Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Archive for the ‘Eno, Brian’ Category

That pesky modern world

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Here’s Jonathan Franzen on what’s wrong with the modern world. You’ll have to read this twice, or, at least, I will have to (and intend to).

I’m wary of what a playwright friend calls “old poopism,” and Franzen, a novelist I admire tremendously, does come across here as an old poop. Whether or not we have the time to read impenetrable writers like Karl Kraus (of whom I’d never heard, even after reading I think five biographies of Franz Kafka), we have little or no access to his writing or his ideas. Or, at least, we never did — until the Internet, which is one of those pesky new-world developments Franzen seems to be deploring.

(Full disclosure: I make my living almost entirely via these newfangled things associated with the Internet. But whether or not that contributes to my bias, I’ve always been more interested in the future than the past.)

Culturally, here’s where I most often hear old poopism, and no, it isn’t with regard to technology. Most of the people I come across all over the country embrace technology; those who don’t, want to but don’t know how to. I have a friend who is 84 and exceedingly interesting (he went from the CIA into real estate, and then Democratic politics; there is some joke waiting to be made there); another friend and I were trying to teach him how to text when we were all out of town together, and then discovered his shortfall: an ancient cellphone with all the computing power of an Etch-a-Sketch that turned texting into a hard-fought endeavor. He hasn’t gotten a smartphone yet (Ken, are you listening?), but he’s a regular on Facebook and email. My mother, at age 88, wishes she could understand some of these things, because she sees the benefits — long-distance interaction with relatives that includes more than just a phone call. So, again, whether it’s with clients or friends or relatives or colleagues, I don’t see any resistance to technology.

No, it’s music where I see it.

If I hear one more person proclaim the musical superiority of the ’60s or ’70s, I’m going to throw up. Because never before in the history of humankind have we had so much access to so much music, a lot of it really really good.

I could point you to some current musical favorites — and, in fact, I will. TV on the Radio is a terrific rock n’ roll band, one that acknowledges the past of straight-ahead rock n’ roll while bringing into play harmonic inventiveness and studio wizardry and the sort of oddball sounds and buzzes that to my ear always lend an extra dimension. Danger Mouse, whether recording with Gnarls Barkley or Broken Bells or on any of his innumerable other projects, is perhaps the foremost production talent since Brian Eno. Like Eno, Danger Mouse brings a distinctive sound and a sharp intelligence to everything he touches; unlike Eno, he can also play guitar, and drums, and keyboard, and bass — as I witnessed when I saw Broken Bells in concert two years ago. Gnarls Barkley especially shows that he, partnered with Cee-lo Green, can effortlessly summon up the best of Motown and make it fresh and danceable. Finally, I’m smitten with Of Mountains and Men, a merry alt-folk group from Iceland. Their sound is cheery and pours out of the radio like a perfect poolside cocktail.

I could go on — I like AWOL Nation and Polica as well, to name just two more — but I take the time to make this point because I guarantee you most people you run into over 35 are expressing their belief that music was somehow “better” as recently as… their early 20s. And it wasn’t. It just had a different emotional impact for them because they were in their early 20s. It is that way with technology (see Franzen, above, who seems to be extolling the virtues of the 19th century equivalent of a German literary fanzine) and it is that way with politics, and it is that way with culture.

Here’s my feeling: The past is past, and it isn’t coming back. One thing we know for sure about the past is this: No one lives there any more. If you’d like to shape the future, in your daily life or in the world, it’s better to make a clear-eyed assessment of its potential rather than to knee-jerk reject it for a prior era you’re romanticizing.

Burning airlines give you so much more

Friday, January 27th, 2012

The headline on the LATimes.com site reads: Body found in burning car on 10 Freeway onramp.

Which triggered this thought:  burning airlines give you so much more.

Musical insights

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I just found out about a great new music podcast, Sound Opinions, in which two very knowledgeable taste-makers bring a lot of insight to an hour-long discussion about music. Their range is wide and their taste is informed. On the most recent show, they discuss music with economist Paul Krugman, who notes that given the dire state of the world economy he needs music more than ever. Other discussions cover the music of Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Neil Young, and others.

