From Modern Recording & Music, October 1982. From the Jeffrey Morgan Archive.
In a way, we're all slaves to time and space.
The quality of our lives is determined as much by when and where we live our lives as by how we do it. We are products of our environment and our age. And for the artist, these limitations are especially acute.
To create enduring art, the artist, in the here and now, must transcend temporal and spatial restraints. If Brian Eno has not already done so-and his music leads one to believe he has - then he is on the way.
Born in 1948, Brian Eno has come a long way - and, one might say, a long time - since his formative years in East Anglia, England. In 1971, following fine-arts studies at the Ipswich and Winchester Art Schools, he teamed up with Bryan Ferry in the group Roxy Music. A group which many feel helped to usher in the "art-rock" movement.
A rift with Ferry during the recording of Roxy's second LP, For Your Pleasure, in 1973 hastened Eno's departure, whereupon he collaborated with Robert Fripp for No Pussy-footin', the first of several projects he would undertake with the King Crimson guitarist. Eno's own first solo LP, Here Come the Warm Jets, released in 1974, set the stage for a series of solo albums demonstrating that if the then-long-haired Eno wasn't ahead of his time, then surely record-buyers were behind theirs.
The next year, just as record-buyers and radio stations were getting hip to his heavily synthesized, high-tech music, he shifted gears, scrapping song structures almost entirely in favor of what he called "discreet" and then "ambient" music. In the process, he formed Obscure Records in 1975 and, three years later, Ambient Records.
While continuing his experiments with environmental music (his Music for Airports was heard in airports from New York to Minneapolis), he found the common denominator between the progressive and the regressive, between Western post-industrialisation and African pan-tribalism: His production on No New York, a collection of raw tunes from the likes of the Contortions and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, earned plaudits from the punks; his latter-period work with the Talking Heads (Remain in Light and, with David Bryne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) stretched the boundaries of both time and space, juxtaposing the primeval rhythmic essence of the so-called Dark Continent with the modernistic techno-pop of the West.
Through it all, including collaborations with David Bowie, Devo, Ultravox and others, time and space have been Eno's constant variables. For the following interview, conducted in the semi-Victorian conferernce room of EG Records in Manhattan, the songwriter-musician-producer wore a blue-gray button-down workshirt over plain gray trousers.
Although he is certainly a fusionist of the first order, a musician who somehow marries seemingly incompatible partners, a painter whose visual acuity matches his musical sensibility, Eno emerges as a paradox: an artist who often works alone, and does so by choice, he achieved perhaps his greatest success as a "member" of the Talking Heads collective; in 1975, when his solo albums were beginning to gain acceptance in the marketplace, he turned to highly experimental, and commercially risky, environmental music; this past year, while producing his fourth and latest ambient project, Ambient #4 on Land, he turned to early rock and roll artists for inspiration.
On the surface, it doesn't make sense. In conversation, however, Brian Eno unscrambles these enigmas as he discusses the uses and abuses of music. The interview begins, appropriately, with Eno explaining why his ambient pieces take such a long time to materialize.
Brian Eno: These pieces take a long, long time for digestion. They're not fast pieces to do, because they don't have a format like an ordinary song or like anything else I've heard.
Modern Recording & Music: You mention in the essay accompanying Ambient #4 on Land that the form and direction of the pieces took shape after you'd been working on them for some time.
BE: That's right. In fact, they really do require time more than anything else. The way most of these things have worked is that they get a few hours of intense work, sometimes a couple of days; then they sit around for three or four months, and I listen to them again and again; then they get another spurt of work, then lots of listening again. Sometimes they'll be mixed differently. More listening. It seems to take a long, long time before I even know what they're about.
MR&M: Does this hold true for most of your recordings, or just particularly for the ambient works?
BE: For the ambient music. Particularly for this record, actually. It doesn't even hold true so much for the other ambient things. But with each of these [ambient records], they all begin from something rather mysterious anyway. They don't begin from, "Oh, this is a nice tune" or "I like this rhythm" or "I've got this lyric," which other pieces might begin from. But they begin from a fascination with a detail of something.
MR&M: Can you give me an example of such a detail?
