65 Immortal Brian Eno Quotes for His 65th Birthday


Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno turns 65 today. He’s been one of the most erudite, intelligent, fascinating (and quietly, delightfully batshit crazy) people in the music industry for the best part of 45 years, and so to celebrate his birthday, we thought we’d do what we’ve done for John Waters and Michael Caine, and round up the most illuminating, interesting and occasionally bewildering things he’s said over the years. Enjoy the collected wisdom of the great man after the jump!


“Rationality is what we do to organize the world, to make it possible to predict. Art is the rehearsal for the inapplicability and failure of that process.” [via]

“I’ve always thought that art is a lie, an interesting lie. And I’ll sort of listen to the ‘lie’ and try to imagine the world which makes that lie true… what that world must be like, and what would have to happen for us to get from this world to that one.” [via]

“I started my life as a painter… I didn’t leave the experience of painting, which was probably always my biggest inspiration, I was more interested in painting, I suppose, than music. Gradually, I started making a kind of music that was more and more like painting.” [via]

“The idea is to produce things that are as strange and mysterious to you as the first music you ever heard.” [via]

“If you say that meaning and value — they’re rather similar terms in the way I’m using them — are generated by a process, then you can also say, that process can stop. For instance, Duchamp’s urinal, the famous piece, I’m sure was a very important work of art in 1914, and it is now not: this is my opinion. It has only a historical position in the chain of how things came into being. It doesn’t live now.” [via]

“This is my problem with Tracey Emin: who fucking cares?” [via]


“My definition of culture, which I’ve used for quite a few years now, is culture is everything you don’t have to do. So, you have to wear clothes, … but you don’t have to wear these particular clothes.” [via]


“At the beginning of the 20th century, the ambition of the great painters was to make paintings that were like music, which was then considered as the noblest art because it was abstract, not figurative.” [via]

“For me it’s always contingent on getting a sound, the sound always suggests what kind of melody it should be. So it’s always sound first and then the line afterwards.” [via]

“As soon as I hear a sound it always suggests a mood to me.” [via]

“Avant-garde music is fiercely intellectual, fiercely antiphysical. Whereas rock is fiercely physical and fiercely anti-intellectual. I wanted to try to find a meeting of the two which would actually not be frightened of either force.” [via]

“I shouldn’t really use the word ‘musician.’ I don’t play things very well. I use them quite well.” [via]

“I’m an anti-musician. I don’t think the craft of music is relevant to the art of music.” [via]

Ambient music

“[The idea behind ambient music was] to create music in a way that you might use light or colour, or a painting on the wall.” [via]

“Most music chooses its own position in terms of your listening to it. Muzak wants to be back there. Punk wants to be up front. Classical wants to be another place. I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on. I can’t read with a pop record playing, or with most classical records. They’re not intended to leave that part of the mind free – my mind, anyway. Ambient music allows many different types of attention.” [via]

“A lot of things like Music For Airports came out of that Borgesian idea that you could invent a world in reverse, by inventing the artefacts that ought to be in it first: you think of what kind of music would be in that world, then you make the music and the world forms itself around the music.” [via]

“What makes humans different from everything else that we know is that we can imagine a future that doesn’t yet exist. So we can constantly make new realities in our minds. And then we can live in those realities, we can experience them. We call that a ‘gift of imagination.’ When a society loses its respect for this gift, that society has stopped developing, stop progressing. Whenever you see a government doing this, you see the beginning of the end of society. The active imagination is the thing that makes us human and makes us capable of thinking of a better future, thinking of the world in a new different way.” [via]

African music

“What is tremendously exciting to me is the collision of vernacular Western music with African music. So much that I love about music comes from that collision. African music underlies practically everything I do — even ambient, since it arose directly out of wanting to see what happened if you ‘unlocked’ the sounds in a piece of music, gave them their freedom, and didn’t tie them all to the same clock.” [via]

Generative music

“Once I started working with generative music in the 1970s, I was flirting with ideas of making a kind of endless music – not like a record that you’d put on, which would play for a while and finish. I like the idea of a kind of eternal music, but I didn’t want it to be eternally repetitive, either. I wanted it to be eternally changing.” [via]

“With a generative piece you set a machine going and it makes itself, and you as the composer are also the listener. The act of listening is the act of composing. When you’re hearing these complicated shifting patterns going on, it’s the aural equivalent of Moire illusions, and that very much impressed me. What also impressed me was how different the composer’s role is from the old romantic idea that the composer pours out these wonderful things to the passive you, the listener — with art as a kind of tube that the artist shouts down to the more or less thick listener at the end.” [via]

“Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesizers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved… The works I have made with [these tools] symbolize to me the beginning of a new era of music… I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: ‘You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?'” [via]

“I reject the results of chance if they don’t excite me sensually – whereas [like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez and John Cage] were rather more doctrinaire about it. Their feeling was that they ‘believed’ in chance as though it had a sort of mystical dimension. I don’t. I think chance is what you use when you can’t think of a better basis on which to make a decision, or when you want to take yourself into territory that you haven’t been before.” [via]

“What I really wanted to do [with iPad application Scape] was to be able to sell the process to somebody, not just my output of it.” [via]