Here’s a link to the page about their recent show with Brian Eno. Eno, it should be noted, is not in the studio with them — they’re in the U.S., and he’s speaking with them from England — but these guys are so natural, so comfortable, that it sounds like they’re all sitting together talking over tea. In this particular interview, Eno is given just credit as an early pioneer of important musical trends (new wave; sampling; spoken word over music; ambient music; using the synthesizer as an instrument; and many more), and is asked smart questions about how he chooses collaborators (David Bowie; David Byrne with or without Talking Heads; Robert Fripp; Devo; Bryan Ferry with or without Roxy Music; as well as a couple of bands I don’t care about, such as U2 and Coldplay). The interview is played against the backdrop of music they discuss, from Eno’s vast repertoire, in such a way that every bit creates a new and better understanding of connections and influences across his 40-year career. (In the process, teaching me something new about “America is Waiting,” a song of his with David Byrne that I’ve been listening to with great appreciation for 30 years.) If you’re at all interested in music — and musical trends — of the past 40 years, I highly recommend this interview.


Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Y’know, I’m second to no one in my admiration for Brian Eno’s artistic talents, both musical and visual, but to imply in some way that on his new album he’s created a new form is, well, too much. He’s not the first to approach spoken word as though it’s musical, or to match it with music.

Eno says in the liner notes to “Drums Between the Bells”: “I hope this record will signal the beginning of a new way for poets to think about their work, and for audiences to think about poetry.”

I can’t imagine what this “new way” might mean, given:  Steve Reich’s Come Out (1966), Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not be Televised (1971), or, well, my own stuff, which I recorded six years ago or so and will one day get around to putting up on iTunes. These are all examples of spoken word (poetry) set against music. Eno’s new album is spoken word (poetry) set against music. How revolutionary.

Free music — act now.

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

NPR is offering streaming of a number of new releases. Regular readers of this blog will understand why I’ve selected the one I have.

Here’s the place to hear the entirety of Brian Eno’s new disk, “Small Craft on a Milk Sea.” (So far it sounds like outtakes from the soundtrack to Myst. And yes, I bought the soundtrack to Myst forever ago.) Fair warning: This particular small craft will be available to you only until November 2nd, when the disk goes on sale (and free streaming thus ends).

New music on my horizon

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010


Brian Eno’s new album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, comes out November 2. More information on the album can be found here.

If you’d like to hear the advance released track “2 Forms of Anger,” click below.

Brian Eno – 2 Forms Of Anger (taken from Small Craft On A Milk Sea) by Warp Records

Sad news for my wife: I can’t get enough of this.

I will try not to play it when she’s home or in my car with me.

Booked up and overmusicated

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Generally, my Christmas wish list consists of two things:  books and music. This year was no different, and left me with an unforeseen bonanza.

When the presents were unwrapped yesterday, I was left holding three books from my list — The Humbling by Philip Roth, Under the Dome by Stephen King, and Invisible by Paul Auster — as well as a biography of Teddy Roosevelt as our naturalist president (courtesy of my daughter), and the sensational book of this fun little London art project (courtesy of a friend who eerily completely understands my tastes). (The new biography of Churchill was also on my list but didn’t arrive under the tree.)

I also put one music CD on my list, Some Girls by the Rolling Stones.  I’m not a fan of those rolling fellows, but I did remember liking that album, which I had in its original lawsuit version 30 years ago. Because my new car links with my iPhone, allowing the stereo to play whatever music I’ve imported, I’ve been thinking about music I’d like to hear in the car, and recently I thought of this album, which I never bought on CD. So I put it on my list.

The surprise, though, was this:  My friend Trey, who joined us for Christmas, remembered that he had something in the trunk of his car that he wanted to show me. No, it wasn’t Jimmy Hoffa — it was about 300 CDs from his sister, who had successfully  completed importing all her CDs onto iPods or somesuch and was no itching to unload the clutter of cases. She’d given them all to Trey, and he was offering to share them with me:  Have some, burn some into my computers, whatever. So Trey and my son Lex and I spent an hour or two going through CD cases while I cooked Christmas dinner. (Turkey and all the trimmings, so there was plenty of time.)