BE: Yes. In the piece called "The Lost Day" on the new record, far in the distance there's this little bell sound. It's not really a bell; it's actually the sound from a Fender Rhodes piano played very, very quietly so that you only get the partials and harmonics as the tine of whatever it is hits the string. It doesn't hit hard enough to make the note itself. It's like the upper harmonics of a note. And I was fascinated by this sound. Every time I heard it, it had a pull on me that I couldn't explain.
I went into this piece and I kept trying to put things with it that amplified that feeling or seemed to develop that feeling. Of course, most of the things cancelled it in some way. Gradually, after a lot of work, I built on some things I thought worked with that quality, and it seemed to identify a particular time and place to me. I didn't know why and I didn't know whether any of those sounds were figurative in the sense of being actual copies or references to real sounds.
I went home at Christmas to visit my parents. I went for a walk on Christmas day, a windy day. They live on a river [Deben]. And as I was walking I heard this sound - it was actually the sound of the metal guy wires banging against the masts of the yachts. They have metal masts on yachts, and this sound was so identical. I suddenly realized where I got this sound [on the Fender Rhodes] from.
MR&M: You'd heard this sound as a youngster?
BE: Oh, yes.
MR&M: And this was the time and place that came back to you.
BE: That's right. That's why I called it "The Lost Day." I seem to remember from this piece a day, a particular time and a particular place in my childhood, and in fact, it was that river, but it was on the other side of that river. It's a fairly small river, but at the point of the town I lived in, it's very broad indeed. It sort of opens into a large harbor.
Throughout my childhood it was an evocative place for me. It was always empty, so whenever you went there, you were lonely. I got to like that feeling rather a lot.
A friend of mine was explaining something to me last night, which I thought was interesting. Did you ever see Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
BE: Remember where Richard Dreyfuss got fascinated by that shape, the shape of a mountain? He kept seeing it and making it everywhere. That's how it is sometimes [for me].
MR&M: With a sound or a visual correlate?
BE: With a sound and the visual. With the idea of a psychic condition, of a mental place where I want to be. Particularly with a sound, I sometimes will get fascinated by the idea of sound, and I'll hear hints of it in lots and lots of things. Recently I've been hearing it most in street noise, funnily enough.
I live quite high on a building, and I've been making lots of recordings of the street downstairs. And then I'll take the recordings into my room and listen to them. There's something about that quality that I find really interesting.
When I was in Canada last week, I started recording. We set up a system where we'd have a microphone stuck in the end of a long resonant tube [draws in his notebook]. You know those plastic tubes people spin 'round to make musical notes with? Have you ever seen those? Well, I used them to make this record. Now I've started doing something else with them.
I'd stick this out of the back door of the studio so that it was recording street sounds. Of course, since it's a tube, it resonates at a particular frequency. It picks out or amplifies [a particular note]. In this case, it was G sharp and anything that is related to G sharp. It gives that seashell effect to everything, but with a very strong frequency.
I was working with two or three of these, actually, tuned to a chord. Then I was putting them on three tracks of the 24-track. So I was recording street noises but they were being made musical through this. There was some gravel near the door, and occasionally cars crossed this gravel. You'd hear this crackle, but the crackle pings at these frequencies.
MR&M: How was that recording similar to your recording in the African desert, picking up the sounds of insects and frogs, for Ambient #4?
BE: It's a similar feeling, but it's something people consistently fail to understand. There's a difference between sitting and listening to something, just like we're listening now, and actually putting that thing in a frame of some kind: like putting on headphones, pointing the mic in a particular direction... and actually listening to it as though this is a musical event, as though things relate to one another or have the potential of relating in an interesting way....
If you take a photograph of something, you don't take a photograph of everything you can see. You make a selection and you put a frame on it. When you frame something, you do something very distinct to it - you separate it from the rest of the world and you say, "This deserves special attention" or "I'm giving this special attention."
Since I did that [in Africa], I've been doing that a lot. [Laughs] I often put my headphones on and sit on the roof and record, and then take it in.
MR&M: Is this a recent development? As a youngster in England, did you ever just sit down and listen to the street or the river as a "musical event?"
BE: Well, I didn't very much...
MR&M: Or maybe you did, and simply didn't realize it, as with the sound of the metal masts.
