
Because of this setup, when we started playing, everybody came into the music from a very different space from where they would normally. So you had six really vibrant personalities with interpretive abilities playing from idiosyncratic points of view, and the confluence of all that produced an extreme atmosphere that was quite outside what one might have expected from a bunch of rockers.
Eno explained to Dominic Wells in an interview with David Bowie for Time Out:
There are certain immediate dangers to improvisation, and one of them is that everybody coalesces immediately. Everyone starts playing the blues, basically, because it's the one place where everyone can agree and knows the rules. So in part they were strategies designed to stop the thing becoming over-coherent. The interesting place is not chaos, and it's not total coherence. It's somewhere on the cusp of those two.
Bowie: Something we really got into on the late-'70s albums was what you could do with a drum kit. The heartbeat of popular music was something we really messed about with.
Eno: And very few people had done. It was, 'Right, bass and drums, get them down, then do all the weird stuff on top.' To invert that was a new idea. I did a lot of walking around with the album playing on my headphones, and oftenyou would get noises from the street – a bicycle bell, beeps from bus doors – and wherever they came in the songs, whatever noise it was, it fitted right in, you could absorb it into the song and it would work because the layers were so strong you could add anything on top.
Bowie: The great thing about what Brian was doing through much of the improvisation is we'd have clocks and radios and things near his sampler, and he'd say find a phrase on the French radio and keep throwing it in rhythmically so it became part of the texture. And people would react to that, they'd play in a different way because these strange sounds kept coming back at them.
Eno: Yeah, and he was doing the same thing lyrically. We had a thing going where David was improvising lyrics as well; he had books and magazines and bits of newspaper around, and he was just pulling phrases out and putting them together.
Bowie: If I read some off to you, some of them you'd find completely incomprehensible.
One of these things is not like the others
Eno has contrasted his approach with that of other expert exponents in the field. From The Producers:
What I do, I think, is always sort of co-producing, in that part of this role that I claim for myself is traditionally also the role of the producer. Because in the days when bands weren't sophisticated in terms of the use of studios, the job of making the sound of the thing always fell on the shoulders of the producer and the engineer. The band had very little to do with that.
So you got people like George Martin, who built a whole structure around what the musicians were playing. And Phil Spector, who built a whole structure and then put a few musicians inside it, actually. And identifying that as a musical role, and as a musical role that l particularly enjoyed having, meant that I always overlapped into the producer space anyway. And it worked well in those particular records.
Tony Visconti is a great producer, but he doesn't really eclipse me on that part of the job. He's a producer of the other kind, whose intention is to create a psychological climate that gets good performances from people. Daniel Lanois is like that as well.
In a September 1994 interview with Mark Cunningham for The Mix, Eno said:
When people sit at home with their home studios they are in a way looking after the territory that was more the province of producers, which is this quasi-artistic, quasi-technical ground that a lot of rock music is made in. So in one sense, the idea of the producer as someone who mediates and converses between the completely non-technical musician and non-artistic engineer, which was the old picture, is now dead because most musicians now occupy all three of those roles to some extent. Most of today's musicians who play an electric instrument are partly engineers – they have some feeling about how things should connect together and how things should sound. But I think there is another kind of producer coming into existence who is not an interface between the artistic and the technical, but an interface between different areas of the existing culture.
What I do a lot when I work with people is try to connect ideas and tie them all into a bigger cultural picture, because it clarifies things and is less one-dimensional. It's a more conceptual role. Producing now is more about locating something where it falls. It's not obvious any longer. If you were making a beat record in 1963, there wouldn't be much question about what to do. You'd know you were making a pop record and it had to fit into a particular culture. But with the moving on of time, the field has become so wide and there are so many edges to it, and so many ways you can have a successful career doing this, that it isn't obvious which course you're on and where your music fits in.