In the boxes, I found:

  • numerous Chemical Brothers CDs
  • three Nine Inch Nails CDs
  • the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • lots of house and trance music
  • Stereolab
  • some Brian Eno-produced CDs
  • Tool
  • Coverdale Page
  • Moby
  • Radiohead

and lots of other things that interest me. Soon I had towering stacks of CDs that I wanted to put on my laptop for possible transfer to my iPhone. But of course, here’s what happened: Where just an hour before I’d had one new CD, Some Girls, to import and enjoy, now I had, potentially hundreds. One new CD was special, a few would have been novel, but 300 were overwhelming. Worse, they robbed each other of their distinctiveness. By the time I had imported just a few of the CDs, I was looking through to see what to cut:  Suddenly, these R.E.M.disks didn’t look like their finest worksongs, the idea of importing three Nine Inch Nails CDs really made me hurt, and I almost said nevermind to a Nirvana disk I somehow didn’t have. After importing 15 or 20 disks, I looked at what was left and decided I’d pick five — and no more — put them on my laptop, and from there, put what of those I wanted onto my iPhone, and then return to the real world. Because if I didn’t winnow all these down to something manageable, this would wind up becoming another project, and that’s something I don’t need any more of.

So, a couple of hours later, I packed all the CDs back away and was finished with the ordeal of too much new music and was just about to shut down my laptop when I saw one last CD — the one I’d asked for for Christmas. Brand new and almost forgotten. So I imported one more CD, and thought it sounded pretty good.

Brian Eno? There’s an app for that.

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Two months ago I wrote about Brian Eno’s work with music and art generated randomly by computers. At that time, “Bloom,” his iPhone app that allows one to do similar work on a small scale (and on a smaller screen:  your iPhone), had been out for a while and was a hot download from the App Store. Eno mentioned that the next iteration, “Trope,” had been released on iTunes that weekend, but what he failed to mention (or did not know) was that it was available on the U.K. iTunes, but not on the U.S.

At some point since then, it’s been released here. And so, here’s a brief video that shows the application in action. I haven’t downloaded this yet, but I probably will. How much iPhone “Risk” can one play before needing something new to play with? Moreover, I remain mesmerized with Eno’s work all of which, to credit Rich Roesberg with the point, descends from John Cage.

What’s remarkable here is the degree to which smartphones are revolutionizing our work, our play, and our lives. This tiny device smaller than my hand has most of the technological power I so desperately craved when I was 12: the power to write, or draw, or record, and then distribute that artistic creation freely anywhere in the world. No one younger than 40 can imagine what it was like for homegrown artists 35 years ago to have to choose between the bad options of hand copying, mimeograph, carbon paper, or 25-cents-a-page Xerox copying. None of them was suitable.

77 million ideas

Monday, September 21st, 2009


Yesterday a friend and I went to Long Beach to see the Brian Eno installation, “77 Million Paintings,”  at the University Art Museum of California State University Long Beach. The genesis of the 77 million paintings enumerated in the title — which, Eno later said during his lecture, would actually be 77 million cubed —  is described well in this piece by the LA Times’ Reed Johnson. In short, a video mosaic of 12 individual screens pulls images randomly from grouped sets contained in databases held by three different computers, generating an ongoing series of freshly executed video “paintings,” which are sonically supported by a soundtrack of  sound loops on six separate tape decks, resulting in randomized musical accompaniment. The intention is to remove deliberation and intention from the artistic process; the result is mesmerizing. As my friend and I found, it was quite easy to get lost in the neverending self-generating inventions of the computers and the tape decks. For one brief period, I felt detached from space and time. I’ve had this feeling before with some art, in various disciplines, but only rarely.

Later, we attended Eno’s lecture at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center (also part of Cal State Long Beach). After 30 years of following the man’s career in all its phases — rock star, record producer, artist, writer, thinker — this was our first chance to see him in the flesh. Eno proved to be thoughtful, puckish, droll, and concerned, in equal measures. I would characterize the first third of his lecture as an admonishment to let go. (This should be expected from an artist whose visual work is created largely from computer generation.) He started by reminding us of something we’ve known for 566 years, since Copernicus:  that not only we are not at the center of the universe, we are off in a small corner, in one of a billion billion solar systems, and we exist as only one of innumerable species just on this one planet, where only an estimated 10% of species have been cataloged. In other words,  Get over yourself. Again, this viewpoint should be expected from someone extolling the virtues of random, unemotionally generated, art.

