From Melody Maker, January 29, 1977
- O-blocked-up-nose Strategy for getting rid of a cold
- Ritva Saarikko
- Derek Jarman & Guy Ford
- Werner Herzog & German/American film-making
- A musical problem
- Robert Fripp
- Phil Manzanera & Bill McCormick
- Gavin Bryars
- State of the world & China (1977)
- Eno's capitalist dentist
- Peter Schmidt
- Noel Forster & The Slade School of Fine Art
BRIAN ENO, the former Roxy keyboards player, has created a reputation as an experimental composer since he left the band in 1973. He has recorded a number of electronic albums, some of them with Robert Fripp, produced the eccentric Portsmouth Sinfonia, and masterminded the Obscure label.
Among his patents has been a series of cards, which he has called Oblique Strategies, each one containing lines that can be used in a cut up technique for songwriting.
"The biological function of art," he has said, "is that it should expose you to disorientation."
He has been lecturing on his theories for the past two years, and his increasing fascination with Muzak is in evidence on David Bowie's new album, Low, which heavily features Eno.
Having shed his glamourpuss image, he says he is now content to pursue a line more independent of the music industry, and in April he will be leaving Britain for a year to set up base in the "hopefully more stimulating" atmosphere of Amsterdam.
I have been trying to write some music, with little success. All I can think about is how much I'd like to be sitting alone in a cinema.
Accordingly I decide to embark on a serious course of film-watching, and I leave for Soho with this plan - to spend as much of the day in cinemas as possible. This entails leaving one cinema and entering whichever other cinema has a film about to begin. I don't care what the film is, which, as it turns out, is fortunate.
I see Clint Eastwood (as Dirty Harry) in The Enforcer. Clint plays his usual 'vicious but fair' role - wiping out traffic offenders with his .38 Magnum - whilst the police department pussyfoots around with its 'pinkie' attempts not to 'alienate' the community. Clint shoots his way to justice (frontier-style) - the paradigm of control by destruction.
The same theme governs King Kong, which is the next film I see, but this time our sympathies are supposedly with the destroyed rather than the destroyer.
Between the cinemas I make a note on my Sony cassette recorder about a song concerning the sabotage of United Airlines Flight 553 and the consequent death of Dorothy Hunt, wife of E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate conspirator and Nixon's 'dirty tricks' wizard. More control by destruction.
I arrange studio-time with Penny Hanson at Island Studios, and breathe a sigh of relief when she says there is no time until March.
If there had been time earlier, I would have taken it, but somehow I'm glad there isn't. I have just the right amount of time for preparation this way.
I go to see Death Weekend which is quite remarkably bad. ("They were going to rape her one by one. She was going to kill them one by one," says the publicity. And, of course. she does.)
An interesting article in Time Out points out that up to 80 per cent of the money allocated to this kind of film is spent on promotion. I leave Death Weekend and look for another film.
While crossing Shaftesbury Avenue, I get an idea for a piece called "Be My Engine" but in trying to get the song from my bag I momentarily forget that I'm standing in the street. This kind of thing is dangerous, as a passing driver has no qualms in pointing out.
The Battle Of Midway is OK, but I would have liked more details of the tactical and strategic considerations at work. The Sensurround (quadrophonic sound) is very loud; I fear structural damage to the cinema, since much of the sound feels to be in the 9-20HZ range.
I can't recall having a single intelligent thought today. I walk down to Portobello Road with the camera, but I can't recall taking a single worthwhile photo. I see a beautiful black girl ad ask her very politely if I can take her picture, but she sneers at me and walks off. Maybe my camera is too small to command any respect.
I see Denis and Billy from Ultravox, and Ian North from Milk And Cookies, and we chat a little, but since the light is failing I excuse myself and walk off to take more worthless pictures.
Then I go home to try to reduce the backlog of mail that has built up. This is what I do when I can muster nothing else. I write five letters and try to read Scientific American whilst listening to the radio. Some days you can't do anything right.
I feel as if I'm getting a cold today. A successful strategy for getting rid of colds is this: take plenty of Vitamin C (say about 10 grams a day) and engage in physical labour of some sort. I scrub the kitchen floor and clean the windows.
I then invent a new dish - fake caviar mixed with cream cheese and sour cream - which, due to the added red colouring in the caviar, comes out bright orange. Ritva, my girlfriend, as always fascinated by innovation, puts the substance into a green dish.
Later on, Guy Ford and Derek Jarman (who made the film Sebastiane, for which I made some music) visit to discuss their new film about the life of Akhnaton, the Pharoah who bought about the down-fall of the 18th Dynasty.
