Who Is Brian Eno? The Complete Story

Brian Eno – 2019. © NME.

 If you examine the back of just about any popular ’80’s underground band or solo artist, it is highly probable Brian Eno’s name will be listed in the credits. I discovered this frequently with my own vinyl record collection in high school. It made me ask the question, who is Brian Eno? To reveal all about this extraordinarily talented man is complex and would require turning this particular blog into a book. 

So, In ten different ways, I will attempt to provide insight on the impact, innovation, influence that Brian Eno has had for over forty years as a producer, artist, inventor, composer, author and visual artist. This task is not without its challenges. For Brian Eno is not unlike Steve Jobs, regarding Eno’s in terms of his contributions, inventions and influence on the music world.

1. Early Origins...

Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (born Brian Peter George) was born in England in 1948. He was raised in Suffolk and would go on to attend Ipswich Civic Art College and the Winchester school of Art during the mid ’60’s. While he was a student, Eno studied Experimental Art and Painting.

2. Brian Eno is a founding member of the band Roxy Music.

“As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy (saxophonist Andy McKay), I joined Roxy Music, and as a result, I have a career in music. If I had walked ten yards further down the platform, or missed that train, I probably would have been an art teacher now…”

~ Brian Eno

An early promotional photo of Roxy Music, circa 1971. Copyright Warner Bros. (Note: In th early stages or his career Brian Eno just went simply by the stagename Eno.)

 In 1971, Brian Eno gained entry into the music business by becoming a member of the band Roxy Music. Initially, his role in the band was behind the scenes utilizing tape recorders to create loops and delayed sound effects. He also operated the group’s mixing board. His role evolved and he would go on to join his band members on stage playing a MCS3 synthesizer. He was also known for his flamboyant style of dress onstage and heavy make up. In 1973, Eno made the decision to leave the group.

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3. Some of Brian Eno's pastimes include experimenting with tape recorders and inventing innovative creative systems...

During the course of his career, Brian Eno has invented some incredible things, including something called Oblique Strategies. Eno created this creative card based system with the help of Peter Schmidt. Like creative tarot cards, they are designed to help inspire and challenge artists and to help them embark on new creative pathways. This system was created in 1975. There have been millions artists and musicians have benefitted from applying this system into their work, including David Bowie.

Oblique Strategies: the creative card based system to help promote creativity in artists. The system was invented by Brian Eno and colleague Peter Schmidt in 1975.

Brian Eno and his friend Robert Fripp (guitarist in King Crimson) helped to popularize a looping effect and delay technique through the use of tape recorders. This recording technique became known as Fripperonics. The process was created by having Fripp play guitar while a tape recorder was rewinding, while another tape machine was recording the sound. It is demonstrated in Eno and Fripp’s collaborative albums No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. These albums were created during the years of 1973 – 1975. Eno has worked extensively with Fripp throughout his entire career.

The 77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno is digital art software program that was created specifically for home computers in 2006. It combines his music composition skills in the genre of both Ambient and Generative Music. Oh by the way, Eno is credited with invention both of these music styles…  

This computer program also demonstrates Eno’s talents as a painter and visual artist. The paintings by Eno were done on glass slides. With each launching of this amazing computer program new examples of paintings and music can be seen heard for a predicted total of 77 million possible different outcomes.

4. Brian Eno's Songwriting abilities helped to inspire the evolution of Punk Rock music.

Brian Eno’s second solo album “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” released in 1974

On his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) released in 1974. Eno applied his Oblique Strategies creative system his own songwriting and one of the results was Third Uncle. The cards also helped to alter the way recording and studio work had previously been approached.

Eno’s application of Oblique Strategies into the lyrics of Third Uncle resulted in words sounding random, accidental and more like a percussive instrument. There definitely does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. This song is considered to be a predecessor and an inspirational anthem of the punk rock music movement.

The band Bauhaus covered Third Uncle on their album The Skies Gone Out released in 1982. You know you are doing something pretty cool when one of the most popular, influential and respected bands within the genre of gothic rock decides that they want to do a cover one of one your songs…

5. Brian Eno and David Bowie were buddies...

“David’s death came as a complete surprise as did nearly everything else about him. I feel a huge gap now. We knew each other for over forty years, in a friendship that was always tinged by (comic characters) Pete and Dud…” 


~ Brian Eno.

The connection between David Bowie and Brian Eno was significant and they were great friends as well as collaborators. Eno produced what is now referred to as the Berlin Trilogy by Bowie. These albums are Low, Heroes and Lodger. He also performed on these albums and live with Bowie on numerous occasions. In 1997, Eno co – wrote the song I’m Afraid of Americans, with Bowie, which was released as a single on the album Earthling. The song gained first gained  popularity in the movie Showgirls. Eno played synthesizer on the song and also helped to write the lyrics. Bowie described what the lyrics meant to him in this way while traveling in Java: 

“It’s not truly hostile about Americans as say, Born in the U.S.A., it’s more sardonic…” 

“The invasion of any homogenized culture is so depressing, the erection of another Disneyworld in, say, Umbria, Italy more so. It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows the expression of life…”

 I’m Afraid of Americans (V1) is a remix version of the song featuring Trent Reznor. Reznor sang backing vocals, played bass, drums and guitar on this version as well. The remix was produced by Nine Inch Nails.  A video for the song features Bowie and Reznor and was directed by Nick Goffey and Dominic Hawley. The video received one grammy nomination.