On the way home I wondered aloud how well these theories that can work so well  in visual art and music would work in long-form narrative. Having read (or tried to read) Samuel Beckett’s novels and some of William S. Burroughs’ longer pieces, I unfortunately believe I know too well. In such cases, even a little plot can go a long way. Organic writing — which I practice and preach — benefits from pruning and shaping. Effects can engage an audience, but only for so long; the best effect is an emotional verisimilitude, however achieved, that transports people into a deep level of caring about what happens. That occurs in better productions of “Waiting for Godot” because Didi and Gogo are present and we can relate; it never happens with “The Unnameable,” which is a true chore to read. When he’s collaborating with, say, Robert Fripp, Eno is free to produce an album of electronic feedback loops, but when he’s producing records for U2 or Coldplay, he must serve the song. To his immense credit, he never claimed in this talk that he was abandoning all oversight; rather, he talked about intentional balance, moderating oneself along the continuum between surrendering all control, or controling all elements, depending upon the desired outcome. I think that’s about right.

If you’re interested in “77 Million Paintings” and cannot make it to Long Beach, where it runs through December, here’s some good news:  a beautiful software-and-DVD version exists. Here it is on Amazon.com.  I bought a copy at the museum, and at about 35 bucks, it’s a steal. The package includes the software to run these self-generating images on  your computer, with accompanying soundtrack. In addition, there’s a beautiful booklet with notes from the artist, plus an interview DVD. Get it and surrender all control to it.

Music to my ears

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

eno.jpgI don’t have a lot of interest in pleasant music. Yes, I can hear that it’s soothing, but I can’t figure out why you’d want music to soothe you. I want music to snap me out of it, to communicate something new in an interesting, dynamic way that’s impossible to refute.

So, it’s easy to see why I like a lot of what I like:  Roxy Music, Talking Heads, David Bowie, the ubiquitously written-about (here, anyway) Pere Ubu, TV on the Radio, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Van Dyke Parks-era Beach Boys, King Crimson, and the like. What are the common elements? Intellectualism, contrapuntalism, dissonance, and surprise. What else do many of them have in common? Brian Eno.

It’s impossible to track the music I like without repeatedly stumbling across the name Brian Eno. The best Bowie albums? (Lodger, Low, “Heroes,” Outside.) They all featured Eno writing,  producing, providing “atmospherics,” or a combination of all three. Same with the three Talking Heads albums truly worth owning, including the astonishing Remain in Light. Eno has had the immense good taste or good fortune to work repeatedly with the likes of Robert Fripp, Harold Budd, John Cale, Philip Glass, David Byrne, and many others, and I’ve gotten this far without mentioning another act he’s produced by the name of U2 because their music does nothing for me. Along the way, he invented ambient music and made a lot of money doing so.

Eno can’t “really” play music, although his ability to twiddle knobs on early synthesizer systems and tapeloop machines he stapled together in the early 1970s enabled him to play live with Roxy Music. As someone with lots of ideas and very little skill, Eno is the prototypical modern artist. The abstract expressionists couldn’t paint, Martha Graham’s dances don’t look like dance, there is some doubt that most of the current academically hailed playwrights can write a play, and Brian Eno can’t play an instrument or read music. When asked by one interviewer if he would have been a music had he been born at an earlier time, the 61-year-old Eno said no, because his instrument would’t have been invented yet. What instrument is that? “The recording studio.” There is obvious enormous benefit to the presence of a naif. Why does Eno’s 1974 album Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy still sound so fresh, and so wrong? Because it wasn’t  hampered by someone who knew how to do it “right.”


The past few years, Eno, who is also a painter, and is a painter in a similar way that he is a musician albeit with more training, has been doing installations of changeable art created by a random shifting interplay of abstract images, shown against a backdrop of ambient music. He’s now brought that show, “77 Million Paintings,”  to Long Beach, where I’ll be seeing it on Sunday with a friend similarly well-versed in all things Eno before, miracle of miracles, we’ll also catch a lecture by Eno at the Carpenter Center that evening. Yes, I got those tickets almost as soon as the event was announced; good thing, too, because the lecture sold out almost immediately. I’ve been following Eno and his work with great interest for 30 years, and this is the first time he’s made an appearance anywhere near me, so I wasn’t going to miss out. Expect more here after the event.