Please Quote Me: Brian Eno

Please Quote Me with Brian Eno

Please Quote Me is a new project we're working on where you can submit and find quotes on musicians by musicians. Like, Lou Reed's thoughts on the Ramones or Keith Richard's comments on Mick Jagger. It's an encyclopedia of music's oral history.

We'll be adding Please Quote Me mini-segments to our magazine each month. This one's on Brian Eno.

By Sam McAlilly


Arguably one of the most important contributors to 20th century music, Brian Eno’s storied career is too large to sum up in a few words. He’s worked with Roxy Music, Robert Fripp, John Cale, Nico, Talking Heads, Devo, David Bowie, Harold Budd, U2, and Coldplay, among others. And, he pioneered ambient music.

Influenced not just by music—but philosophy, literature, painting, math, cybernetics, computers, and science—studying Eno illuminates the artistic process. In a 2005 interview with science fiction writer Alan Moore, Eno said this:

"I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what the point of being an artist is. What does it do for us? What does it do for me? What does it do for anybody else? Could we do without it? Is it a useful job? Does it make any difference to the world? Those kinds of questions. Their answers quite directly affect me because I’m not intellectually dishonest enough to always answer in my own favor. So sometimes I come up with the answer—for several years at a time, sometimes—where I say, ‘It really isn’t worth doing. There are better ways of spending your time.’ This is a sort of crisis, because then I don’t know what to do, and I think, well, the only way to find out is by trying it again and seeing if I can get somewhere different this time. And if I find myself going down the same road again, I think, this is hopeless.”

He’s an intellectual, but not in a pretentious, academic way. Instead, it’s driven by a childlike curiosity. It’s playful. In recounting the production of Eno’s seminal album Another Green World, longtime Eno collaborator and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp said, “Brian has better taste, a more interesting mind and developed sense of play than almost all the musicians I have known. A good professional musician knows what they’re doing, so they do what they know. This is the death to creative life. So, working with Brian is usually a lot more fun and musically creative than working with good professional players.”

Robert Fripp, Brian Eno and David Bowie.

Leo Abrahams, a session player who played on Another Green World, said, “It’s almost like when you go to a dinner party and it’s a bit boring and it’s a bit stilted, the conversation, and then somebody will walk in who’s just really fun, and it will transform the whole atmosphere of the room.”

Tina Weymouth from the Talking Heads remarked, "Eno thinks our albums are hovering music, which was suggested by David's manner of moving around in the studio. David moves around the studio as if he were a janitor cleaning up and vacuuming while whistling an idiotic tune. His second description of our music is 'music to do your housework by.’”

David Byrne and Brian Eno in the studio.

Eno’s approach to creation is best crystallized in this quote from Eno himself:

“Everybody thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head—they somehow formed in his head—and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And, then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted—they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that—then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much, and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”

For him, interviews are an outlet for exploring new ideas that manifest in his music. The ideas are dynamic and always changing, like the way his ambient loops are self-described as part of a larger process, forever morphing with no beginning or end. In an interview with Mojo magazine, Eno said, “What I liked about it was the idea that, by fading it in at the start and out at the end, you get the impression that you've caught part of an endless process. That's always been a key condition of ambient music for me, that it's something that is going on anyway, which you enter and leave.”

Brian Eno making a record.


Please Quote Me is a new project we're working on that categorizes the oral history of music. Anyone can sign up and contribute. Keep in mind the only posts allowed are quotes by musicians about other musicians.

Sam McAlilly lives in Oxford, Mississippi. He sells books and designs graphic promotional material for books. He wishes to escape the dumb Mississippi lawmakers but the rent is cheap and Oxford is a good spot. Sometimes he writes.

If you like this article, see more from this month's magazine, here.


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