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U2 Producer: Brian Eno

Brian Eno, Musician / Music Producer

  • Born: 15 May 1948
  • Birthplace: Woodbridge, East Anglia, England
  • Best Known As: Guru-like producer of modern music

Name at birth: Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno

Brian Eno co-founded art-rock band Roxy Music in the early 1970s, then embarked on his own recording career. A pioneer in "ambient" music, Eno has also collaborated with rock artists such as Robert Fripp, David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Devo and U2. Known primarily as an avant-garde experimenter in video, computers and music, he has also had commercial success as a producer and his music is often heard in movies and television commercials.


Brian Eno
  • Birth Name: Brian Peter George St. Baptiste de la Salle Eno
  • Genre: Rock
  • Active: '70s - 2000s
  • Instruments: Vocals, Keyboards, Synthesizer


Ambient pioneer, glam rocker, hit producer, multimedia artist, technological innovator, worldbeat proponent, and self-described non-musician -- over the course of his long, prolific, and immensely influential career, Brian Eno was all of these things and much, much more. Determining his creative pathways with the aid of a deck of instructional, tarot-like cards called Oblique Strategies, Eno championed theory over practice, serendipity over forethought, and texture over craft; in the process, he forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.

Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno was born in Woodbridge, England, on May 15, 1948. Raised in rural Suffolk, an area neighboring a U.S. Air Force base, as a child he grew enamored of the "Martian music" of doo wop and early rock & roll broadcast on American Armed Forces radio; a subsequent tenure at art school introduced him to the work of contemporary composers John Tilbury and Cornelius Cardew, as well as minimalists John Cage, LaMonte Young, and Terry Riley. Instructed in the principles of conceptual painting and sound sculpture, Eno began experimenting with tape recorders, which he dubbed his first musical instrument, finding great inspiration in Steve Reich's tape orchestration "It's Gonna Rain."

After joining the avant-garde performance art troupe Merchant Taylor's Simultaneous Cabinet, as well as assuming vocal and "signals generator" duties with the improvisational rock unit Maxwell Demon, Eno joined Cardew's Scratch Orchestra in 1969, later enlisting as a clarinetist with the Portsmouth Sinfonia. In 1971 he rose to prominence as a member of the seminal glam band Roxy Music, playing the synthesizer and electronically treating the band's sound. A flamboyant enigma decked out in garish makeup, pastel feather boas, and velvet corsets, his presence threatened the focal dominance of frontman Bryan Ferry, and relations between the two men became strained; finally, after just two LPs -- 1972's self-titled debut and 1973's brilliant For Your Pleasure -- Eno exited Roxy's ranks to embark on a series of ambitious side projects.

The first, 1973's No Pussyfooting, was recorded with Robert Fripp; for the sessions Eno began developing a tape-delay system, dubbed "Frippertronics," which treated Fripp's guitar with looped delays in order to ultimately employ studio technology as a means of musical composition, thereby setting the stage for the later dominance of sampling in hip-hop and electronica. Eno soon turned to his first solo project, the frenzied and wildly experimental Here Come the Warm Jets, which reached the U.K. Top 30. During a brief tenure fronting the Winkies, he mounted a series of British live performances despite ill health; less than a week into the tour, Eno's lung collapsed, and he spent the early part of 1974 hospitalized.

Upon recovering, he traveled to San Francisco, where he stumbled upon the set of postcards depicting a Chinese revolutionary opera that inspired 1974's Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), another sprawling, free-form collection of abstract pop. A 1975 car accident which left Eno bedridden for several months resulted in perhaps his most significant innovation, the creation of ambient music: unable to move to turn up his stereo to hear above the din of a rainstorm, he realized that music could assume the same properties as light or color, and blend thoroughly into its given atmosphere without upsetting the environmental balance. Heralded by the release of 1975's minimalist Another Green World, Eno plunged completely into ambient with his next instrumental effort, Discreet Music, the first chapter in a ten-volume series of experimental works issued on his own Obscure label.