The friendship between Bowie and Eno has been immortalized in a cartoon created by the Brothers McLeod. This cartoon makes loving fun of Bowie and Eno’s creative process along with producer Tony Visconti for the album “Warzsawa”. 

6. Brian Eno was featured on a children's album.

In 1975 Brian Eno played “The Wolf” on his synthesizer for the adaptation of Peter and The Wolf by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. This rock and roll opera was created by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lunley. It was narrated by Viv Stanshall

During the early years of his career, Brian Eno went by simply Eno as seen on the album cover. Eno brought his signature bloops and bleeps on his synthesizer and combined  forces with the band Manfred Mann, Julie Driscoll, Phil Collins and many, many other talented musicians. Prokofiev originally wrote Peter and the Wolf Op. 67 in 1936. 

A picture of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev early on in his career.

7. Brian Eno has created and popularized two musical genres.

Brian Eno has created several different ambient music albums. In 1975, Eno and Robert Fripp collaborated on the album No Pussyfooting. It was the result of the two experimenting with new techniques for recording with tape machines. In describing his process of creating ambient music Eno recommends, “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting…”

He concentrated in highlighting the environment in his compositions. Perhaps Eno’s best known composition for this style of music is Ambient 1: Music for Airports released in 1978. The album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. With his incredible knack of making creative systems, Eno created a whole new genre known as generative music. (For an in depth study on how this genre of music is created, click on the hyperlink above.) It should be also noted that Brian Eno has been credited with creating the Microsoft Sound.

Through the combination of computer technology and his innovative recording techniques, Eno was successful in creating a genre of music capable of self replication known as Generative Music. The result is an infinite blending of multiple tracks. Brian Eno working with other artists has created several sound installations that represent this particular form of music. Some of these include DormientiLightness  –  Music for The Marble PalaceThe Quiet Room and Music For Prague.

In order to achieve this type of musical composition, Brian Eno began by working with SSEYO KOAN PRO, which evolved into Wotja and, which is a music engine sound system. This system is also known by its technical name (IME) – Intermorphic Music Engine and its co – founder Tiim Cole. These various musical sound engines allow composers to put their own unique personality and also get completely unexpected, self generating musical pieces.

 Brian Eno has created Apps for iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, which constantly remix all of his latest musical compositions. One of the most popular ones is Reflection, which is the Eno’s twenty sixth studio album.

8. Despite an extremely large amount of evidence to suggest that he is one, Brian Eno does not consider himself to be a musician.

Yes, you read that correctly. Brian Eno considers himself to be a “Non – Musician.” He instead sees himself using the music recording studio as a compositional tool. It was while studying experimental music in college he first began to see tape recorders as being musical instruments. After attending a lecture from The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, Eno realized at that moment that he could create music despite having a formal background or formal training as a musician.

9. Brian Eno: Producer, Musical Collaborator and his music in Film / TV.

The images above provide a small sample of the musical projects Brian Eno has been involved in as a producer, collaborator, or music composer for films. Eno has produced forty three albums, collaborated on twenty six, made eight video albums, created thirteen compilations and released two E.P’s. Perhaps what is more impressive is how Brian Eno is able to traverse effortlessly across vastly different musical genres and work with artists and musicians, who could not be more different…

 He has worked with Italian operatic tenor, Luciano PavarottiLaurie Anderson, Grace Jones, John Cage, Nico, Talking HeadsColdplay, Toto and many, many others… Eno wrote “The Prophecy Theme” for the movie Dune and has composed many other pieces for movie soundtracks and TV shows. Eno’s approach and experience as a record producer is highly respected and has been sought after by some of the greatest bands in the music industry.  

Eno is and often called the “fifth man” in the band U2. Eno produced the  The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Zooropa and Achtung Baby for the band. Bono talks about why U2 specifically wanted to work with Eno:

“I knew he wasn’t a fan of us, it was one of the reasons we got to work with him. I wanted to know the other side of the argument. I knew what was wrong about us… I wanted to find out what wasn’t…”

It is through this kind of honesty and respect that Brian Eno has formed a long lasting partnership with U2. Eno formed other successful partnerships with Bowie, David Byrne, Robert Fripp and more. Recently in 2018, Eno collaborated with Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine and the two have plans for an ongoing elaborate solo project..

The Prophecy Theme written by Brian Eno for the movie Dune, starring Sting, Kyle MacLachlan and directed by David Lynch
The song “Only Once Away My Son” by Brian Eno and Kevin Shields released in 2018.

In 1975 – ’78, Brian Eno created a music label in the U.K. called Obscure Records. His label largely represented music that was experimental and compositions from the 20th century. Eno also made an album called Music For Films that features soundtracks for imaginary films. It is an extremely enjoyable Album to listen to.

10. He is an author...

Brian Eno is the author of over twenty three books. Some of his bestsellers include A Year With Swollen Appendices published in 1996. This is a wonderful primary source that explores Eno’s creative process and relationships with bands and artists such as, Talking Heads, Sting, David Bowie, Bono and others.

Brian Eno’s book, A Year With Swollen Appendices

Brian Eno is unique in that he has experienced the music business from every angle. He continues to inspire and create music to this day. The impact he has had on the music world is profound… You might think that with everything that Eno has accomplished during his career, he would not have time to eat, drink or sleep. But, the pictures below prove that Eno has had no problem taking breaks and enjoying precious time with his beloved cats throughout the years. Note: It is rumored that Eno’s black kitty Angel is telepathic!

Image on the left: © Dangerous Minds. Center Image: © Guy Peellaert. Image on the right: © ATP Recordings

Article by Ash Andersen. 

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