BE: That's right. I must've been quite aware of what was going on. That mast thing isn't the only incident of connecting with a distant, childhood sound. But it was never something I consciously did. I wish I could honestly say that I had. In fact, most of the time I lived in the country, I was completely oblivious to it. I lived in one of the loveliest parts of England, and it really meant nothing to me. I enjoyed it but I didn't particularly think, "Wow! I'm in the country. What a great place! Aren't I lucky to be here."
In fact, a lot of the time I felt, "I wish I lived in London, where all these things are going on." It wasn't until I had lived away from the country for quite a long time that I realized my soul was definitely there. I always will have a feeling for enjoying a kind of loneliness, a kind of melancholy which belongs to that part of the country in particular. I'm finding myself happiest -and most productive as well - with a very slow pace of things.
MR&M: How does that feeling relate, if at all, Brian, to your choice of recording studios?
BE: Very strongly, indeed. For some time I've been working, almost exclusively, in this studio in Canada called Grant Avenue. There are two strong reasons for working there: One is that I never feel I'm in a hurry there. I don't feel lazy, either. You never feel lazy in a studio because you can't ignore the fact that you have booked that time, and that's a specific frame in which to do something. It's not like sitting home and thinking, "Maybe I will and maybe I won't." It's a fact of discipline, which I enjoy. And the studio never gives the impression of being in a hurry or of you being just another client.
The other thing is that I always work with the same engineer there, Dan Lanois, who is an extremely nice and very unneurotic and interested type of person.
MR&M: Does he also project an unhurried attitude?
BE: It's genuine. He really is interested in making the situation so that he can enjoy it. That's what I like. He's not a passive engineer at all.
If I'm sitting out there working on something, he'll be working in there [control room], with all the various devices of the studio, and coming up with sounds. So we really generate things together. It's not that I tell him what to do. It really works both ways; he often tells me what to do.
We'll always be working on a sound together. I was working a lot with the piano, for instance, in the last few days, and trying to get particular harmonies to come out. I was doing that by damping the strings at particular points and then using the tube microphone. Of course, the tube will resonate at a particular frequency. I would find that harmonic, that corresponding harmonic on the string, and as I was doing this, he was in the control room working with resonant filters and various digital time-distortion devices, which would amplify the effect I was getting out there.
At a certain point, we hit a sound together. So I enjoy working with him because, on the one hand, he's discreet enough to desist if he sees I'm on to something. He's not always trying to say, "Why don't you try this?" One doesn't always want to be presented with infinite options at every time. But on the other hand, he's just interested enough in the project, from his point of view, to be constantly experimenting and showing other options at the time that you want to see some. Not when you don't want to see them.
MR&M: It must take a lot of empathy on his part to know when to present the options, and when not to.
BE: Yes. We've had a good working relationship. The first thing we worked on was the Harold Budd record, the second ambient album [The Plateaux of Mirror]. And he really enjoyed that record a lot. He [Lanois] is a musician himself, and his own tastes have been tending more and more in that direction.
MR&M: What was the impetus behind your decision on Ambient #4 that anything you recorded must appear on the record in some form?
BE: I've been listening to a lot of old 50s songs recently-recordings of old Bo Diddley, Arthur Crudup, early James Brown-and wondering why those records are so exciting. I suddenly realized that one of the reasons is because the musicians knew they were in a position where they couldn't retract what they did. Contemporary musicians don't have that constraint anymore. Like I said in this thing [the essay], you can erase anything.
MR&M: A fairly recent example is Fleetwood Mac spending a million dollars to record Tusk.
BE: That's right. You can fix anything... This is a freedom and it can be used well, but it's also a way of fooling yourself. If you listen to those James Brown records, they have a kind of messiness which would be intolerable to most musicians today. But concomitant with that, they have a real charge of hearing people doing something for real. They knew this was it; this was what they were going to be stuck with for years. I find it very exciting now to be in a position where, before I do a take, I say to myself, "This is the take; this isn't a rehearsal for it."
MR&M: Would you rehearse in advance before this take?
BE: Well, I do now. I never used to before, you see. Now I think about it quite hard. It's given me quite a different attitude toward working.
