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it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. my guest today is a hugely influential contemporary music maker, once styled the brainiest man in pop. except the word "pop" doesn't fit brian eno. he was a member of the achingly cool roxy music in the early ‘70s, but he went his own way, developing ambient music, creating audiovisual installations, and collaborating with a host of big names, including bowie, u2 and coldplay. his output has been prolific and varied, but what is he? musician, composer or an artist impossible to label? brian eno, welcome to hardtalk.
you have got a body of work, musical creativity that spans almost five decades. and yet you have in the past described yourself as an non—musician. what do you mean by that? when i started using that term, i had appeared at a point where there was a huge stress on musicianship, and there were bands playing, very things with their backs turned to the audience. —— very complicated. i didn't come into music from that route, i did not come into music from learning an instrument and then standing up and writing songs on it. i really came out of painting, and that is what i studied. and i realised that contemporary music, contemporary studio practice in particular, was really a way of painting with sound. so, for me, it was quite a natural
transition to move into music. plus, at that point, you had recording studios, a whole set of new instruments, electric instruments. but you still had to have some basic musicianship to begin with, didn't you? did you play instruments? not really. i very poorly play the guitar, and keyboards. but really not very well. can you read music? no. at all? but most of the people i know can't read music. that's not unusual. most of us don't read music. it is fascinating to think of you seeing music as meeting painting and visual art somewhere in the middle. can you explain to me more about that sensibility, how that works for you? when you are creating a sound, are you seeing it? sometimes, yes. and i'm thinking in sort of pictorial or sculptural terms, a lot of the time.
thinking of a musical space of some kind, and what populates that space. i'm not usually thinking in terms of, this is in a minor and that is a g sharp, and i don't know what these things mean. i don't really work that way. i am just thinking back to the beginning, i know you often say, i don't like to look back, but i can still picture you in roxy music with the long hair, alongside bryan ferry and the others, playing music. you are performing. do you not believe in performing any more? i don't particularly like doing it myself. most of what i do in a recording studio, it is quite hard to take to the stage. it is a little like asking a painter to do a picture on stage for you. it is not a performance art, painting. and what i do isn't really a performance art. i make music in the way someone paints a picture.
i add things, take things away, stretch them very much like a graphic artist. i tell you what, let's begin by actually listening to you, the most recent sound you have created. you have an album out, called the ship. let's get a flavour of what you are doing. ambient music plays. is that what most of us would now know as ambient music, how would you describe it? i think you could call it that. imean... ambient is a word that i came up with. you invented it. i cannot really say i invented the music, more and more people had
been trying to work in an area of, sort of, spacious, environmental type of music, i gave the movement a name, really. i can't claim that i invented the music, but i did identify it as a separate category, i guess. listening to it, the features of it that struck me are... it's the sort of music that doesn't really seem to have a narrative as such. it is open—ended. one gets the feeling you could listen to it and then sort of zone out for a bit and pick it up again, is that the idea of it? yes. i think of it like a painting. you don't sit and look at the painting all the time it is on your wall. you can do something else and turn away. the picture is always there but your attention is not always necessary there. i wanted to make the kind
of music that operated more like that, that did not demand continuous, focused attention. but in a sense, i have never before come across a musician who, if that is what you call yourself, and you debate that, somebody who creates sound, that says, i create this sound deliberately with the idea that people often won't really be listening to it. that's right, that's my mission. if you don't mind me saying, that sounds absurd. why bother if you don't really want them to listen? when they do listen it is very rewarding. that is different with what is happening with muzak, which is when you do start listening to it, there is not much happening. isn't that what a lot of your critics claim you have been producing? some of them. the album titles themselves are an indication of what you are about. one of your earlier — early ambient albums, music for airports, indicates you
wrote something that you think would be suitable for people rushing from a to b, catching a flight, and your music could help them destress, calm down, i don't know. it seems a decent thing to do. even that, even worse than muzak, elevator music. i don't think there is anything particularly wrong with having music in elevators or airports, but i still think it is something that composers could address. when that idea appeared of elevator music, people just took already quite bad music and made it a little bit worse. and then put it in elevators. i thought, what about taking this job seriously, just like, you know, you can have peoplejust paint their wall with any old colour they want, or you can have people who think about it, interior designers, they're called, who think about, how could we make this really work well. what i am saying is, we use music in
