Eno at the Royal Academy - April 21
Apr 27, 2008 13:39 PDT
Once again, the powers that be (last time at the ICA) have underestimated
interest in any event where Brian Eno expounds his thoughts upon a breath-baited
universe. And so it was that this event is long sold-out prior to the night
of April 21, 2008. Yet, in a comforting and quaintly Royal Academy way,
tickets are still being sold on the night...
I arrived gasping for someone to proffer the free drink promoted wherever
ticket arrangements were publicised, but it seems one had to wait for the end of
the talking before that delight.
The opening moments (all 273 of them) are very quiet as Tom Phillips, the
man who taught Eno at Ipswich Arts College all those years ago "performs" John
Cage’s 4’ 33”, a silent piece that contains no audible music (as opposed to
not having any) though it does intentionally have the "sound of the immediate
environment", upon a miniature piano. His style of playing is to adopt
several freeze frame poses at the piano, only moving when adopting a new pose at
the start of the next "movement". Get it?
You can either buy into this or you can stand back and laugh at the
Emperor's-New-Clothes aspect of this endeavour. But the piece was written some 56
years ago, so the clothes are no longer new and most people present share the
humour of the piece with an arch knowingness.
Tom joins Brian Eno, architect-cum-musician Vesna Petresin Robert and host
Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner and they laugh together making jokes about silence.
Scanner has had laryngitis and feared he would be a silent host. Eno has
problems getting enough volume through his mic and jests that his contribution
may be as silent as the piece Tom Phillips has performed. Oh how we smiled.
It's decided Eno will kick things off and he does this by giving a spoken
precis of the background to composing Music For Airports ("my best-selling
album to date by far and still selling consistently well each year") and the
ambient and generative music that followed. He also engaged in an awkward and
lengthy exchange with an invisible engineer/assistant in order to play excerpts
of Music For Airports and a generative piece, where the volume sits
uncomfortably with the spoken word. He then chose to consciously "provoke" the panel
and audience by saying that he thinks he may be at the wrong event.
Entitled Architecture And Music 2, Eno claims there is no relationship
between the two. Pause for intake of breath and Eno rests back and waits for the
panel to discuss, the blue touch paper well and truly combusted.
But this debate is a damp squib really. Tom believes that the two are
inexorably intertwined because music venues are designed by architects (and, in the
case of the Royal Festival Hall, re-designed annually in search of perfect
acoustics), but doesn't proffer much in the way of examples to demonstrates how
the creation and design of building and music is in any way similar.
The exotic lady whose professional training combines the two unsurprisingly
thinks there's a lot to be said for their striking similarities and can't seem
to see the problem set by the debate's title (I papraphrase. Badly.)
All in all, the discussion is interesting enough but it's largely consisting
of proto-intellectual navel-gazing. Regrettably, those sitting patiently in
the audience have been doing so in order that they can expound for minutes
about their own cobbled-together theories, rather than ask questions of the
panel, each wishing to have some acknowledgement of their portentous intellect
by smirking and announcing that they mean to match the "provocational
approach" of Brian Eno. Ye Gods...it's always a mistake to say you mean to provoke
someone and then babble on for 10 minutes on the preface.
Asked finally for an answer, our host Scanner owns up and says he found it
hard to concentrate and has no idea what was said.
Brian tells of how land in Tokyo has become so expensive that architects are
at last realising they can play around with the design format because their
building will be demolished and replaced in as little as 6 years. He hopes in
years to come that land will become more expensive globally so architects can
be inspired to "have a laugh". Developers share this wish and audience
members with large mortgages doubtless just hope the Daily Mail is not covering
Eno tells (can't recall why) of how his brother Roger is a born comedian
with natural talent to amuse, but can't recall the punchlines to jokes. So he
started writing them down in a book. Trouble is Roger then found he can't
identify the rest of the jokes from their punchlines.
Scanner says remarkably little which is admirable in a compere, but a shame
as I'll wager he had much to say.
And so, after about 100 minutes, the event proper is over. And we are
finally treated to a free drinks reception (not bad for seven quid). Brian Eno (and
indeed the other speakers) is happy to mingle and sign autographs, but he
has the nous to keep circulating. Asked if he might have any exhibits for a
virtual exhibition planned of Peter Schmidt's work, he says "I've got tons of
his stuff but I can't photograph it or catalog it, I just don't have time". He
does mention though that he still regularly send cheques to Schmidt's widow as
Oblique Strategies are constantly reissued and continue to sell.
Wishing to show that he really is a busy man (and that his libidinous
tendencies remain undiminished), he excuses himself by saying "Look, I'm sorry but
I need to go and pursue a beautiful woman while there's still time". And
indeed concentrates on the female members of the room, notably Tom Phillips'
wife, for the rest of the evening.
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