After returning to pop structures for 1977's Before and After Science, Eno continued his ambient experimentation with Music for Films, a collection of fragmentary pieces created as soundtracks for imaginary motion pictures. Concurrently, he became a much-sought-after collaborator and producer, teaming with the German group Cluster as well as David Bowie, with whom he worked on the landmark trilogy Low, Heroes, and Lodger. Additionally, Eno produced the seminal no wave compilation No New York and in 1978 began a long, fruitful union with Talking Heads, his involvement expanding over the course of the albums More Songs About Buildings and Food and 1979's Fear of Music to the point that by the time of 1980's world music-inspired Remain in Light, Eno and frontman David Byrne shared co-writing credits on all but one track. Friction with Byrne's bandmates hastened Eno's departure from the group's sphere, but in 1981 he and Byrne reunited for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a landmark effort that fused electronic music with a pioneering use of Third World percussion.

In the interim, Eno continued to perfect the concept of ambient sound with 1978's Music for Airports, a record designed to calm air passengers against fears of flying and the threat of crashes. In 1980, he embarked on collaborations with minimalist composer Harold Budd (The Plateaux of Mirror) and avant trumpeter Jon Hassell (Possible Musics) as well as Acadian producer Daniel Lanois, with whom Eno would emerge as one of the most commercially successful production teams of the 1980s, helming a series of records for the Irish band U2 (most notably The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby) that positioned the group as one of the world's most respected and popular acts. Amidst this flurry of activity, Eno remained dedicated to his solo work, moving from the earthbound ambience of 1982's On Land on to other worlds for 1983's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, a collection of space-themed work created in tandem with Lanois and Eno's brother Roger. In 1985, Eno resurfaced with Thursday Afternoon, the soundtrack to a VHS cassette of "video paintings" by artist Christine Alicino.

After Eno produced John Cale's 1989 solo effort Words for the Dying, the duo collaborated on 1990's Wrong Way Up, the first record in many years to feature Eno vocals. Two years later he returned with the solo projects The Shutov Assembly and Nerve Net, followed in 1993 by Neroli; Glitterbug, a 1994 soundtrack to a posthumously released film by Derek Jarman, was subsequently reworked by Jah Wobble and issued in 1995 as Spinner. In addition to his musical endeavors, Eno also frequently ventured into other realms of media, beginning in 1980 with the vertical-format video Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan; along with designing a 1989 art installation to help inaugurate a Shinto shrine in Japan and 1995's Self-Storage, a multimedia work created with Laurie Anderson, he also published a diary, 1996's A Year with Swollen Appendices, and formulated Generative Music I, a series of audio screen savers for home computer software. In August of 1999, Sonora Portraits, a collection of Eno's previous ambient tracks and a 93-page companion booklet, was published.

Around 1998, Eno was working heavily in the world of art installations and a series of his installation soundtracks started to appear, most in extremely limited editions (making them instant collectors items). In 2000 he teamed with German DJ Jan Peter Schwalm for the Japanese-only release Music for Onmyo-Ji. The duo's work got worldwide distribution the next year with Drawn from Life, an album that kicked off Eno's relationship with the Astralwerks label. In 2004, Virgin and Astralwerks began a reissue campaign of his early EG albums. The campaign continued into 2005, the year Eno released his first solo vocal album in 15 years, Another Day on Earth. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was reissued in 2006 with seven unheard tracks added to the album. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

Brian Eno
Brian Eno
Background information
Birth name Brian Peter George Eno
Born May 15, 1948
Origin Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
Genre(s) Experimental rock
Art rock
Glam rock
Proto punk
Electronic music
Occupation(s) Producer
Instrument(s) Synthesizer, Keyboards, Vocals
Years active 1970 to Present
Label(s) EG
Thirsty Ear
Roxy Music
Robert Fripp
Talking Heads

Brian Peter George St. Jean le Baptiste de la Salle Eno (born Brian Peter George Eno on 15 May 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk) is an English electronic musician, music theorist and record producer. As a solo artist, he is probably best known as the father of ambient music.

Eno first came to prominence as the keyboard and synthesiser player and general sonic wizard of the 1970s' glam and art rock band Roxy Music (see 1970s in music). After leaving the group, Eno recorded two highly idiosyncratic and original rock albums, before turning to more abstract soundscapes on subsequent albums such as Another Green World (1975) and Ambient 1/Music for Airports (1978). Since then, he has produced dozens of albums (many with similarly-minded collaborators such as Harold Budd and Robert Fripp) which have demonstrated his unique approach to music. He has also occasionally returned to the pop song format.

