Brian Eno on computers and music

I'm usually left feeling deflated when Pitchfork puts a scribe in front of a musician that I admire, but Mark Richardson has done a fine job in interviewing Brian Eno, where, as usual, he provides many great insights. I especially like his description of how we listen to a vinyl album versus a CD versus a MP3.

Brian Eno Interview MP3
Pitchfork: A related question is the interface between the body and computers and how different that is from traditional instruments, which were often built with the body in mind-- how they would be held, where the hands would be, where the fingers would be. And the computer is obviously modeled on a typewriter machine that was built in the late 19th century, and we have a finger to control a mouse and so on. But do you see any evolution of it in that regard of it? How people use them in terms of making their bodies work with computers?

Brian Eno: First of all, I think you're quite right in bringing that up, because I think that is such a serious issue, and very few people notice it. Very few people take it seriously at all, because they're still convinced by the Microsoft slogan "Go where your imagination takes you," or whatever that bloody thing was. The idea that the computer is a completely neutral device that doesn't have a personality of its own and just liberates you to do anything you want-- it's complete cock. You just make different music on a computer. And you can make wonderful music on a computer, but don't pretend that the machinery is transparent. It makes as much difference to what you're doing as it does if you play an acoustic guitar as opposed to a kettledrum. You're not going to make the same music.

In terms of what has been happening recently, there have been, I think, some really interesting new instruments that have come out that sort of show me the direction of the future. Korg has introduced the-- they've had a whole series now of these things called Kaoss Pads. They're wonderful because they do get your muscles working again. And what DJs do, of course, with their DJ turntables now, the CD turntables, which have pitch change and speed change and everything else. They're doing something that I think is interestingly physical. Then you have-- there's another Korg instrument called the Wavedrum, which is a great, great instrument.

So, there is a sort of convergence starting to happen between the computer and musical instruments, but it's still quite a long way off. Basically, you're still sitting there using just the muscles of your hand, really. Of one hand, actually. It's another example of the transfer of literacy to making music because the assumption is that everything important is happening in your head; the muscles are there simply to serve the head. But that isn't how traditional players work at all; musicians know that their muscles have a lot of stuff going on as well. They're using their whole body to make music, in fact. Whereas it's quite clear that if the interface between you and a computer is a mouse, then everything of interest that happens must be happening in your head. It's a big step backwards, I think. It's back to the biggest problem with classical music, which is [that] it's head music. It doesn't emanate from anything below the shoulders, basically.

Read the whole interview here.

Take a listen to a track from the new Eno album here.

Found at reach, grasp, taste.