Brian Eno

Background thrum of history’s engine

By David Gavan.

[Image: © Geoff MacCormack / Genesis Publications 2013]

“What a terrifically clever idea this is. I am all kinds of shades of green as I didn’t think of it first. Take the two of us and pretend that we went to America, Japan and, wait for it, fucking Russia of all places, me as a rock star and you as a cheerful backing singer and sidekick and then write a book about it. Brilliant! Will you actually be able to get this stuff published, do you think?”

– David Bowie, from the foreword to From Station to Station: Travels with Bowie 1973- 76

Back in January 1973, Geoff MacCormack was selling advertising space for a London construction magazine when he was head-hunted in the most astounding manner. A telephone caller told him (“Forget being asked”) that he was to provide backing vocals and percussion for Ziggy Stardust’s band, the Spiders From Mars, during their forthcoming world tour. The voice on the ‘phone belonged to David Bowie. By the end of the month, MacCormack (along with his camera) was bound for New York with his famously flight-phobic new boss on the opulently appointed SS Canberra.

“If that wasn’t cool enough,” he recalls, “David wasn’t keen to fly, so we travelled to America, Japan and Russia by road, sea, and rail, which was an absolute bonus. The week-long cruise to New York was as un-rock ‘n’ roll as it gets, so we’d kill the boredom by dressing for dinner, getting blotto, and chatting with our fellow passengers. During dinner we’d do our Oscar Wilde and Bosie routine: I’d ask David, ‘More vegetables, my dear Oscar?’ And he’d roll his eyes disdainfully and say, ‘I find vegetables so very vulgar.’ Obviously, we stood out a bit!

Edge of music


Brian Eno on the intersection between art and his music.

Art students by definition are people who are looking at how a medium works, and thinking about what you can do with a medium. They’re different from folk musicians, who in general are accepting of a tradition. That kind of slightly-outside-looking-in approach that art students brought to music meant that they were completely able to accept a lot of new possibilities, whereas music students were not interested in them at all. It’s very conspicuous that there were a lot of art students involved in pop music in the ’60s and ’70s, and very few music students.

There’s another reason for this. By the mid-’60s, recorded music was much more like painting than it was like traditional music. When you went into the studio, you could put a sound down, then you could squeeze it around, spread it all around the canvas. Once you’re working in a multitrack studio, you stop thinking of the music as performance and you start thinking of it as sound painting. After Phil Spector and George Martin and Joe Meek, this new role called the producer had started to become an important creative role. When art students really started flooding into music, it was at exactly that point where recorded music had become more like painting. So it was a natural transition for art students. They knew how to work within a medium that required continual revisiting, where the elements were mutable, could be scraped off and replaced the next day.

[Via @briangdillon]