An Evening with Brian Eno

from The Complete Music Magazine Circa 1982

The climax of this evening will occur, fittingly, at the end. When I replay the last part of the tape the next day, it sounds like an Eno record, some perilous experiment in words, laughter, strange pauses, the tinkling of glass--it is an unusual aesthetic experience, on the floor, when it is completely dark and candles are lit. But prior to this, Eno is certainly forthright, increasingly so according to the severity of the questions. As the Trans-America blinks in the dusk, he speaks of happiness and unhappiness, God, Brian Ferry, his perfect village. We get in to much dense thought on the secrets of sex and sound.

Back from the cupboard with a metal briefcase, faded lime in color. He lays it down on the floor by one of the candles. He flicks the latch up and opens it.

Revealed within is an array of vial, phials, cylindrical bottles, all different colors, flashing in the light of the candle flame. Some of the bottles are about three inches tall, others much smaller, less than an Inch.

There isn't room for all of them stacked upright, so some are tumbling haphazardly amongst the long glass tubes, many of them a foot long, which have spouts at the end and which are lying across the top of this ineffably Eno collection of substances...

When did you become aware of things that were strange?

My Uncle Carl--my father's brother Carl--I went to him for a sense of how strange the world outside was. He'd lived in India for 15 years, and he was in China, and he was a painter and a gardener. He was exotic to me, and therefore strange. But areas that were not strange to me then have since become strange. I feel that life is more strange now than I did when I was young. I feel less anchorage than I did then. I'm happier in situations which are simultaneously similar and strange.

What was all that weird sexuality coming out of Roxy when you were with the band? You and Ferry especially...

I've been thinking about that quite a lot as a matter of fact, recently because I enjoyed it--and what that obviously was, it was clearly a making of some kind of sexual mixture, rather than the usual pop star coming on like a male impulsive, life the Rolling Stones. It was a very ambiguous look, I think, that the band had. And in my music since than, what's happening is's been moving away from certain set of circumstances and towards some others that aren't quite so clear yet. And I would say that the ones it was going away from were the masculine characteristics. And the ones it was moving away towards were the feminine ones. I shall now attempt to defend this statement.


There's a correspondence between raspiness in voice and male dominance in society. The more raspy the voice is, the more repressed the feminine element of the society is. Societies that have a strong choral tradition normally have a strong feminine tradition as well. Now in my music I've been moving more and more away from the raspy, angry voice and towards choral voices--not just actual voices but sets of instruments that melt together rather than retain their distinction--that's what we call choral. This melting music, choral melting, it fells nicer, it looks more interesting. I like it more.

Do you think that Discreet Music and Music For Airports, and your new Music for Healing is unmasculine music?

I think it's pretty bisexual, that's what I think.

Do you feel like you're heading even further into the feminine now?

These are interesting questions. My own perspective on what I do is that my work started out as being very distinctly masculine. My look may not have been, but in a sense my look was ahead of my music. Then the music moved away from that position. I'm now working in the opposite direction of just cramming the song with thrills, sharp or harsh things. I'm trying to get rid of things now. Every event either obscures another event or obscures silence, so you may as well leave as much out of everything as you can. Have a minimum. That's one example, a simple example. There are quite a few other examples of shifting to the feminine, but some of them are more structural in a funny sort of way...and rather hard to explain.


In what vowel sound I choose to use there are distinctions between A, E, I, O, and U and eeel and arrgh! and oh! and uhh! These are distinctions not only in obvious sense, but in the sense of what kind of society produces them. Does this sound ridiculous?

Not at all.

I started to think about it a few years ago, and it's developed from there. Alan Lomax writing on folk singing and culture is useful. But I've got no real handle on it. It's just that there's something I've been watching happening in my music and I realized I've had no rationale for it until I got into--what should I call it? Societies that are hunter and gatherer societies, where the man appears as important and the woman appears as less important, the dominant vowels tend to be the I's and the a sounds, the harder vowels, and then the ee's after that. If you listen to the more stable, land-based agricultural societies--and actually the technologically more complex societies--you can hear that they move more to the vowel sounds that will melt.

Would Bryan Ferry have gone along with you in this direction?

Well, Bryan's got two imaginations, and I think I share one of them, but not the other one. From the society point of view, I share with him certain aspects of his background. He's from County Durham, outside of Newcastle, a rural working -class background. And he went to art school and wanted to be a painter, like I did, and so our initial perceptions were intellectually in common. He liked to experiment as an artist. But for a time there was a limit

A limit to what he'd put up with?

Well yes, for a time there was. But that was very good in fact. And anyway, I'm always abdicating. My music invites you rather than pushes itself upon you. The tangential approach is usually the most interesting. Panic is too obvious.

How experimental in your personal society, your own private life, are you prepared to be to find this feminine place?

When you find something you hang onto it awhile, but obviously if it becomes inappropriate...Yeah, I experiment. But the energy only comes when there's a disjunction, when what you have and what you think you have don't fit properly and you've just got to make something that fits better and otherwise I don't experiment.

But you experiment in sex?


Successfully? I mean, with some purpose?

Well, I try to make use of all the things I do even if they...seem aberrant or deviant. The criterion simply that one touches something that has not yet been touched, or that doesn't get touched often enough. Now it's quite hard, this, when you've been brought up as a Roman Catholic with a very strong concept of guilt--

Do you think there's a God?

(Long pause...almost a minute)

How long are you prepared to wait for the answer to these questions? These are complicated questions. I don't hesitate because I haven't got ideas about them, I hesitate because I have a responsibility to you to answer them carefully. In a funny way I do believe in fate. There's a North African word--it it Moroccan? Yes it is--which is baraka. Baraka means something between karma and fate. Certain people accrue baraka. They accrue the ability to attract interesting things to themselves, interesting and pleasant things. Now this seems to be manifestly true. That definitely happens, you know. You see people, you meet people to whom interesting things continuously happen. Why does this happen to them and not to others? Why is it happening to me? I think that some people are very good at being opportunistic in a good way, and in a large scale way.