I used to work like most musicians do in the studio continuously. I'd sling things on to the tracks continuously, as if it were wasting time to sit down and think about things for a while. Just put it on, put it on, put it on, and at the end of the day seeing what you've got.
MR&M: Was it the feeling that because you had, say, 24 tracks at your disposal, you had to fill them all up?
BE: That's right. Of course, the result is that you get a lot of rather half-hearted things on the tracks. You can go in, polish them up, and make them sound like they're convincing. But there really is something different about it....
I've been in studios where a musician, for instance, would play a rhythm guitar part. He'd say, "I've got an idea for a part," and at that moment he was excited about it. He would play it, and it would have all sorts of imperfections; he would suddenly think of a variation on it halfway through that was a little bit better. So having heard that back, he'd say, "Yeah, that variation is good. I'll do that all the way through." So he'd go out and do it again.
As far as you could tell, his playing was identical. But something was lost there, and it's not something one just suspects. I'm sure it's true. Something has been lost. There's a kind of tension, even down to microscopic things like the tentativeness or certainty with which he hits a string. I'm sure that makes an acoustic difference to what happens. So I'm more and more preferring to move into a position of fooling myself, in a way, that what I'm doing is not a retractable statement. It's because of my influence from paintings more than anything else. I look at paintings a lot.
MR&M: I suspected as much. That's why I brought along Miles Davis's 1958 album Kind of Blue. On the liner notes, the late pianist Bill Evans writes: "There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible."
BE: That's very similar to what I mean. I'll tell you another thing. There's a book called, I think, The Theory of Japanese Painting. And it says, "As the brush moves, so the spirit moves." I like that idea very much because the two things trigger each other. It's not just spirit moves the brush; its brush moves spirit as well. I like that idea.
MR&M: Brian, is there not an art term called Pentimento? I believe the term involves the process wherein a painter will start an image, have second thoughts, and then paint over the first impression. And when one looks at the finished work, the original impression is visible underneath.
BE:That's right. I like that very much. In any piece, I love to see its history written in there as well. I like to see some of the earlier decisions. Instead of seeing a thing at one moment in time, like a snapshot, you're seeing like a tunnel in time: you're seeing it having progressed through a period. One of the reasons I love the painter Michael Chandler's work so much is because he works in such a way to deliberately build those "facts" into a piece. His works take years to do. Theyre very small things, mostly ... and he'll work on them for years. And the final picture or image - they're sort of semi-three dimensional - has within it all these nuances of other ways of approaching that position. So you get the thing itself and then all the theories he had about it in the meantime.
MR&M: I've long been impressed, Brian, by your album cover art. Are these covers, and the work you've been showing me in your notebook this morning, traceable to your fine art studies at the Ipswich and Winchester Art Schools?
BE: I think in diagrams a lot, that's for sure. For me, a diagram is worth a thousand words. What's interesting about a diagram is that you make a little picture that is an attempt to structure some idea you have. And then you find that the picture actually tells you more than you knew beforehand. It leads you to another idea. This book is full of diagrams, and I use them all the time as a way of advancing.
One of the reasons I feel attracted to painters is because they also work alone. I work in a rather similar way. A painter is alone with his work, and mostly I am too, on my own records anyway... I work in a completely empirical way, an almost completely empirical way. I put something down and then I try something else with it, then I shift the first thing around a little bit. I really see it as if I'm doing it with my hands. I move this, and then I find that for this to be strong, it has to have a certain color behind it.
I think a lot in terms of color of sound. I've always been moved by the moment when a piece suddenly has a geography to it. I suddenly feel that this piece is located somewhere. This is funny, Michael, the painter, says he suddenly feels moved when the piece has a sound to it [Laughs], so he's working the other way around. Peter Schmidt, the painter, who never knew Michael or anything, used to say exactly the same thing. He said there's a certain moment in a piece when it has a sound, and then you know you're on the right track. Before that, you're sort of enthusiastically experimenting. You're moving things around, but there's a certain way they'll click. I've got the place, they've got the sound.
MR&M: Turning back to ambient music, Brian, what distinction do you make between ambient music and discreet music?
BE: "Discreet Music" was really the title of that particular piece.
MR&M: So it isn't a generic form.