“In my installations, I always have music in them. The main point of having the music, I think, is sort of ergonomic because it says to people, people know music is something that happens in time, so therefore they understand you stay around for a little while. They don’t know that with paintings. If you look at people in a gallery they do snapshots of paintings. They don’t think of a painting as something that exists in time so as soon you put music there you are saying to them, ‘You are experiencing something in time.’ It immediately slows people down. They are given the cue to say, ‘Oh I better hang around a bit, there is music.'” [via]

“We should imagine we’re making hypothetical film soundtracks, not making songs. This is always a very liberating idea, because a film soundtrack doesn’t have to have a center – the film itself is the center. It allows you to make music that is pure atmosphere.” [via]

“I evolved the images in 77 Million Paintings over the last 20 years. They’re a very unlikely set of images. If you looked at them individually, you’d think some of them are so uninteresting when they’re out of combination with anything else it’s quite counterintuitive that they would work when they’re connected up with other images. It’s certainly not a group of images you would arrive at just by sitting down with this idea and deciding to make it work. They really evolved over quite a long period of time. The music as well actually evolved over a long period of time.” [via]

“In the tropics new lifeforms constantly come into being: some of them are successful and take a huge expansion on the Earth, others exist for a short time and turn in something else. With art, new possibilities always come up, some of them will turn into a very big important future, some always remain as little niches (I think video-art may be one of those, to be provocative).” [via]


“In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people.” [via]

“People still make good music with crude instruments, with simple instruments, because they understand them better than software people understand their instruments.” [via]

“What I do a lot when I work with people is try to connect ideas and tie them all into a bigger cultural picture, because it clarifies things and is less one-dimensional. It’s a more conceptual role. Producing now is more about locating something where it falls.” [via]

“Mostly, I sit with bands and help them compose the music itself. I don’t just make a kick-drum louder.” [via]


“I wanted a tape recorder since I was tiny. I thought it was a magic thing. I never got one until just before I went to art school.” [via]

“I’m very good with technology, I always have been, and with machines in general. They seem not threatening like other people find them, but a source of fun and amusement.” [via]

“Technology in music is a little bit like numbers to mathematics. You can’t really imagine music without technology. My friend Danny Hillis, the inventor, said, ‘Technology is the name we give to things that don’t work yet. When it works we don’t call it technology anymore.’ But you have to remember that once upon a time a violin was technology, once upon a time an organ was technology.” [via]

“I don’t really have a musical identity outside of studios.” [via]


“I saw the studio as a place to study sound, invent sound, craft it in ways you couldn’t do with live instruments.” [via]

“The first thing about recording is that it makes repeatable what was otherwise transient and ephemeral. Music, until about 1900, was an event that was perceived in a particular situation, and that disappeared when it was finished…The effect of recording is that it takes music out of the time dimension and puts it in the space dimension [and] the effect of this on the composer is that he can think in terms of supplying material that would actually be too subtle for a first listening.” [via]

“One of my mottoes is that if you want to get unusual results, work fast and work cheap, because there’s more of a chance that you’ll get somewhere that nobody else did.” [via]

“I’m always prone to do things very quickly, which has distinct advantages — you leave all the mistakes in, and the mistakes always become interesting. The Velvet Underground, for example, are the epitome of mistake-filled music, and it makes the music very subtle and beautiful.” [via]

“I realised that what the studio was really good for was making pictures, creating new landscapes and time and space contexts. And because it was the only tool I had, I naturally started to move more in that direction.” [via]


“The great benefit of computer sequencers is that they remove the issue of skill, and replace it with the issue of judgement… So the question becomes not whether you can do it or not, because any drudge can do it if they’re prepared to sit in front of the computer for a few days, the question then is, ‘Of all the things you can now do, which do you choose to do?'” [via]

“There’s still quite a lot of hate going on for me in working with computers, but I think programs have improved a great deal. The objections I used to make have been taken on board more by programmers. Programs are less menu-intensive than they used to be… The problem remains the interface with the computer keyboard. There are certain decisions that you make on a keyboard that you wouldn’t make on a guitar, and vice versa. You have to stay aware when you start working with a computer that you’re on a very tilted playing field. You’re more likely to do some things than others.” [via]

“I despise computers in many ways. I think they’re hopelessly underevolved and overrated. People jumped into CD-ROM thinking it would replace existing systems; this was supposed to be the paper-less office. The reality is that the old technology carries on, and in some cases gets better… Look at what scientists are doing and the potential of this tool has simply not been touched.” [via]

“History is changed by people who get pissed off. Only neo-vegetables enjoy using computers the way they are at the moment. If you want to make computers that really work, create a design team composed only of healthy, active women with lots else to do in their lives and give them carte blanche. Do not under any circumstances consult anyone who (a) is fascinated by computer games (b) tends to describe silly things as ‘totally cool’ (c) has nothing better to do except fiddle with these damn things night after night.” [via]

“Do you know what I hate about computers? The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them.” [via]