What happens if the money runs out and the recording studios close down? How can you make electronic music with a technology that's been switched off?

I wouldn't care if the recording studios were closed. I'd do something else.


I don't have to be a musician. I could do whatever the situation demanded. For instance, in that cupboard behind where Nancy's sitting I have a box of 160 aromatic oils.


They're essences. I mix them up...I wouldn't be at all unhappy if that was all I was left to work with for awhile.

You make music with smells?

Well, I've always been interested in smells. I have a very good sense of smell.

What are these tubes?

They're what I use to mix the oils.

Do you mix them with the same effect as mixing sounds, or like a painter mixes hues?

There's no vocabulary for it. There have been many attempts to map the smell spectrum, but there's just no...(Sniffing sound) 'English Lily'. Try it?


I'll give you a couple of strange smells, you want to smell something?

What's this one?

Egypt, I think.

Well, Cairo. I was overwhelmed by the smell there..'Shit and piss and rosewater'.

Sure. Actually this is a mixed essence, it's got a number of flowers in it. It's nice though, isn't it? Now this one...See, my secret ambition is to make a perfume for black women--

(Sniff) That's a great smell. Jeez, that's...

You have to see that one in context.

What context--Africa? It smells like...hmm. Well, it's definitely a bass note, you know.

There are some sorts of correlations...but I don't force a relationship--I just see what happens.

That's an art of course.

I have always tend to regard (sniff--sniffing at his perfume for Mm d'Afrique) my behavior, and in fact all of every else's behavior, as artistic behavior. It's a game.

Are the possibilities limitless in this game?

The greater you understand the structure of something, the more amazed you'll be at the tiniest movement within it. In that sense the possibilities are limitless.

(Sniff) And what's the point of the game?

Well, the species as a whole entertains fringe genes, and recessive genes--so should we maintain our varieties in life, for all sorts of possible situations, scenes. It's a discipline of its own, doing that. For example...Jon Hassell is a trumpet player, and he studied Indian singing with Pandit Pran Nath for six years in order not to sing better but to play the trumpet better. Of course he's evolved a unique style. And it's a playing discipline I know nothing about...I don't even play any instruments...

But your voice is an instrument.

I'm not sure I can play that now. I'm not at home in my voice anywhere near the way an African singer is, for example. In Africa the whole use of the voice is very easy and exploratory in a playful kind of way. It's not just rampant spontaneity. Some people think that African music is these guys banging drums and yelling. It's not like that at all. It's a very tight system hat they're working within, and the degree of actually innovation they permit themselves is very, very small.

Are you systems as tight?

Oh, we don't have in the Western world any systems that are as interesting. I don't think the operatic system is interesting. Pop musics haven't really developed a system at all. In fact, what is interesting in rock & roll is that nobody has a clue...(sound of glass clinking) Here now, this is my pride and joy, this little number.

Oh, this is...amazing. Blue!

If you were mixing that one with oakmoss, for instance, you'd need something like 100 parts of oakmoss to one part of that. I use it just to give an edge.


It's powerful. But's this one (burrowing for an even tinier bottle in the bottom of the case), this is my favorite one. I never open this (He open it).

This is...hollow. Is it a fruit, in fact?

Spikenard is what it is. It's a bush. It grows in a peculiar places and it's almost unobtainable now. You can't get it.

(More nose work) But there's cucumber...?


I think it smells unobtainable.

There's a story I must tell you. About 15 or 20 years ago, there's a flower which is a substitute for the very expensive oil that comes from a gland of the musk deer, suddenly this flower spontaneously all over the world stopped smelling. It just stopped smelling.

Did it stop smelling, or did mankind's ability to smell it stop?

Ah, that's the question. But we just can't determine the answer to it, you see.

Brian, do you share this thing with anybody else, or is it entirely solo...

I do make smells for people now and again. Like sometimes I'm with a woman and I can suddenly think of a smell that I hope might be right for her. I made a very successful one recently, I was very pleased with it.

Can you divine a fragrance for my friend Nancy? Or do you have to know people really well for that?

I have to actually sleep with them. Well...maybe this is a smell Nancy might like. In fact there's two that you might like. (Glass tubes tinkle. He produces two amber colored phials).

(Nancy sniffs) The olfactory is so direct.

That's right, that's absolutely right. (He applies in small circles an oily touch of essence to the front of her left hand.) You know that certain smells connect directly with the brain, in that the molecules of the smell itself actually enter the brain. (Now a dab from the second phial on her right wrist.) Our other senses have a synaptic connections, interpretive mechanisms, but smell is different, it's a different thing altogether. Oops, sorry about that...

The essences glisten on her skin. Nancy flicks her hand to waft the odors, conjuring up more of this madness, igniting the darkness with totally unknown scents...

That's right, you should smell them together.

You smell like forest Nancy.

I find these things reshuffle themselves continuously. (His nose leads his face in a smooth, dreamy glide.) Ah, that's sexy, that smell!

Now Eno has suspended his nose above an half empty bottle, this is clearly his final resting place. All is well and the tape in my machine is about one half minuet from running out.

Oakmoss. This is the one. This is my Mangbetu smell. I had a photograph once of a Mangbetu woman, the Mangbetu deform their heads so they get very cortical crowns, and in the picture she had this big, big hairstyle around it, and lips that were pouted, and her breasts were like...toing! toing!...just beautiful, what a great photo. I has a smell for her immediately (sniffing the bottle), I sense a smell for her. And this is it...