BE: No, it wasn't. I'd had an accident, where I got this scar across the top of my head - I was hit by a taxi. And I was laying in bed - I couldn't move - and a friend of mine came to visit me. And when a friend left, I used to ask, "Would you put a record on for me?" She brought me a record of virtuoso harp music. Not something I would naturally have bought myself. She put it on the record player and then left.
It turned out that my stereo was really flaky at the time. [Laughs] One channel didn't work. It was a very quiet record. I could scarcely hear it, and it was raining outside. So just the very loudest parts of this music I could hear. At first I was annoyed, I wished I could turn it up, and then I started to drift off into this sound. I thought, "This fits so beautifully with the rain." It's like you've slightly tuned some of the raindrops, or something like that. Just these little plucks of the harp at its loudest. I thought, "This is a kind of music that ought to exist."
MR&M:So you weren't hearing all of the music. Just certain passages.
BE: Not at all. I thought of it afterwards. In fact, I wrote a piece when I was in art school called "Icebergs," which was very much the same idea. Just occasional pieces would surface from your threshold of audibility. Like icebergs - nine-tenths of an iceberg is under the water.
I liked the idea very much of making a piece of music where quite a lot was deliberately hidden, or was allowed to be obscured. The phrase I used to describe this type of music was "discreet music."
MR&M:When you first started your ambient projects, did the lingering stigma against Muzak give you pause? Serious listeners and critics often dismiss a piece of music as Muzak. Did that sensibility make you think twice before embarking on the project?
BE: Sure, I had two stigmas to work against, actually. One was that criticism, which I also felt myself. It's not as if it was just a bunch of critics saying this, and I was saying, "No, I stand on my principles!" I was in doubt about it, too. Any criticism that worries you is one that you also feel could possibly be true...
The other difficulty was that my own background was from doing pop records of a particular kind, which just at that time people were beginning to like. [Laughs] On a large scale, people were beginning to see where they [these solo pop albums] fit into things. When they came out they were a bit left-field: I believe that's the phrase. They were odd.
But by the time I started doing Discreet Music and then the ambient series, they [the pop records] were seen to sit nicely in the development of a kind of music that was on the radio stations at the time. At the point I was getting some real encouragement for doing it, I was abandoning it. And the same people who were encouraging me were saying, "But why can't you write some songs? This other stuff is all right, but why can't you do some songs?" That was just about the time I was losing confidence with songs.
MR&M: What time frame are you speaking of?
BE: Actually from 1975 onwards. After Another Green World. Even on that record, there's a very strong drift - more than half of the pieces are instrumentals.
MR&M: Traces of your eventual landscape concept can be discerned on that album.
BE: That's right. And it's obviously getting very strong there. In that sense, Before and After Science was a kind of regressive record. I don't dislike it by any means, but it was me thinking, "Christ, maybe I should write some songs." In a way, it was artificial for that reason. It was made for some rather peculiar reasons - wondering whether I still had it in me.
One of the things going on there was the development of age, where you start to let go of that adolescent excitement and manic panic [Laughs] type of thing, and you naturally tend to be interested in things that are slower, that move a different part of you. I don't say more profound, but they move you in a different part of your being. This is a frightening process because you think, "God, am I getting old? What's happened? I used to be such a wild kid, and now look what's happened. I have to think about everything I'm doing." All this self-questioning. So one is very afraid of letting go of that baggage of youth. But you have to do it. Once you've seen another direction, you can't half-embrace it. You either go with it or you don't. And I knew I was at least going to half go with it, so I had to go with it all the way.
MR&M: How much does the composing/ recording/ producing process for ambient music differ, if at all, from active" music? In other words, how much does the potential function of the music - be it dancing, serious listening or the completion of some task - enter into your thinking?
BE: Well, take a particular usage: My old records had a voice in them, my voice. And these new ones don't. Or if it is in there, it's so disguised; some of the animal noises on this new record are actually me, but it's not clearly a human voice.
As soon as you have a voice in a record, particularly if it's a single voice, you have a personality and you have a human being. It's very difficult to put that human being anywhere other than in the center of the thing. You can't treat him as incidental because you know that immediately the listener will attach to that person. So even if you stick him far away, the listeners will still be struggling to pull him forward; their perception fastens on that.
