NOTE: the Oblique Strategies are copyright B. Eno and P. Schmidt 1975,'78,'79
It's not clear from the text below or any other sources I've so far run across whether the cards were explicitly intended to be oracular at the outset [that is, whether or not Peter Schmidt and Eno necessarily saw them exclusively as a "single instruction/single response" kind of "game"]. The introductory cards included in all three versions of the Oblique Strategies suggest otherwise. It seems clear, also, that the deck was not conceived of as a set of "fixed" instructions, but rather a group of ideas to be added to or modified over time; each of the three decks included 4 or 5 blank cards, intended to be filled and used as needed. (as a side note, I've not met very many people who actually *owned* a real deck who actually *did* write on the cards. For me, the problem involved coming up with bits of advice I actually trusted enough to commit to the small stock of blank cards I had. I settled on two: "Think of a terraced garden" and "Gradually overwhelmed, like Venice."
Eno seems to discuss the Oblique Strategies at greatest length in an interview with Charles Amirkhanian, conducted at KPFA in Berkeley in early 1980:
"These cards evolved from our separate working procedures. It was one of
the many cases during the friendship that he [Peter Schmidt] and I
where we arrived at a working position at almost exactly the same time
and almost in exactly the same words. There were times when we hadn't
seen each other for a few months at a time sometimes, and upon
remeeting or exchanging letters, we would find that we were in the same
intellectual position - which was quite different from the one we'd been
in prior to that. The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a
number of working situations when the panic of the situation -
particularly in studios - tended to make me quickly forget that there
were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of
attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the
direct head-on approach. If you're in a panic, you tend to take the
head-on approach because it seems to be the one that's going to yield
the best results Of course, that often isn't the case - it's just the
most obvious and - apparently - reliable method. The function of the
Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which
said, "Don't forget that you could adopt *this* attitude," or "Don't
forget you could adopt *that* attitude." The first Oblique Strategy said
"Honour thy error as a hidden intention." And, in fact, Peter's first
Oblique Strategy - done quite independently and before either of us
had become conscious that the other was doing that - was ...I think
it was "Was it really a mistake?" which was, of course, much the same kind
of message. Well, I collected about fifteen or twenty of these and then I
put them onto cards. At the same time, Peter had been keeping a little
book of messages to himself as regards painting, and he'd kept those in
a notebook. We were both very surprised to find the other not only using
a similar system but also many of the messages being absolutely overlapping,
you know...there was a complete correspondence between the messages. So
subsequently we decided to try to work out a way of making that
available to other people, which we did; we published them as a pack of
cards, and they're now used by quite a lot of different people, I think.
-Brian Eno, interview with Charles Amirkhanian, KPFA-FM Berkeley, 2/1/80
They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case,the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.
There were also some interesting missteps in the dreary and grueling business of actually typing in the content of a deck, too; one version of the deck published includes the aphorism, "Is the information correct?" instead of "Is the intonation correct?" So, this particular posting is an attempt to actually put together a more-or-less definitive and complete listing of the Oblique Strategies cards -all three versions of them. As far as any of us are aware, I'm the first one in net.history to actually find myself in a position to sit down and go over all three versions. I am grateful to Hal Sundt for his help in letting me finally sit down with a copy of deck one - the final bit of the puzzle that had eluded us for all these years (a decade by my count, perhaps longer). Having said that, onward.
The untimely death of Peter Schmidt while on holiday in Spain in 1980 meant that no later versions of the Oblique Strategies could be made as a collaborative activity between Eno and his friend and teacher. In the event that a fourth edition of the Oblique Strategies is ever undertaken, it will be Eno alone who does it. Eno offered the following appreciation of his friend Peter Schmidt:
Looking back now at Peter Schmidt's work, I find myself thinking "This looks very contemporary" and "How did he cover this much territory this quickly?" And, inevitably, I ask "Why didn't anyone really notice?"
Well, I know that the 'neglected genius' is a mythical character. It's very unusual for real talent to be completely ignored. Peter was a real talent, and he was not completely ignored. Instead, he was regarded as something of an interesting curiosity, even a gifted eccentric, but certainly somebody at the margins of culture rather than at its centre. However, even in the few years since his death, there has been a major shift of values in the painting world. One of the results of this has been, in my opinion, to relocate Peter's work: it now looks very prophetic.
Perhaps this reassessment wouldn't have made much difference to Peter anyway. For someone who watched many conspicuously lesser talents rise to positions of respect and influence, he was remarkably free of envy. His work was very much a personal inquiry, a continuous questioning of deeper and deeper assumptions, a delight in finding himself in new territory without answers, and thus innocent. We are always innocent, unless, from laziness or for convenience, we decide to overlook the novelty of the moment, this particular now. It seemed to me that Peter was more capable than anybody else I have ever known of following that understanding through in his actions. He was always alert to those little byways of thought that might open out onto whole new vistas,and he followed them with a quiet kind of courage and with the very minimum
He wrote to me once, "In a roomful of shouting people, the one who whispers becomes interesting." By the mid to late seventies, voices were being raised. The streamlining of the art-world's selling machinery and the general Schnabelization of artistic behaviour was in full cry. Paintings and artistic egos were growing by the acre, and the business of marketing them had crossed over into real estate.
Peter seemed to pay very little attention to this cacophony. His work was changing too, becoming smaller, crisper, more alive. And as everyone else seemed to be switching back to oils and canvas (the guarantee of "real art.'), Peter became fascinated by watercolours and paper (a certain sign of dilettantism). In the short term, such an unfashionable decision firmly located Peter among the Sunday painters. From today's perspective, that assessment seems about 180 degrees off: his work is full of seeds, any one of which could form the basis of a healthy artistic career (and many of which probably have).