Other musicians

“I never wanted to write the sort of song that said, ‘Look at how abnormal and crazy and out there I am, man!’ Bowie never wrote those sorts of songs [either]. People like Frank Zappa and Bryan Ferry knew we could pick and choose from the history of music, stick things together looking for friction and energy. They were more like playwrights; they invented characters and wrote a life around them. Bowie played a double game as well as he appeared to live it, too. He played with the form and the expectations brilliantly.” [via]

“John Cage in particular was influential for me. In his case, composition was a way of living out your philosophy and calling it art.” [via]

“The inspiration for [77 Million Paintings] really came from music, and in particular it came from a small group of composers who were at the time called the New Tonalists. Terry Riley was one of them. Steve Reich, Philip Glass — these were all people who were exploiting some kind of minimalist aesthetic where they were working with a very limited amount of input material. Then the process of the piece was really that material being reconfigured in various ways to make new combinations.” [via]

“I always said that [Roxy Music] shouldn’t have smoothed things out by saying it’s this kind of band or that. We must allow it to be a unit that the tension can move in any direction, which is sometimes rough on the edges but is generally interesting. Bryan and I fell out because he couldn’t agree with this. My experiment was in the way one makes music. His was in the quality of what the music said.” [via]

“I thought that [Krautrock] bands picked up much more of the sensibility of rock music as slightly dangerous, very urban, on the edge of going out of control. The other thing I liked about them was that there was still the sense in them of music as lived philosophy, or played philosophy, the way you worked out your statement about things, which was an idea that was very strong in John Cage. A lot of the German bands had that commune thing, and a lot of them, like Can, owned their own stuff and stayed outside the business in a way I also liked – there was a sense of them taking a musical position which was the obvious outcome of a philosophical, political and social statement. I’ve always wanted music to be bound up with all those things — that’s why I became a musician instead of a painter.” [via]

“John Cale is sort of a genius — my image of working with him is of him playing a part on the keyboard whilst talking on the phone to somebody and reading a newspaper at the same time. And he’ll play great parts that way, too — music comes very easily to him, and he has to take up the rest of his intelligence by doing other things at the same time.” [via]

“Apart from The Who, the Velvet Underground were my first rock heroes.” [via]


“The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can. There’s no point in saying, ‘I don’t have an idea today, so I’ll just smoke some drugs.’ You should stay alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide with one another… The reason to keep working is almost to build a certain mental tone, like people talk about body tone. You have to move quickly when the time comes, and the time might come very infrequently – once or twice a year, or even less.” [via]

“The only things that do have any sort of regularity are the following: I go for a walk in the mornings with my friend John Reynolds, the producer and drummer. We walk his two huge dogs around Hyde Park for about 40 minutes, and always at very high speed. I live about 10 minutes away from my studio – actually, eight minutes and 49 seconds – and I always walk to work. I work on whatever project I am currently engaged in until my stomach tells me it’s lunchtime, which it does every day on the stroke of one o’clock. Remarkable. Then, in the afternoon, I continue making music, painting, writing.” [via]

“I’ve always been interested in the idea of what I call systems art/systems music, which is where you think first of all of your activity as a system which must be intact and interesting, and you think of the artwork which also must be interesting, and you think of the listener as a system which must be interesting too. So you must work on all these levels. That’s why I don’t like the idea of spending months and years recording, because essentially, that isn’t an interesting process to me.” [via]


“Many years ago, during the time of Margaret Thatcher — who [the UK’s] version of Silvio Berlusconi — the government kept reducing the money for the art schools, because they thought: ‘Artists aren’t important, science, technology and defense, those are important.’ What they were really doing is saying: “We stop thinking about the future.” And they kept cutting money for the art schools. What that story really means is that the governments don’t take us seriously, they don’t understand what the use of art is, what the purpose, what the function is.” [via]

“If I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing become a central part of the daily routine. I believe it builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for co-operation with others. This seems to be about the most important thing a school could do for you.” [via]

“Like it or not, all those wonderful Damien Hirst cows will fade away to nothing and the people of the future will be admiring our wonderful surface to sir missile systems.” [via]

“I’d love it if American kids were listening to Muslim music. Wouldn’t that piss their parents off?” [via]


“I quite often wake up and write down my dreams because I find them so completely mysterious. I can’t see what it was in me that made me put together that particular combination of items. I find the dreams are always much more brilliant in their construction than anything I consciously think of.” [via]


“If you want to make someone feel emotion, you have to make them let go. Listening to something is an act of surrender.” [via]

“I think that sex, drugs, art and religion very much overlap with one another and sometimes one becomes another. So I thought, ‘What do all those things have in common?’ The umbrella that they all exist under is this word, ‘surrender’ because they are all forms of transcendence through surrender. They are ways of transcending your individuality and sense of yourself as a totally separate creature in the world. All of those things involve some kind of loosening of this boundary that is around this thing you call ‘yourself’.” [via]


“I don’t live in the past at all; I’m always wanting to do something new. I make a point of constantly trying to forget and get things out of my mind.” [via]

“I doubt if I’ll ever live permanently in any one place again. I find that I am very stimulated by dropping into other environments and picking up what is special about those. It invigorates me. It keeps me awake.” [via]

“It’s simply not my temperament to look back.” [via]