So I got into a difficulty there. I was trying to do these landscape things where things were spread and where there was a continuous gradation between the most distant and the closest.
MR&M: No background and no foreground.
BE: That's right. No strict separation. You didn't just have these things at the front [makes diagram in book] and then all that stuff at the back. You had some things that were closer than others, but there was a continuous shift out to the edges. Also, I wanted the sense that things could move within this, so they weren't in fixed positions. As soon as you have a voice, you put this thing in the middle of the piece. You can't help it. It becomes foreground. I haven't found a way of solving that problem.
Now, I think certain great singers can do this. I think Van Morrison is a great singer; he has a way of using his voice, sometimes, where you lose the sense of a personality in the voice. I didn't want a person in these things, really, I wanted the person in them to be the person who was listening. I didn't want them listening to me, I wanted them [listeners] to be in there listening to it.
MR&M: You wanted the listener to project himself into the music.
BE: That's right. A lot of these things have to do with the feeling of loneliness. But not as a negative type of feeling. The feeling of aloneness, I should say. That doesn't have quite the same pejorative sound of loneliness.
I couldn't see how you could do that if you had this other person in there. I also think about the use of certain instruments. If you have a set of instruments that are rhythmically meshed together, like in a rock song, they're naturally going to stay tight to one another; they're going to stay as a group. Whatever else you do there, however dominant the so-called "background" is, it won't destroy the cohesiveness of that group. So, again, you'll get not in this case a person, but a group of people or a group of interactions that will occupy the foreground. I try sometimes breaking this down in various ways, like on the Talking Heads record.
MR&M: I was about to interject that this is achieved to good advantage with the Heads on Remain in Light.
BE: I had a particular image on that record. I imagined that you were sitting down, watching a group of people dancing around you. They were dancing in nice ways with one another, but you kept seeing through their legs out into the distance, [Laughs] so every time there was a hole in what the instruments were doing, you listened through to a distance somewhere. On that record I worked a lot with particular types of echo and so on to try to create a sense of this thing being located in a very large space.
MR&M: I can't explain why, but I get an impression of the iceberg you mentioned before.
BE: I suppose so, yes. That's right, that's right. The background is coming through as an iceberg. I never thought of it like that. But I still found it difficult; I couldn't do it like I wanted to somehow. I think this is a problem that might sort itself out in time. It's like a production problem, and like any serious production problem, it's a conceptual problem as well.
MR&M: A more mundane question. Following the release of Remain in Light and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the individual members of Talking Heads issued solo albums. There has been talk, speculation, that you were a divisive factor in the group. Do you have any projects in the works with the Heads?
BE: I haven't got any projects in the works with them. I don't think I'll work with them again, actually. I don't particularly want to... it's very hard to talk about things like this because they're always extremely complicated situations. It's like if somebody said, "Why did your marriage break up?" You can say, "Well, Christ, she did this." But in fact, the real reasons for something like that are extremely complicated.
MR&M: They may be symptoms rather than actual reasons...
BE: That's right. Exactly. And the difficulty with ever discussing something like this is that, first of all, your own judgement of a situation tends to change in time, and as soon as something is printed, that's a fixed judgment. Situations where a group of people are working together are always very, very complicated, and it's extremely rare that they persist for a long time because all the members are developing. Of course, people tend not to notice in each other that they're changing; they tend to have a fixed idea of how things were when the relationship started.
Now, with all the people in that group, myself included, throughout the course of doing these projects, our actual roles were gradually changing. But they were changing within a kind of strait-jacket of a given role from the early days, and this created a real tightness to the whole thing, a tense ...
MR&M: However, it must be said that for a person who, admittedly, often works alone and does so by choice, you achieved a rare communality with the Heads insofar as composing, recording and, I presume, dispensing royalties.
BE: Well, the dispensing of royalties was one of the best [Laughs] things that I did there, I think. One of the problems in the band had been that there had been a developing difficulty of how to share royalties.
The way the band had started was rather different from the way it developed. For instance, on the last record, we all worked together in the studio. There were very few predetermined starting points, so there were very few identifiable composers. What would happen is that we would start playing in the studio, and one idea someone had would trigger a direction. I'd say, or someone else would say, "You hold onto that. We'll shift what we're doing around it." Then we'd shift and then something else would lock in. "Hold onto that for a while." Things would lock like that.