As with many good artists, one's admiration for Peter's work increases
with familiarity. To follow the threads that are woven through his work,
to watch the way that they cross and mesh with new threads and with older
ones picked up again is to see a graceful and brilliant dance in motion.
That this same pace and brilliance characterized his everyday life came,
at first, as something of a surprise. He never raised his voice.
-Brian Eno, May 1987 (printed in "Opal Information #5)
The purpose of this document is to provide a listing of the complete contents of all three versions of the Oblique Strategies. While my interest in doing so is scholarly, readers may be interested in constructing their own "meta-set" of all three editions of the decks, or in looking at what is added or deleted. You're free, of course,to simply go through and strip out all the accompanying prose and put stuff into a "fortune"-type program. As a courtesy, I'd appreciate it if you credited my work in assembling this list. The next portion of this project for me will be putting together a nice Hypercard stack whose cards actually typographically reflect the real cards,includes some background information, and will allow you to select from any of the three editions for your own use. It seems like the sort of shareware that should be done and might be pretty classy, but my current work schedule is such that I probably won't get it done next week.
For the sake of clarity and convenience, I have broken up the description of the Oblique Strategies decks into the following sections:
Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
Don't be frightened of cliches
What is the reality of the situation?
Are there sections? Consider transitions
Turn it upside down
Think of the radio
Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)
Go slowly all the way round the outside
A line has two sides
Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the
last thing on the list
Into the impossible
Ask people to work against their better judgement
Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance
Change instrument roles
Disconnect from desire
Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do
Don't be frightened to display your talents
Breathe more deeply
Honor thy error as a hidden intention
Only one element of each kind
Is there something missing?
Use `unqualified' people
How would you have done it?
Do nothing for as long as possible
Bridges -build -burn
You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas
Do the words need changing?
Ask your body
Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate
Consult other sources -promising -unpromising
Use an unacceptable color
Humanize something free of error
Fill every beat with something
Discard an axiom
What wouldn't you do?
Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle
Listen to the quiet voice
Is it finished?
Put in earplugs
Give the game away
Abandon normal instruments
Use fewer notes
Repetition is a form of change
Give way to your worst impulse
Trust in the you of now
What would your closest friend do?
Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
[blank white card]
You can only make one dot at a time
Just carry on
The inconsistency principle
Don't break the silence
Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
What mistakes did you make last time?
Consider different fading systems
Mute and continue
It is quite possible (after all)
Don't stress one thing more than another
You are an engineer
Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics
Look at the order in which you do things
Go outside. Shut the door.
Do we need holes?
Do something boring
Define an area as `safe' and use it as an anchor
Overtly resist change
Work at a different speed
Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
Mechanicalize something idiosyncratic
Emphasize the flaws
Remember .those quiet evenings
Take a break
Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will
improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)
Use an old idea
Destroy -nothing -the most important thing
Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
The tape is now the music
Imagine the music as a moving chain or caterpillar
(this card reappears in editions 2 and 3 as:
What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving)
Intentions -credibility of -nobility of -humility of
(this card appears in editions 2 and 3 as a reordered list:
Intentions -nobility of -humility of -credibility of)
Imagine the music as a set of disconnected events
(in editions 2 and 3, there is a substitution:
Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events)
What are you really thinking about just now? Incorporate
(in editions 2 and 3, the command is removed
What are you really thinking about just now?)
Assemble some of the instruments in a group and treat the group
(in editions 2 and 3, this is generalized
Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group)
Shut the door and listen from outside
(in editions 2 and 3, this is shortened
Go outside. Shut the door.)
Is the tuning appropriate?
(in editions 2 and 3, this is restated as
Is the intonation correct? )
Look at a very small object, look at its centre
(this is altered for edition 2 [and omitted from edition 3]
A very small object Its center )
Children's voices -speaking -singing
(this is slightly altered for edition 2 [and omitted from edition 3] to
Children -speaking -singing )
Feedback recordings into an acoustic situation
(this is altered in edition 2 [and omitted in edition 3] to
Feed the recording back out of the medium )
As you can probably tell, the greatest change in the Oblique Strategies occurred with the release of the second edition of the deck in 1978. In addition to the rewriting of several of the first edition cards, eleven completely new cards were added to the deck.
Towards the insignificant
Simply a matter of work
Not building a wall but making a brick
Revaluation (a warm feeling)
The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
Idiot glee (?)
State the problem in words as clearly as possible
Always first steps
Question the heroic approach
Lost in useless territory
Always give yourself credit for having more than personality
Faced with a choice, do both (given by Dieter Rot) Tape your mouth (given by Ritva Saarikko) Get your neck massaged Do the washing up Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element Spectrum analysis Twist the spine Left channel, right channel, centre channel
Lowest common denominator check -single beat -single note -single riff
(this is omitted from edition 2 and reappears in edition 3 as
Lowest common denominator )
Listen in total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly
(this card is omitted from edition 2 and reappears in edition 3 as
In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly)
I. Cards which appear in the third edition only:
The third and final edition of the Oblique Strategies deck was
published in 1979. This version of the deck adds nine new cards in
addition to the two reformulations listed above.
Would anybody want it? Retrace your steps Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place Once the search is in progress, something will be found Only a part, not the whole From nothing to more than nothing Be less critical more often
I'm still email@example.com.
As nearly as I can tell [barring attacks of boneheadedness], this really *is* a definitive listing of the Oblique Strategies - *all* of them. Thanks for your patience.
With every good wish,