His production credits include some of the most respected albums by Talking Heads, James and U2.

Contrary to popular belief, Brian Eno did not produce David Bowie's popular Berlin Trilogy (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger). He performed and co-wrote tracks on all three albums, but they were produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti. He did, however, co-produce Bowie's 1995 album Outside.

Eno has pursued several artistic ventures parallel to his music career, including visual art installations, a regular column in the newspaper The Observer and, with artist Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards recommending various artistic strategies.

Education and early musical career

Eno was educated at the St. Joseph's College, Birkfield, Ipswich (where he adopted the names Jean-Baptiste de la Salle as the school was run by that order of Catholic brethren), Ipswich Art School and the Winchester School of Art, graduating from the latter in 1969. While at art school, he developed an interest in using tape recorders as musical instruments, and he experimented with his first (sometimes improvisational) bands. While at Ipswich, his interest in music was encouraged by one of his teachers, the painter Tom Phillips. Phillips recalls devising "Piano Tennis" with Eno in which, after having amassed a number of second-hand pianos they stripped them and lined them up in a hall striking tennis balls at them. Obviously, as Phillips suggests, "the scoring shots were the best noises." And it was through Phillips that Eno became involved in Cornelius Cardew's Scratch Orchestra. The first released recording Eno was involved with as a musician is the Deutsche Grammophon edition of Cardew's The Great Learning (recorded in February 1971). Eno is thus one of the many voices to be heard in The Scratch Orchestra's recital of Cardew's The Great Learning Paragraph 7.

Roxy Music

Eno started his professional musical career in London, as a member of the glam/art-rock band Roxy Music, working with them from 1971 to 1973. As a self-described "non-musician," Eno performed from behind the mixing desk at the band's earliest live shows, where his efforts went way beyond the usual balancing of the volume levels: he would alter the sounds by processing the other band members' instruments through his VCS3 synthesizer, tape recorders and other electronic devices, frequently singing backing vocals as well. Eno soon joined the rest of Roxy Music on stage, where his flamboyant costumes became a hallmark of the band's visual appeal. Eno left the group after completing the tour to promote their second album, For Your Pleasure. By Eno's later account, his departure was partially result of disagreements with Roxy's lead singer and principal songwriter, Bryan Ferry, and partially due to his growing boredom with the life of a touring rock star [1].

Solo work

Eno embarked on a solo career almost immediately. Between 1973 and 1977 he created four influential solo albums of electronically inflected pop songs – Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World and Before and after Science. Tiger Mountain contains the galloping "Third Uncle", one of Eno's best-known songs. Critic Dave Thompson writes that the song is "a near punk attack of riffing guitars and clattering percussion, "Third Uncle" could, in other hands, be a heavy metal anthem, albeit one whose lyrical content would tongue-tie the most slavish air guitarist."[2]

Brian Eno pictured on his 1977 album Before and After Science.
Brian Eno pictured on his 1977 album Before and After Science.

During this period, he also toured with Phil Manzanera in the band 801, a "supergroup" that played more or less mutated selections from albums by Eno, Manzanera, and Quiet Sun, as well as covers of classic songs by The Beatles and The Kinks.

He was a prominent member of the performance art-classical orchestra the Portsmouth Sinfonia - having started playing with them in 1972. In 1973 he produced the orchestra's first album The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics (released in March 1974) and in 1974 he produced the live album Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Royal Albert Hall of their infamous May 1974 concert (released in October 1974.) In addition to producing both albums, Eno perfomed in the orchestra on both recordings - playing the clarinet. Eno also deployed the orchestra's famously dissonant string section on his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). The orchestra at this time included other musicians whose solo work he would subsequently release on his Obscure label including Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman.

Eno continued his career by producing a larger number of highly eclectic and increasingly ambient electronic and acoustic albums. He is widely cited as coining the term "ambient music," low-volume music designed to modify one's perception of a surrounding environment, producing his Ambient series (Music for Films, Music for Airports, The Plateaux of Mirror, Day of Radiance and On Land).

