Name: Roger Eno
Occupation: Producer, Composer, Pianist
Current Release: This Floating World on Recital
Recommendations: My first recommendation is W.G.Sebalds excellent book ‘The Rings of Saturn’ - this is literature at its cleverest and you never feel that it’s being clever!
My second is a request that you, dear reader now write a short poem and carry it around with you for a week.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Roger Eno, his facebook page is probably the best point of departure to find out more about him and his work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was 12 years old, my father and I walked around what was to become my new school-a truly dreadful place, by the way, an endurance test rather than an education … Anyway, in the music room, on a table was a cornet (a small trumpet like instrument) which I picked up and got a note out of. A switch was activated as I INSTANTLY knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life - I was to be a musician.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I was extremely fortunate in that the Music School I attended allowed me a huge amount of time to explore. My enlightened piano teacher, a lovely bloke named Robert Bell, didn’t care that I had no interest in scales and ‘technique’ - he taught me how to get his depth of tonal quality from the instrument and it was this aspect I pursued and continue to pursue. At this time I played in any number of groups from orchestras, folk bands, punk bands, a German Oom-Pah band (on tuba), trad jazz bands etc. I also taught myself a range of instruments. I play around 30 to differing levels of ability, which allowed and allows influences/interest in a vast range of styles.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Again, when in my teens I was fortunate enough to discover the exquisite works of Erik Satie. His skeletal, sparse works showed me that one needn’t have an immense academic technique to write beautiful music.
I now call myself a ‘de-composer’ due to the fact that I work on getting rid of the extraneous, leaving the essence of the piece.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I began recording on a Revox tape machine that my brother (elder by 11 years) donated to me. I somehow managed to multi track on this, building up layers of instruments …. I then got a cassette based multi track working through workstations etc to what I use now, an iMac with logic.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I’m not greatly interested in ‘technology’ itself, I generally leave this area to those that like experimenting in that area. I do however love what midi allows, subtraction, improvisation/editing and so on. These facilities I use a lot.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I collaborate with others a lot, both with musicians and folk who are not in my area of art. I find this process invaluable as I love seeing where another-trusted-person takes an idea as well as my responding another’s work. I frequently use midi files. I hate ‘jamming’ - even the word makes me feel ill - but love playing with people.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Generally I find the mornings best for work. I use the liminal state between sleep and wakefulness in which to improvise into my computer later to edit/work on.
I love writing/recording comedy songs and these I’ll generally do when it’s beer/wine o’clock - so much much later in the day. I draw influences from literature and walks, poetry and situations. Even though you may not recognise it, one's approach to life plays a huge part in the music that one produces. How one thinks of sharing, for example, or communication - are you a preacher or are you in a conversation? ....
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I think of an ‘album’ as a collection of closely related ideas, elements that concur with each other and thus create a whole, so the actual material is related. What the instigation of the ‘piece’ will be depends on where I am, mentally, at the time. As I don’t write ‘pop’ music, I have no reason to be interested in current trends and so am free to pursue wherever I happen to find myself.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Being open to what is around you is important. I find cycling/walking invaluable as they allow ‘drift’.This would probably be the key word for me, not working to get to an end, but drifting there …
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Playing live solo is, even after nearly forty years, fucking terrifying! At least just before you begin it is - then it’s super. I use written pieces as spring boards with which to dive into improvisations - it’s great fun ...
When playing with other people, I have had what can only be said as ‘spirtual’ experiences. I have wept, literally, with Joy.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
As I mentioned above, I am heavily weighted to the actual compositional aspect of the piece. This though can be led by a particularly intriguing sound which inspires a piece. Such a sound is generally one which does not demand intricate additions.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Music intimately influences aspects of memory. This allows a compositional technique which I often use which is that of ‘the almost known’ - it is writing a piece that gives the impression that it must have been written before.
I have fallen foul of this and have ‘suffered’ from crypomnesia where I have quite unintentionally re-written a piece composed by another in the belief that it’s an original idea. I tell you, it’s a minefield!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I am involved in two distinct areas of music - the first encourages an ‘inner’ experience,a detachment from the world whilst the second uses music as a social device. I work with sufferers of dementia using music as a tool to promote memories/socialisation. I write songs to make people laugh and simple tunes to make myself weep in the hope that this emotion will be conveyed.
I find the word ‘artist’ somewhat uncomfortable as a self reference as I feel that it is, like ‘Saint’, a term that only others should enoble one with.
When I am entitled thus I feel extremely honoured as I think art, especially music and poetry, a pinnacle of human endeavour. I find it a ‘spiritual’ experience.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Music, I think has such a deep relevance to humanity that it it is impossible to think that it could have died out …. Think of it that way and try to conceive of a world or society existing without it ….