Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (born 15 May 1948), commonly known as Brian Eno and previously as simply Eno (pronounced /ˈiːnoʊ/), is an English musician, composer, record producer, music theorist, singer and visual artist, best known as one of the principal innovators of ambient music.
Eno studied at art school, taking inspiration from minimalist painting, but he had little musical education or playing experience when he joined the band Roxy Music as their keyboards and synthesisers player in the early 1970s. Roxy Music’s success in the glam rock scene came quickly, but Eno soon tired of conflicts with lead singer Bryan Ferry, and of touring, and he left the group after the release of For Your Pleasure (1973), beginning his solo career with the art rock records Here Come the Warm Jets (1974) and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974).
Eno extended his reach into more experimental musical styles with No Pussyfooting (1973) and Evening Star (1975), both collaborations with Robert Fripp, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) by Genesis where he is credited as Enossification, and his influential solo records Another Green World (1975) and Discreet Music (1975). His pioneering ambient efforts at “sonic landscapes” began to consume more of his time beginning with Ambient 1/Music for Airports (1978) and later Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983) which was composed for the documentary film For All Mankind. Eno nevertheless continued to sing on some of his records, ranging from Before and After Science (1977) to Wrong Way Up (1990) with John Cale to most recently Another Day on Earth (2005).
Eno’s solo work has been extremely influential, pioneering ambient and generative music, innovating production techniques, and emphasizing “theory over practice”. He also introduced the concept of chance music to popular audiences partly through collaborations with other musicians. By the end of the 1970s, Eno had worked with David Bowie on the seminal “Berlin Trilogy,” helped popularise the American punk rock band Devo and the punk-influenced “No Wave” genre, and worked frequently with Harold Budd, John Cale, Cluster, Robert Fripp and David Byrne, with whom he produced the influential My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). He produced and performed on three albums by Talking Heads, including Remain in Light (1980); produced seven albums for U2, including The Joshua Tree (1987); and worked on records by James, Laurie Anderson, Coldplay, Paul Simon, Grace Jones and Slowdive, among others.
As an artist, Brian Eno pursues multimedia ventures in parallel to his music career, including art installations, a newspaper column in The Observer and a regular column on society and innovation in Prospect magazine, and “Oblique Strategies” (written with Peter Schmidt), a deck of cards in which each card has a cryptic remark or random insight meant to resolve a dilemma. He continues to collaborate with other musicians, produce records, release his own music, and write.
Eno embarked on a solo career almost immediately. Between 1973 and 1977 he created four albums of largely electronically inflected avant-garde pop songs – Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and after Science, though the latter two also contained a number of minimal instrumental pieces in the so-called ambient style. Tiger Mountain contains the galloping “Third Uncle”, one of Eno’s best-known songs, due in part to its later being covered by Bauhaus. Critic Dave Thompson writes that the song is “a near punk attack of riffing guitars and clattering percussion, ‘Third Uncle’ could, in other hands, be a heavy metal anthem, albeit one whose lyrical content would tongue-tie the most slavish air guitarist.”
These four albums were remastered and reissued in 2004 by Virgin’s Astralwerks label. Due to Eno’s decision not to add any extra tracks of the original material, a handful of tracks originally issued as singles have not been reissued (“Seven Deadly Finns” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” were included on the deleted Eno Vocal Box set and the single mix of “King’s Lead Hat” has never been reissued).
During this period, Eno also played three dates with Phil Manzanera in the band 801, a “supergroup” that performed more or less mutated selections from albums by Eno, Manzanera, and Quiet Sun, as well as covers of songs by The Beatles and The Kinks.
In 1972, Eno developed a tape-delay system first utilized by Eno and Robert Fripp (from King Crimson), described as ‘Frippertronics’, and the pair released an album in 1973 called (No Pussyfooting). It is said the technique was borrowed from minimalist composer Terry Riley, whose tape delay feedback system with a pair of Revox tape recorders (a setup Riley used to call the “Time Lag Accumulator”) was first used on Riley’s album Music for The Gift in 1963. In 1975, Fripp and Eno released a second album, Evening Star, and played several live shows in Europe.
Eno was a prominent member of the performance art-classical orchestra the Portsmouth Sinfonia – having started playing with them in 1972. In 1973 he produced the orchestra’s first album The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics (released in March 1974) and in 1974 he produced the live album Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Royal Albert Hall of their infamous May 1974 concert (released in October 1974.) In addition to producing both albums, Eno performed in the orchestra on both recordings – playing the clarinet. Eno also deployed the orchestra’s famously dissonant string section on his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). The orchestra at this time included other musicians whose solo work he would subsequently release on his Obscure label including Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman. That year he also composed music for the album Lady June’s Linguistic Leprosy, with Kevin Ayers, to accompany the poet June Campbell Cramer.
Eno continued his career by producing a larger number of highly eclectic and increasingly ambient electronic and acoustic albums. He is widely credited with coining the term “ambient music”, low-volume music designed to modify one’s perception of a surrounding environment.
His first such work, 1975’s Discreet Music (again created via an elaborate tape-delay methodology, which Eno diagrammed on the back cover of the LP ), is considered the landmark album of the genre. This was followed by his Ambient series (Music for Airports (Ambient 1), The Plateaux of Mirror (Ambient 2), Day of Radiance (Ambient 3) and On Land (Ambient 4)). Eno was the primary musician on these releases with the exception of Ambient 2 which featured Harold Budd on keyboard, and Ambient 3 where the American composer Laraaji was the sole musician playing the zither and hammered dulcimer with Eno producing.
In 1980 Eno provided a film score for Herbert Vesely’s Egon Schiele Exzess und Bestrafung, also known as Egon Schiele Excess and Punishment. The ambient-style score was an unusual choice for a historical piece, but it worked effectively with the film’s themes of sexual obsession and death.
In 1981, having returned from Ghana and before On Land, he discovered Miles Davis’ 1974 track “He Loved Him Madly”, a melancholy tribute to Duke Ellington influenced by both African music and Karlheinz Stockhausen: as Eno stated in the liner notes for On Land, “Teo Macero’s revolutionary production on that piece seemed to me to have the “spacious” quality I was after, and like Federico Fellini’s 1973 film Amarcord, it too became a touchstone to which I returned frequently.”
Eno describes himself as a “non-musician” and coined the term “treatments” to describe his modification of the sound of musical instruments, and to separate his role from that of the traditional instrumentalist. His skill at using “The Studio as a Compositional Tool” (the title of an essay by Eno) led in part to his career as a producer. His methods were recognized at the time (mid-1970s) as unique, so much so that on Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, he is credited with ‘Enossification’; on Robert Wyatt’s Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard with a Direct inject anti-jazz raygun and on John Cale’s Island albums as simply being “Eno”.