Games for Musicians

by Brian Eno

From RAYGUN, October 1995, kindly supplied by Albert Carrasco


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 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 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 favorite 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 millenium. 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 patois that effortlessly blends English, Spanish, Chinese and Wolog. Using on-stage computers, instant sampling techniques and long delay echo systems, you are able to build up dense clouds of colored words during performance. Your audience regards you as the greatest living exponent of live abstract poetry. Samuel Beckett is a big influence.


It's 2005. You are a musician in a soul-Arab band in a North-African role-sex 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 a musician at "Asteroid," a space-based club (currently in geostationary 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 sexy, violent styles. These people have musical tastes formed in their early teens in the mid-Nineties. Your big influence as a kid was the Funkadelics.


You are in a suburb of Lagos, the new Silicon Valley, where the Ultra Large Scale Integration industries are all located. The place is littered with wierd night clubs 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 is based in influences as diverse as Soul, Silicon Techno and Somadelia, but of course all with a very strong African flavor. This manifests in highly percussive and rhythmically complex orchestrations, an aggressive edge reminiscent of the great Nigerian balladeer Fela Ransome 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 Fela Ransome in the 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 grew 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 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 surprises -- when the band listens back to the take, you will, unbeknownst to them, have set up a landscape of sound within which their performance is located. You regard yourself as a "sonic backdrop painter." You do this 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 favorite historical figure is Shadow Morton.

© Brian Eno 1995