Quite often, what happened was that these early parts, though they'd been important anchors for the development of the piece, would eventually become extinct. The piece had developed to a stage later on where, in fact, these things even fought against the new shape of the piece. So we'd drop them. This created all kinds of...
MR&M: Yet these ideas provided momentum, incentive to carry on, and thus were valuable.
BE: That's right. they were evolutionary steps without which the thing could never have got to where it is. So there was a real difficulty there. Any conventional way of dividing up royalties - saying, "You played this and here's what you did" simply wouldn't work because many of the steps in the piece had not appeared on the final record yet were acknowledged by everyone as being important.
So my girlfriend and I came up with a system for dividing royalties, which I should tell you, because I think it's quite ingenious. Take a particular song. I would say what I thought the relative contributions of the four other members was, in terms of 100 percent. So this person 25, this person 3.5, this person so much, adding up to 100 per cent. So I'd make a judgment on the writing of that piece as if I had nothing to do with it. I'd just work out their portions. Each person would do the same. When we totalled them up, you see, what we got was everyone's opinion of what you've done, except his or her own.
This seemed to me extremely fair. In fact, the way the royalties finally divided up, everyone was very pleased with what happened. There were minor things, like "I could've gotten a bit more for this" or "I think I got a bit too much for that," but by and large, it was, I thought, a very fair way of dividing it.
I was consequently a bit distressed [Laughs] when - I never saw this, I never read the press very much - someone told me that one of the Talking Heads had been saying in the press that I forced royalties out of them by threatening legal action. Anyway, I don't feel that. It seems to me like an understandable situation that will alter in time, so I don't make too many comments about it.
MR&M: Your music creates its own reality, its own view of the world, whereas most pop music is a dull reflection of the world, if that. Your music creates its own world instead of conforming to it.
BE: A friend of mine - he was a painter as well - was once asked, "Why do you paint?" He said, "One of the reasons I paint is to create a more desirable reality." This, of course, is considering:"Oh, escapism - you're not dealing with the harsh realities of life!" But, in fact, I thought about that quite a lot, because I thought that was a valid criticism. I think that when you make something, you offer people the choice of another way of feeling about the world... and as soon as people start practicing another way of feeling about the world, they actually create that world. As soon as you acknowledge the possibility of a certain type of being or a certain type of environment, you create that environment, because you tend to select and nourish those facets of that environment.
MR&M: Then it becomes a matter of personal discipline. One assumes the actual behavior he wishes to achieve.
BE: Exactly. With human beings, what patterns our world is our perception of it. I had a very clear instance of this. I've always had a problem with New York because it's such a menagerie of craziness. My answer to that has been a tendency to retreat into high places - most of my apartments have been at the top of buildings.
MR&M:The pyramid theory again.
BE: [Laughs] Yes, that's right. I was out for a walk in Chinatown on the first sunny Saturday this year, and there was someone burning [cooking] [shish] kebabs on the corner. There was the smell of burnt meat in the air. They were sort of dwarfs: one or two of the grotesque-looking people you get in New York. I don't mean grotesque in a nasty way. There were people selling things on the street, and I suddenly thought, "This is the Dark Ages." I suddenly had the feeling of being in a great medieval city, a thriving, dangerous, mixed-up and strange medieval city. Now, from the moment I had that thought, it hasn't left me. And I've enjoyed New York tremendously since then.
I like this idea of being in the Dark Ages. I walk around and look for...
MR&M: ...crumpled figures carrying bales of hay on their backs.
BE: Well, you almost do. If you look at New York though those spectacles, you suddenly see that it really is in that condition. It's a rabbit warren. There are so many things going on here.
MR&M: Music, as we've discussed, can create its own reality for the composer, musician and listener. Brian, what do you suppose your reality would be had you not become a musician?
BE: I guess I would be a painter if I weren't a musician. I think I would be making something spiritually similar - obviously not formally similar - something that was spiritually intended to put me in the same place. I sometimes think that everyone goes through life searching for a particular mental place, and this place isn't fixed - it changes throughout their life. I think artists are people who are so desperate to find this that they decide they're going to commit themselves to it and do nothing else.