Brian Eno graced New York City with his presence for an insightful talk as part of Red Bull Music Academy NYC 2013. Held at Cooper Union’s historic Great Hall, Eno provided insight on his upbringing, artistic foundations, and current creative interests. He began with delightful stories and accompanying photos of his childhood, including some of him as a seven year old in his hometown of Woodbridge, Sussex and him as an eighteen year old art school student. The former Roxy Music member explained that art was always a part of his life whether he was aware of it at the time or not. His grandfather’s enrollment in a German military band during the war ended up saving his eventual existence since his grandfather was arrested for being a “German sympathizer” and thus avoided enrollment in his designated regiment (of which nearly no one survived). His own father, “a man of not much words," never told Eno that he himself had been a drummer in a band until Eno was nearly 35 and already a superstar buying his parents homes.

Eno also explained that a woman named Joan who lived in a caravan outside of Cambridge was a major intellectual influence for him. In her home, she’d have brilliant thinkers from the world-renowned university to discuss science, politics, and other topics, and Eno was always invited and encouraged to participate in these talks. The legend recounts the story of one time Joan simply asked him, “Why would someone with your brain waste their time on art?” This “cut” the young Eno, who was sure he wanted to become an artist from a very young age. This preoccupation with art’s practicality seems to have followed Eno throughout his life, evident in his interest in concepts versus craft. He explains that after being blown away by the groundbreaking music of Tony Allen, Terry Riley, and Steve Rikes, he realized his fascination with cybernetics and their complex structures, he’d found the inspiration to eventually create musical history. Eno drew inspiration from the lessons of evolution, always focusing on how the simple can be used to create the complex. This eventually led him to what he calls “generative music,” in which the focus lies in “specifying inputs and specifying systems” in order to allow the music to essentially create itself. This would evolve and eventually become ambient music.

This notion of surrendering control of art to the creative process as opposed to the creative craft resonates with his latest artistic endeavor, 77 Million Paintings. The worldwide instillation project is a generative work – it makes itself as you watch it – which explores a vast set of permutations of visual and sonic elements made by Eno. The result is “between music and painting." He mentioned that he has applied this work to patients going through therapies and is delighted to say that response has been overwhelmingly good in terms of the therapeutic benefit for these patients, even recalling Joan when describing the project in terms of how he feels his artistic work feels worthwhile. The exhibition is in New York City until June 2nd at 145 W 32nd Street. You won’t want to miss the instillation, an immersive and overwhelmingly soothing experience that has made stops around the world, including one stop being projected onto Sydney’s famous Opera House!

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