In 1981, back from Ghana and before On Land, he discovered Miles Davis' 1974 ambient jazz dirge "He Loved Him Madly": "Teo Macero's revolutionary production on that piece seemed to me to have the "spacious" quality I was after, and like "Amarcord", it too became a touchstone to which I returned frequently." [3]

Eno describes himself as a "non-musician" and coined the term "treatments" to describe his modification of the sound of musical instruments, and to separate his role from that of the traditional instrumentalist. His skill at using "The Studio as a Compositional Tool" (the title of an essay by Eno [4]) led in part to his career as a producer. His methods were recognized at the time (mid-70s) as unique, so much so that on Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, he is credited with 'Enossification' and on John Cale's Island albums as playing the 'Eno'.

Eno started the Obscure label in Britain in 1975 to release works by less-known composers. The first group of three releases included his own composition, Discreet Music, and the now-famous The Sinking of the Titanic by Gavin Bryars. The second side of Discreet Music consisted of several versions of Pachelbel's canon to which various algorithmic transformations have been applied, rendering it almost unrecognizable. Side 1 consisted of a tape loop system for generating music from relatively sparse input. These tapes had previously been used as backgrounds in some of his collaborations with Robert Fripp of King Crimson, most notably No Pussyfooting. This methodology (coined 'Frippertronics') was later used by Robert Fripp, among other artists, on future albums. Only ten Obscure albums were released, including works by John Adams, Michael Nyman, and John Cage. At this time he was also affiliating with artists in the Fluxus movement.

In 1980-81 Eno collaborated with David Byrne, of Talking Heads, on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which was built around sampling recordings and radio broadcasts from around the world. He worked with David Bowie as a writer and musician on Bowie's influential 1977-79 'Berlin Trilogy' of albums, Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, on Bowie's later album Outside, and on the song "I'm Afraid of Americans". Eno has also collaborated with John Cale, former member of Velvet Underground, on his trilogy Fear, Slow Dazzle and Helen of Troy, Robert Wyatt on his Shleep CD, with Jon Hassell, with the German duo Cluster, with composer Harold Budd and others. In 1992, Eno released his take on 'club electronica' titled Nerve Net.

In 2004, Fripp and Eno recorded another ambient collaboration album, The Equatorial Stars.

Eno returned in June of 2005 with Another Day on Earth, his first major album since Wrong Way Up (with John Cale) to prominently feature vocals. The album differs from his 70s solo work as musical production has changed since then, evident in its semi-electronic production.

In early 2006, Eno collaborated with David Byrne to reissue My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in celebration of the influential album's 25th anniversary. Eight previously unreleased tracks, recorded during the initial sessions in 1980/81, are featured.

Producing records and other projects

From the very beginning of his solo career in 1973, Eno has been much in demand as a producer - though his management now describe him as a "sonic landscaper" rather than a producer. The first album with Eno credited as producer was Lucky Leif and the Longships by Robert Calvert. Eno's lengthy string of producer credits includes albums for Talking Heads, U2, Devo, Ultravox and James. He also produced part of the 1993 album When I Was a Boy by Jane Siberry. He won the best producer award at the 1994 and 1996 BRIT awards.

Despite being a self-professed "non-musician", Eno has contributed to recordings by a huge number of artists as varied as Nico, Robert Calvert, Genesis, Edikanfo, and Zvuki Mu, in various capacities such as use of his studio/synthesizer/electronic treatments, vocals, guitar, bass guitar, and even just as being 'Eno'. In 1984, he composed and performed the "Prophecy Theme" for the David Lynch film Dune, the rest of the film's score performed by the group Toto. Eno produced performance art singer Laurie Anderson's Bright Red and also composed there. The work is avant-garde spoken word with haunting and magnifying sounds. Eno played on David Byrne's musical score for The Catherine Wheel, a project commissioned by Twyla Tharp to accompany her Broadway dance project of the same name.

In 1994 Eno was approached by Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk, senior designers at Microsoft on the Cairo project. The result was the start-up sound for the Windows 95 operating system (which Eno created on his Apple Macintosh). From an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I'd been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, "Here's a specific problem – solve it." The thing from the agency said, "We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional," this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said "and it must be 3 seconds long." I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It's like making a tiny little jewel. In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I'd finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.

He collaborated on the development of SSEYO's Koan generative music system, which he used to create his hybrid album Generative Music 1.