all sorts of places all the time. but most of the time we don't think very well about what we are doing with it. so i want to say that composers should be responsible for thatjob. they should take the responsibility of thatjob. it seems to me there is another interesting thing going on with your music, and it ties into a wider cultural point you have been making for years now, which is that you feel there is a real sort of lack of attention span about so much of what we do and what we create, and i think you have been involved with the long now movement, which calls for a more measured, longer term approach to human life and all forms of creativity. your music doesn't really have a beginning, middle and end. itjust feels like it could go on forever. yes. and in fact, my ambition always, was to make pieces of music that are theoretically infinite in length. so i invented another word after ambient, which is generative, which is music that is made by a set of instructions, essentially, a set
of rules, and somehow reproduces itself for a long period of time. this fascinates me because this is you, in recent years, using the latest computer technology and software, so you, in essence, load some thematic instructions into a computer, and then the actual music, the sound, is a sort of randomly generated... variation on the themes that you have laid down. so you actually haven't written the specific sounds that emerge. i haven't written it. and furthermore i won't ever hear all of it either, because the piece can carry on creating itself out of my presence. so you fundamentally undermine our notion of what the composer is. yes. that's exactly right. again i was
in the first person to do this. it was part of the brief of people like la monte young, philip glass and terry riley, all of those kind of composers, who started working with, not specific pieces of music, but with sets of instructions for making pieces of music. the idea was that that is like a little genetic message like, like a seed, you plant the seed and it turns into something, it can't predict what it will exactly turn into. on a philosophical level that is fascinating, on any given moment when you are hearing that sound it is unique and will not ever be reproduced ever again. philosophically that is really interesting, on a practical level, even the sort of subtlety and nuance that comes with this sort of music, which to a layman like me frankly can sound the same, on a practical level, what does an audience get out of these extraordinarily random nuances? they are not completely random.
in the same sense that the seed of a flower isn't completely random. that seed is something that has slightly randomised a large set of instructions that have been carried on through many generations. like a pattern. it is adaptive. it is notjust any old set of sounds doing any old thing, it is actually quite a honed process, within which there is a certain amount of probability, rather than randomness. it can behave in some different ways and the permutations can be different from one moment to another. but the way i tried to explain it to people is, we tend to think of composers as sort of architects of sound, so an architect being someone who specifies every part of a building, every door handle... every little bit is consciously created. that's right. that's how we tend to think of composers. what i am saying is that we should
stop thinking of them as architects and start thinking of them as gardeners, people who plant things, and those things grow and have their own lives, separate from the intentions and desires... the phrase "sound landscaping"... i will be brutally honest, that sounds somewhat pretentious. but that makes sense to you. everything good sounds pretentious at first. you are a sound landscaper, not a composer. yes. i would be quite happy with that description. let's actually take some of those fascinating thoughts and apply them notjust to sound, but the visuals as well. you actually went to art school, you came out in the visual sensibility before a musical one, and you have done loads of installations of art, using light in different ways, if we can bring up some shots here of an amazing project you did on the sydney opera house, is this reflective of your generative idea? you have, i don't know how many
thousands and thousands of lights that you were projecting onto the sails of the opera house, what was this all about? this was a three—week peice, i was projecting from a huge battery, a very powerful projector, onto the sails, and it was a generative piece so i do not know what was... if we just freeze that a moment, it looks like a fascinating piece of abstract art, but in fact, you had never seen that before. it came up from the instructions that you have loaded into your system. that's right. i had seen individual parts of it, but never seen that particular permutation before. really it is to do with permutations. i make all the elements, but then of course the elements, since there are several hundred of them, can permutate in millions