Derek is on the edge of his seat with excitement about these details of Egyptian history. Guy, who has just bought a new Polaroid camera, is taking instant colour pictures. Neither Guy nor Derek seem keen to try my new dish.
In the evening I get on with some work, and then go to the late-night movie at the Electric Cinema. The Electric shows such a consistently interesting selection of films that you can go 'on spec.' Tonight the programme is great: Aguirre, Wrath Of God and The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, both by Werner Herzog. Herzog could be my favourite director.
The more I see German films, the less I like American films. Herzog's sense of pace is so much more interesting. Whereas American film-makers seem terrified of any "silences" in the film, the German film-makers take the risk of not continually assaulting our senses with sharp editing and loud noises. The Americans evidently assume that their audiences require a high rate of stimulus or they'll get bored.
Another aspect of German films is the lack of "disguise" plastered over the actors. By this I mean that the make-up is very spare so that the texture of the skin is still alive and not synthetic.
I walk back from the cinema at 2.00 a.m. The streets are deserted and frosty. On the way home I start thinking about a particular musical problem which has interested (or troubled) me since Another Green World. It is difficult to explain what this problem consists of without going into a lot of detail.
Perhaps it can be stated thus: "How do I organise a group of musicians to make the music I want to hear when I don't yet know what it will sound like?" Most people I've spoken to don't seem to see the sense of this problem. Nonetheless, it keeps me up most of the night. My insomnia is getting worse.
I receive a letter from Fripp, a reply to the one I wrote to him suggesting that we get together again soon. He says, "I am prepared to work with you only if you buy from me a brand-new dildo..."
He goes on to describe its sophistication and versatility and requests that I send him £28 immediately "before your career suffers further by delay." He signs himself Meanie Mouth.
I spend some of the morning reading J. K. Galbraith's book, The New Industrial State, which I am finding very useful. I notice that BBC-2 is showing a series of programmes on Monday nights by Galbraith, so I organise the hire of a TV for the 13 Mondays involved.
I don't own a television because my past experience (I had one for a year once) was that I watched it far too much. My solution to temptation is to remove it rather than to rely on whatever dubious and frail "will-power" that I might have.
In the afternoon Phil Manzanera and Bill McCormick visit. Phil talks about his album-to-be, which shows signs of being very impressive. We talk about the difficulties of working, and I suggest that it is the very act of "concentrating" on writing music which makes it difficult to do, since ideas normally arise when one is not focused but when one is "open" in some way.
Then we visit Paul Rudolph (Hawkwind's talented bass player) since I had suggested that he might be able to lend Phil a Teac 4-track recorder, Phil's having exploded with surprise at his new guitar sounds. Apart from being a unique musician, Paul is an exceptionally nice person. This is a strong reason for working with him.
On returning, we listen to David's new album. We talk about his continual ability to defy prediction and his ability to knot together the many disparate strings of new music. I am reminded of a mock competition that Art International once suggested: "Guess what Richard Hamilton's next painting will be like" - Hamilton having the same quixotic mobility that David has.
Later on, Gavin Bryars (whose Sinking Of The Titanic I released on Obscure Records) calls round to discuss his ideas for a recording of Tom Phillips' opera, Irma, that we intend to make. We consider the possibility of using a recently-invented family of string instruments - eight in all, spanning a range from double bass to half-size violin - for the performance of the piece.
The Galbraith programme is flawed but interesting. After Ritva and our friend Clare have spent a few minutes trying to persuade me that too much thinking leads to premature baldness, they go out together and leave me alone with the TV.
There is certainly no danger of baldness from watching this programme. In a well-intentioned attempt to make all this knowledge "palatable", the producers have illustrated every point with "entertaining" (and not very illuminating) examples. The information is, therefore, incredibly slight, and what there is seems much more complex than it really is.
Galbraith is debonair, witty and very likeable, but the pace is just too slow. This has always been a problem with television - the assumption that the audience must be pampered and nursed into reluctantly absorbing the most simple ideas.
Ritva goes out early with Clare for a drive to Sussex, and I spend the morning reading.
I recently bought The Economist's publication, The World In Figures, which is a volume prepared for the business community, giving accurate figures on production, balance of payments, communications, social services, etc. of every country in the world. It says more about the real state of the world than a year's worth of newspapers.
I wish someone would bring out a newspaper called Good News which dwelt on those parts of the world where mankind is being relatively succesisful. The recent press attention given to China illustrates the point.
From what one can gather, China has recently enjoyed a rapid and sucessful transition from a feudal society to an apparently self-sufficient and rather enlightened industrial society. This procedure took place under our noses, but it didn't make "news" precisely because it was going well.