Brian Eno, 1996:

"Some very basic forms of generative music have existed for a long time, but as marginal curiosities. Wind chimes are an example, but the only compositional control you have over the music they produce is in the original choice of notes that the chimes will sound. Recently, however, out of the union of synthesisers and computers, some much finer tools have evolved. Koan Software is probably the best of these systems, allowing a composer to control not one but one hundred and fifty musical and sonic parameters within which the computer then improvises (as wind improvises the wind chimes).

The works I have made with this system symbolise to me the beginning of a new era of music. Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again.

But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.

I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "you mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"

Using the pseudonym CSJ Bofop, 1996:

"Each of the twelve pieces on Generative Music 1 has a distinctive character. There are, of course, the ambient works ranging from the dark, almost mournful Densities III (complete with distant bells), to translucent Lysis (Tungsten). These are contrasted with pieces in dramatically different styles, such as Komarek with its hard edged, angular melodies, reminiscent of Schoenberg's early serial experiments, and Klee 42 whose simple polyphony is similar to that of the early Renaissance. But of course, the great beauty of Generative Music is that those pieces will never sound quite that way again."

Eno has also been active in other artistic genres, producing videos for gallery display and collaborating with visual artists in other endeavors. One is the set of "Oblique Strategies" cards that he produced in the mid-70s, which was described as "100 Worthwhile Dilemmas" and intended as guides to shaking up the mind in the process of producing artistic endeavors. Another was his collaboration with artist Russell Mills on the book More Dark Than Shark. He was also the provider of music for Robert Sheckley's In the Land of Clear Colours, a narrated story with music originally published by a small art gallery in Spain.

In 1996 Brian Eno, and others, started the Long Now Foundation to educate the public into thinking about the very long term future of society.

Eno is a columnist for the British newspaper, The Observer.

In 2003, he appeared on a Channel 4 discussion about the Iraq war with a top military spokesman. Eno was highly critical of the war. In 2005, he spoke at an anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park, London. In March 2006, he spoke at an anti-war demonstration at Trafalgar Square. He noted that 2 billion people on this planet do not have clean drinking water, and that water could have been supplied to them for about 1/5 of the cost of the Iraq war.

In 2006, he produced Paul Simon's album Surprise.



Year Title Chart positions Album
US Hot 100 US Modern Rock US Mainstream Rock UK
1990 "Been There, Done That" (with John Cale) - #11 - - Wrong Way Up


  • Brian Eno was the inspiration for the character Brent Mini in the 1981 novel Valis. The author of the book, Philip K. Dick, preferred classical music and was an aficionado of Eno's Discreet Music album. Another literary semi-personification of Brian is the keyboardist character Eno Barber, on Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet.
  • The character of I-No (pronounced the same as "Eno"), in the videogame series Guilty Gear is most likely a reference to Brian Eno. This is one of dozens of music references in the series.
  • The original Windows 95 startup sound (not the faster melody in later versions) was composed by Brian Eno.
  • He once guest appeared as Father Brian Eno on the television sitcom Father Ted.
  • He reportedly has a passion for word games. A song on his album Before and after Science is entitled "King's Lead Hat", which is an anagram of "Talking Heads", a band that he has worked with (his own name, "Brian Eno", is an anagram of "One Brain").
  • The song "Lay My Love" with John Cale was on the soundtrack More Music From Northern Exposure (1990-95) released in 1994.
  • In March 1967, then age 18, Brian Eno married Sarah Grenville. Their daughter Hannah was born in July 1967. So Eno could easily be a grandfather ("I wish I was”).
  • In January 1988, Eno married Anthea Norman-Taylor. They have two girls, Irial and Darla.
  • According to the radio documentary Enzology, in 1976 former Split Enz singer/songwriter Phil Judd showed up to a party at which Eno was also a guest with his newly shaven head. Eno commented that he was considering changing his image by shaving his head as well but now couldn't as Phil got there first. Phil jokes that Eno seemed a little annoyed, but it was all in good humour.

See also


  • Bracewell, Michael Roxy Music: Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Art, Ideas, and Fashion (Da Capo Press, 2005) ISBN 0-306-81400-5
  • Eno, Brian, Russell Mills and Rick Poynor More Dark Than Shark (Faber & Faber, 1986, out of print)
  • Eno, Brian A Year with Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno's Diary (Faber & Faber, 1996) ISBN 0-571-17995-9
  • Tamm, Eric Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound (Da Capo Press, 1995, first published 1989) ISBN 0-306-80649-5

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