and millions of different ways. i let the process run, and it all happens quite slowly, which is an important part of it, while you are looking at this, you're not really conscious that it is changing. until you realise a few minutes later that it has changed. itjust strikes me, with all of the ways you approach creating and your art, you are embracing the idea that it, um, it does not really have narrative. yeah. it is sort ofjust there as a sort of background and people can take it or leave it. most artists, it seems to me, are driven by a particualar unique vision they want to get down — whether it be on paper, or canvas, musical score, whatever. i have a vision, but it isn't a narrative vision. my vision is very much to do with what for me was the great understanding about evolution theory that complexity arises out of simplicity and i think that is such an important message because i'm an atheist and one
of the most difficult things that atheists have to say to the world is that all this complexity and all this beauty, came from the bottom up, not from the top down. well, i want to make the kind of art that proves that is possible. i want to say, "look, here are the elements — they are quite simple, i'm being absolutely transparent about what they are and now i let them permutate and it makes this extraordinarily complex..." it is absolutely the antithesis of the idea of the artist, the creator, as a sort of god—like figure in term of what he is doing. here's where i want to, if you do not mind, look back a little bit at your own past. it seems to me, in your primary business, your first real creative business which is sort of rock'n'roll, contemporary music, you worked with a lot of people —
thinking early days of brian ferry and roxy music, but then your collaboration with bowie, for example — who were, in a sense, the epitome of the sort of talented, arguably genious, individualartist. try to get their vision down and you worked with them very happily. yep, very happy. so you weren't out of sink with them even though they were sort of playing god in a way that you don't believe, certainly not for you — it didn't work for you. it does not work for me. it is not what i want to do but i do not mind other people doing it. i see those people as sort of theatrical presences, people who design themselves, in a sense, to be theatre, players, you know. the theatre was the whole history of rock music, the whole scenario of rock music. that is an interesting phrase — a theatrical player — but some would make much greater claims, for a man like bowie and an artist who has passsed recently, prince — the claims for those two would be they were transformative, in some ways, they were genius.
do you buy the idea that individuals, artists of that calibre, can be classed as transformative and genius? i think there are clearly some artists that make much more difference than others but i have another word, which is "scenius" and i think of that as the intelligence of a whole community. what i see, particulalrly in pop music, is that there are whole scenes of all sorts of interesting and fertile people interacting and occasionally they come up with something and that something can manifest in a david bowie ora prince, ora me. but in a way those people are manifestations
of a lot of ideas. they did not invent — as i would never claim — they didn't invent it all themselves. we are always looking at all of our history and making a new synthesis of it. if i may intrude into your past a little bit, when you were working with bowie — i think it was the late 70s, the berlin trilogy and albums like heroes — seminal albums — would you call yourselves the producer on that album? what was your role? this creative... ..sort of effort you are describing is fascinating. we think of bowie and we listen to his music and we think that's bowie‘s music but is it really bowie‘s music? it is so hard to talk about this because really, especially in the popular arts, everybody draws ideas from everywhere, so whatever you're doing it is really repackaging of thousands of things you have heard and something that you have added to it. what you added mightjust be the way you put it together. how much did you add to what he did? first of all, i was not the producer. tony visconti was the producer of those albums. how would you describe your role? i was collaborating with david.
david had been listening to a particular album of mine, my first ambient album, called discreet music, for months before that and he had said that was the only thing he could listen to for a long time. this was when he was getting over a very problematic period in his life. i was working...| was just at the beginnning of working with this idea of landscaping music and he wanted to go there. he wanted to do something like that and asked me to work with him. i would set up sonic scenarios for him and he would react to them. it is a fascinating discussion because it gets to the heart of creativity is and collaboration. david bowie is undisputedly is a fascinating and great popular artist. you also have done work on some of the great commercial pop albums of our time, from coldplay, u2, a whole bunch of others as well. is that a very different process
or for you is that the same sort of creativity? going into something you know has partly been designed to sell millions of records? i think they are inviting me to work with them for the same reason. they want to go somewhere different. people do not realise that artists do notjust want to have the same hit over and over again. they just don't want to. it is boring. the thrill of being an artist is going somewhere you have not been before. if you have been in a band for a very long time, everybody gets into habits and things tend to turn out the same... we can hear that in a lot of bands‘ music. it's reprise of the same old thing. yes and, of course, record companies generally used to encourage that because they wanted more hits. it's a formula. yes, they would think, "why can't you do another one like that?"