The last few weeks, however, have seen some signs of internal dissent in the country, and suddenly all the papers are screaming. "Civil War in China!" said the headline of one recently. Apart from being quite untrue, it de-emphasises the many non-disastrous instances of social success that China has produced.
In the afternoon I visit my dentist. He injects anaesthetic into my gums and we sit down on his sofa to wait for it to work. I mention that I recently visited Berlin. He asks me if I visited East Berlin. I said that I had, and he asked me if people looked depressed there. I said that they looked about as happy as the people in the other half.
He said, "but you'll never convince me that Communism can work," and I replied that I wasn't about to try. He went on: "I'm a God-man myself and I think Communism is a cancer on the world. It's the force of Evil disguised as a way of making men free, but enslaving them to a corrupt and wicked system."
He cited, as his witnesses for this idea, the proclamations of Lord Chalfont and Brian Crozier. If you'd like to know more about Crozier and his CIA-supported Institute For The Study Of Conflict, check out Time Out 275, 276, 281, 286. It's what Mark Hosenball wrote.
I then suggested to my dentist that his propensity to view the world as neatly divided into Good and Evil might be worth a little examination, just as the supposed dichotomy between Capitalist and Communist countries might reward investigation.
I pointed out that any large industrial nation cannot (and, does not) run on classical capitalist lines or classical communist lines because neither of these ideologies is adequate to the situation.
This is obviously not the place for such a discussion, and nor was the dentist's waiting room, so I concluded by trying to appeal to his knowledge of anatomy, citing the body as an example of a complex (and eminently successful) self-governing system which combines elements of both philosophies, i.e. the 'autonomous operator' of Capitalism with the "centralised, responsive control" of Communism.
He fell silent and we went to the chair. "Have I taken my teeth into my hands?" I thought. But he did a superb and painless job.
This evening I visited Peter Schmidt (the painter who did the cover for Tiger Mountain and Evening Star, and with whom I published Oblique Strategies).
He has just returned from a holiday in Madeira, and we look at the 12 watercolours he made there. The last three of the series are quite exceptionally beautiful - a tiny road winds down the side of an almost vertical mountain whose peak is lost in the clouds.
Peter describes his walk from the top of the mountain, and says it was frightening since there were man-sized rocks fallen on the road. We discuss the idea of fear as an aid to perception. I describe an experience I had in Scotland recently where I climbed a very steep hill at twilight - absentmindedly not paying much attention to where I was going - and came to a halt, breathless and exhausted, on a small plateau near the summit. For the first time I looked to see where I was.
The plateau was covered with dead ferns, which glowed a brilliant fiery orange in the dusk. I was tired enough not to try to reduce the experience to words and concepts, so I just stood open-mouthed for some minutes.
This was an instance of exhaustion as an aid to perception - presumably the conscious mind resigns this continual obsession with classification and the attendant reassurance at times like this, and so the quality of the experience is unfiltered.
Later in the evening we talk about the work of Die Brucke, the group of German painters active between 1905-25, who impressed us all so much in Berlin. I particularly liked Otto Mueller and Karl Schmidt-Rotluff.
Peter posed the question: "What could one do now that would have the sense of daring which those works had?" I reply that I think the answer must lie in doing things that are very quiet, which make no assault, and perhaps do not obviously trade in novelty. Like watercolours. At a time when drama is at a premium, reticence and delicacy communicate best.
Before I leave, we discuss the possibilities of marketing visual objects in the way that records are sold. We both agree that this would drastically alter the nature of contemporary painting, since it would once again put it in touch with demand on the level of a genuine response to the work itself, rather than to its "value" (be that financial or "cultural").
I walk from Peter's in Stockwell to Victoria station. It is a cold, exhilarating night. I am thinking about writing a song called "Man Making Measurements And Dancing." I can't sleep until 4.00 am because I have a flurry of ideas which won't wait their turn. It is most annoying.
I visit Noel Forster at the Slade School of Fine Art. Some of his students are working with computers and plotters. They have linked the computer to a synthesizer and are devising programmes to control the synthesizer.
Noel had read my Studio International article on Organising And Generating Variety In The Arts, and we talked at length about one of the ideas in the idea of replacing apparent discontinuities (like that between "abstract" and "figurative" or "conceptual" and "academic") by scales which had these qualities as extremes but which allowed the location of most works in some hybrid position on the scale.
Noel then gave me an interesting idea. He took me to the famous old Slade "life-rooms" where people sit and paint models who look old-fashioned, with a restricted old-fashioned palette, and with techniques that date from the "great days" of Slade painting.
This is, of course, a highly academic pursuit. It is also a highly conceptual one, which suggests the interesting possibility that some of the evaluative scale might be circular