Of course, producers can also offer another intelligent pair of ears which is something they've always done, and that certainly isn't obsolete by any means. I have a rule when I produce, and that is not to spend too much time on a record. I come into the studio in spurts, like a week in every month, and it puts me in a position where I can hear things freshly and make some kind of an assessment about what's being done. People get fatigued with hearing the same songs over and over, so they often put more sounds on tape to keep themselves awake! It's important in those circumstances for someone like myself to come in and say: 'Just leave all of that off and listen to what is here, these basic ideas'.
Quizzed for Q by David Sheppard:
Probably my favourite producer is someone who isn't generally regarded as such, and that's Prince. He's this producer's producer.
Andy Gill interviewed Brian Eno for MOJO magazine in 2001.
I first became a producer because I thought I’d be good at the sonic aspect of it, but it turns out that what I’m good at is the structural and motivational aspects. I think people appreciate me for being completely candid and opinionated. People like a strong opinion, even if they don’t agree with it, and I’m not at all interested in people’s feelings. My job is to make the best music that I can imagine, and if I think it isn’t getting there, I want everyone to know! The other thing I do is co-write the music: I come up with ideas for beginnings or I’ll increase the tempo by 20bpm, to send things off in a new direction. Which, as a non-member of the band, I can do, because there’s no agenda attached to it.
That's all well and good, but one person's strong opinion can be another person's sabotage. Notoriously, while working on U2's album The Joshua Tree (released 1987) Eno came within a hair's breadth of erasing the track "Where The Streets Have No Name". He explained in The Producers:
I was going to pretend it was an accident [laughs]. It wouldn't have seemed like a drastic step. It would have seemed like a tragic accident. But that one song had taken about forty per cent of the time spent on the whole album. Now it's very characteristic of any working situation, that people prioritise certain things, and put a lot of time into them, and then if they don't work out they put more time into them, and more and more and more. Once the thing starts to get that kind of nature of being the Big Song, it sucks attention, and I felt it was really sucking attention away from some other really good things that, with quite a small investment of work, would flower and surpass that one actually.
I thought that, sure, it was a good song, it always had been. From the moment it first appeared it had been a good song, and it was as good as it ever got in the first five minutes of its life. It never got better from all that attention. It got a little bit more tightened up, but basically nothing changed in that song, it fulfilled the promise of its first five minutes. But there are a lot of other things that started out a little clumsy and unformed, and every time they were worked on they took a step up. They didn't get a lot of attention, they were the sort of runts of the record in a way, and I always seem to get the job, or enjoy the job, of dealing with the runts, of paying attention to the things that are not going to be the hit singles probably, but which I think are the doors to something different.
And on that record, Joshua Tree, we ended up with two studios going, the A and B studio. Dan Lanois was in the A studio mixing the big songs, and I was in the B studio building the other ones, the other songs, looking through material that people had been excited about, but which hadn't yet really crystallised into the strong identity.
Erasing work was something that also occurred during the fractious co-production of the 1990 Brian Eno-John Cale album Wrong Way Up. In What's Welsh For Zen? Cale told his biographer Victor Bockris:
The rest of the recording happened in ten days. It was the vanishing of the good will that shocked me the most, as if nothing had happened on the creative plane. Brian was at the mix. I lost interest. Without saying anything to me, he erased some tracks. It's fine if you're working with somebody in collaboration, but you should tell them. He didn't tell me, he covered up all afternoon until I suddenly said, 'Wait a minute, can I hear that part?'
'It's not there.'
'What do you mean, it's not there?'
He said he had erased it. 'Well, it wasn't any good, was it?'
And I thought, What are you doing erasing stuff before we discuss what's going on here? It rankled.
[...] What I could never get over was his insouciance at erasing tracks behind my back. That stunned me, that somebody would go ahead and do that because they were in a position to. As soon as that happened, I started seeing that it was a power-play, a blunt and unrepentant demand for recognition that he was the man in power.
Naturally, Brian Eno may not share Cale's recollections or characterisation of events, and EnoWeb doesn't like it when Mummy and Daddy fight, so let's move swiftly on and look at some of other ways you can shake things up in the studio. The first few appeared in The Mix interview; for some of them, Eno was probably drawing Oblique Strategy cards.
This is probably one of Eno's best pieces of advice ever.