and they would hire producers who would say to the band, let's do another one like that. how can we make this song sound more like that song that was a hit. well, i never did that, really. i was always interested to see what was new for the band, what was exciting for them, and to try and make something of that. so i think that is why i was asked to produce lots of records. you are still very busy, we talked about the ship, your latest project. where do you see the most exciting, arguably most transformative music, maybe other art form too, happening right now? what really excites you as being new and innovative, taking creativity in a different direction? there is the whole lot of class of things that i have little contact with and do not understand very well which are complex games like world of wardraft and so on. you see a lot of creativity there? this is really the future, in a way, for some big new interactive art form. really? i do not play them, my kids
do, i would dismiss it as moneymaking commercial ventures... that is how pop music was thought of for very many years at the beginning. that is how everything is thought of... are you getting into that creative sphere? not really, i hardly understand it but ijust know it is something important. not for my generation but i know where something is going to come from. i have very little to do with it. ijust realised i'm 67 and i am not going to start playing world of wa rd raft. —— warcraft. a final thought for you and it goes back to this movement, the idea that we need to think about a different timescale for the way we behave on this planet and the way we create also. i wonder, when we think in those terms, whether you think your music — and, my god, you've been prolific — will it stand the test of centuries rather than just decades?
it is an interesting question. i am already surprised that it has stood the test of decades, i have to say. i would not have expected the music for airports, for example, would still be selling records — it still is. and even earlier things are as well so i'm already on the plus side... you know, when prince died, they found thousands and thousands of bits of music of unheard and unpublished music. have you got the same thing? yes, terrible. i have an archive which is enormous. i do not even know what is in it. i work pretty much all the time and i always make a little mix of whatever i have been working on. even if it is just a silly little experiment to try out a new sound or something. i put the mix in the archive. we world will hear it one day... oh, i hope not, there is some trash in there.
well, brian eno, the world would've enjoyed hearing you on hardtalk. we have to end there but thank you so much for being on hardtalk. thank you very much. good morning. we've got some fresher air trying to push into the north—west of the uk today but for many, a mild and muggy start once again. the dividing line between that bit fresher air and something humid is this weather front which will be producing wet conditions across wales and northern england to start the day. to the south of that,
like we saw on monday, extensive low cloud. there will be a few breaks allowing some sunshine and temperatures will shoot up in the morning rush hour. like yesterday, the cloud will produce some spots of drizzle. the best parts of brightness will be across the east. the west midlands, north wales, north—west england some heavy rain around, particularly on the pennines and the lake distric splashes of rain into yorkshire and the north—east. scotland and northern ireland, a bit of cloud and outbreaks of rain particularly across the west of scotland and northern ireland. they will become less prevalent through the day. sunny skies will develop here and there. few in the way of showers. stays wet across northern england and north wales and the rain eases off in intensity and outbreaks of rain coming and going across the midlands and southern england. in sunshine, temperatures 23 or 24. while we see something fresher to scotland and northern ireland later, you will see something a good deal sunnier. the fresh air gradually clears away the damp weather from england and wales as we go through the night and into wednesday morning. we start wednesday and it will feel a good deal cooler. these are the city temperatures but rural areas down into single figures, widely.
a fresh start to wednesday but a ridge of high pressure is building in and while this weather front will bring a few showers to parts of scotland, one or two isolated showers in north—west england and northern ireland. wednesday is set to be the driest and brightest day overall. sunny spells. temperatures down on the start of the week. 15—19 degrees. similar on thursday. after a cool start, winds lighter to begin with and cloud amounts increasing. scotland and northern ireland a bit more wet. the rain spreads into northern england late in the day. many southern areas, a dry and bright day. as we finish the week, low pressure moves in and outbreaks of rain pushing into most parts of the country. we could see a zone of more persistent rain. a bit uncertain as to where that will be on friday. sunshine between blustery showers further north but temperatures in the mid teens for many. certainly a cooler end the week and we stay windy and cool
into the weekend with further blustery showers as well. that's how it's looking. bye for now. welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to viewers in north america and around the globe. my name is mike. our top stories: the us accuses north korea of begging for war, and urges the world to take the strongest possible measures in response to the latest nuclear test. only the strongest sanctions will enable us to resolve this problem through diplomacy. we've kicked the can down the road long enough. there is no more road left. as tensions rise, south korea simulates an attack on its neighbour. china calls for restraint, and a return to talks. syria's army and its allies close in on the eastern city of deir ez—zor, as the battle against the islamic state militants continues.