One of my mottoes is that if you want to get unusual results, work fast and work cheap, because there's more of a chance that you'll get somewhere that nobody else did. Nearly always, the effect of spending a lot of money is to make things more normal. Hollywood is the best example of that, where you have 56 lighting technicians and four camera gaffers, and you know that what they're all for is to make it look like every other film you've ever seen.
An important question to ask is: 'What wouldn't you do?' Imagine you're sitting there working, things are getting difficult and the situation reaches an impasse. You keep trying things but they don't work, so it's at that point where you should ask yourself 'What wouldn't I do?' 'What are the things I wouldn't think of doing?' You've already thought of the things you thought would work, but they didn't. It's a little bit like when you've lost something and you go around the flat looking in all the obvious places where you might normally leave something. Clearly it isn't in any of those, so you then think about all the places you wouldn't usually think of looking. Chances are you'll probably find the object...
Change instrument roles.
Do something boring.
Consult other sources, either promising or unpromising.
Cut a vital connection – that's a very interesting thing to do because most pieces of music are based around some centre, like a drum track or a drone, which really holds everything together. Just try taking that element out of the music and see what happens. Suddenly, when you take it out you start to hear everything else that's there and you may realise that some of it is redundant, obsolete or, even more interesting, that it stands completely alone and is in fact another new piece of music to develop.
I am a camera
When we started on [U2's] Zooropa, I suggested to the band that they start improvising in the studio regularly [...] They'd got out of this habit of improvising and for various reasons, they weren't doing it. So I said: 'We should imagine we're making hypothetical film soundtracks, not making songs.' This is always a very liberating idea, because a film soundtrack doesn't have to have a centre – the film itself is the centre. It allows you to make music that is pure atmosphere and that really allowed some good things to come through in their case. In our relationship, Dan [Lanois] would deal with the functional landscape and I would deal with the conceptual one, and I'll tell you, you can't have one without the other. You have to control both.
The following observations appeared in MOJO:
I'm always asking people, "Why are you doing it?" If it isn’t clear to you, something is wrong. The other strategy is to try and make music so compelling in its skeletal form that mixing is not an issue. Because if the mix is a problem, it’s not the mix that’s the problem. I want as many problems solved as early as possible. My pressure is to try to make the piece complete at every stage, rather than a piece of scaffolding that we might hang some clever stuff on.
There's no 'I' in Team. But there is one in Teatime.
Generally, I much prefer working with the group, because people in groups tend to make much more interesting decisions. On their own, it’s easy for everyone to get into "screwdriver mode", where you’re totally lost in the details, rather than the whole picture. If you say to someone, "We’re setting aside the afternoon for you to do that guitar part," do you think they’re going to take any less than the whole afternoon to do it?
It’s through collaboration that you hope to get something that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.
Take a trip
One good example of a very counter-intuitive instinctive decision was on [U2's] Achtung Baby. We were close to the deadline, about a month to go, and everything was chaotic. I said, "I think we should take a two-week holiday, and not listen to any of this stuff we’ve been doing while we’re away." We’d been digging this hole for such a long time, and it was a good idea to step outside of it for a while. It worked perfectly, we finally got some perspective on it.
Don't take a trip
Eno told David Sheppard in Q:
I don't like drugs in the recording studio – they just mean everything takes five times longer to do.
As seen on screen
Here's a 2006 South Bank Show documentary on Coldplay, who worked with Brian as a producer – the relevant section starts at 36:58 and runs for about five minutes.
Finally, in 2001 Eno appeared in a film for James' website – recorded while the band was recording Pleased to Meet You – with another impenetrable game involving Denmark and Sweden. Your guess is as good as EnoWeb's...
Bonus round: If you enjoyed the mindset induced by Eno's roles for musicians, you can find the Unthinkable Futures Eno and Kevin Kelly concocted here, and if you can get hold of a copy of Eno's Diary you can read his essay Notes on the vernacular music of the Acrux region.
Brian Eno: On Production article collated by Tom Boon for EnoWeb, June 2017.