Brian Eno On Options

Brian Eno on OptionsBrian Eno, on options and music making:

Years ago I realized that the recording studio was becoming a musical instrument. I even lectured about it, proclaiming that “by turning sound into malleable material, studios invite you to construct new worlds of sounds as painters construct worlds of form and color.”

I was thrilled at how people were using studios to make music that otherwise simply could not exist. Studios opened up possibilities.

But now I’m struck by the insidious, computer-driven tendency to take things out of the domain of muscular activity and put them into the domain of mental activity. This transfer is not paying off.

Sure, muscles are unreliable, but they represent several million years of accumulated finesse. Musicians enjoy drawing on that finesse (and audiences respond to its exercise), so when muscular activity is rendered useless, the creative process is frustrated. No wonder artists who can afford the best of anything keep buying “retro” electronics and instruments, and revert to retro media.

The trouble begins with a design philosophy that equates “more options” with “greater freedom.” Designers struggle endlessly with a problem that is almost nonexistent for users: “How do we pack the maximum number of options into the minimum space and price?” In my experience, the instruments and tools that endure (because they are loved by their users) have limited options.

via Eno’s essay, The Revenge Of The Intuitive

16 thoughts on “Brian Eno On Options

  1. So well put! I could not agree more. I see producers now with sooo much tech at their fingertips. Particularly with software… plugin after plugin and I think it serves more as an excuse than a truly creative tool. People with GAS always using the "need" for that one elusive piece of gear to continue their work.
    I wonder just how much of the music tech industry is propped up by these people! 😉

  2. White Mike

    That and knowing your gear. Eno did a lot of creative DX7 synthesis, even though it was impenetrable to most people.

  3. I think its fun to write with hardware some times, but in this day and age time is of the essence. The point of all this tech is to reduce the technical issues, cost, and get to laying out ideas fast. Hardware cannot meet those requirements. Its the responsibly of the end user to find what feels comfortable. Be it hardware, software or both. Many good music is coming from young artists that have nothing more than a midi keyboard and laptop. They are using the same muscle on the midi keyboard and knobs as we did in the 80s and 90s with the old analog gear. Gear freaks usually are just into the next cool thing rather than making music. Its the same for people that read about stuff all day and never apply it. The truly driven individual will find a way to make music on pretty much anything, be it a limited keyboard or an entire suite like Logic. I respect Eno for his views on this subject but I just don't see the problem he speaks of therefore I would have to disagree.

  4. From my own experience I can say, that sometimes using hardware and the muscle that Eno talked about is a lot quicker than e.g. drawing intricate automation envelopes or programming a melody line using a mouse. I finished a lot more material when I used just a four track and some synths. Software is great for many things, but still I have to meet a piece of software that does not just sound good and is usable most of the time, but also gives me the feeling of a hardware synth (and I don't necessarily mean physical knobs and sliders or even patch cords). Bottom line for me: If you don't want to limit your option you have to use both hardware and software, but as others I do not see a real point in using tape recorders when you can just as well use a computer to record yout stuff. Using computers with sophisticated software may lend itself to forgetting about the details because you don't have to do so many things all by yourself (and consequently have to know how to do them), but it's probably a small price compared to giving up a keyboard or some accoustic instruments.

  5. I fully agree. But this desperate desire for new gear, especially for new plugins, is heavily forced by the developers / music tech industry and its marketing departments. At least when they belong to the big ones. Up to now I can't understand, why e.g. Omnisphere is a "must have". NO, it isn't. When you are well equipped with software or even hardware synths plus a good sampler like Kontakt you simply don't need Omni. At least not necessarily. But all people using it claim that they can't live without it anymore. The same is true for all those iStuff toys. Limit yourself to a handful of good tools and learn to use them well. This is much more efficient than to buy every sh*t available in the hope to make better music. And it's much more inexpensive. All those shiny gadgets just distract you from making music.

  6. I love Eno. On one hand he's spot on, but on the other it's little more than mindless angry drivel from someone fast approaching old age.

  7. I think the real matter here is that we no long have only musicians making music. Because of how much technology has enabled the user, we now also have technicians making music. A musician, approaching everything from the perspective of finding playable ways to create expression, will come up with very different results and solutions than the technician, who doesn't have music theory and performance in their toolbox. instead, the technician can only reach for "more features", or more ways to manipulate the knobs and levels they already have. Technicians can produce some wonderful music, but in the end they are extremely limited.

  8. Says the guy who fully endorsed generative music in the form of sseyo koan and signs his name to various iOS apps that make music with nearly nil muscular intervention.

  9. I agree with Eno 100%, the real problem is the youngsters really don't love their hardware. They have been brought up in the disposable generation, where if a piece of hardware develops an issue, or stops working, then throw it out and get a new one. They have never really had to appreciate hardware of any kind. Throw away your old ipad, because the new ipad is here and you are a loser if you still use the old ipad. (working or not!)

    For the record, I love old hardware. It is just as much the hardware working me as me working the hardware and no where in Eno's rant do you see any mention of efficiency. Most times with working with older gear, you discover new things just trying to get where you wanted to go in the first place. It's not the destination, it's the journey there!

  10. I love Eno…don't get me wrong on what i'm about to say. Everything he says here is also right on the money, except perhaps the final part about limited options. If the options are just filler than Eno is right. But, if the options expand functionality, enhance the experience, and personalize the instrument to the user, then I think options are useful. I think Eno's main point is that limitations and overcoming limitations is exciting, and requires creativity. Tension is good in art. But, I'm just not sure how good Bloom is as an app, or Air, etc.. Eno kept these apps simple…too simple. Not many personalized options, to the point that these are more toys than instruments. There is no tension in the process other than being frustrated that you can't do more with the apps. If his idea behind the apps was to remix his general sound, then he succeeded. But, as Eno is widely regarded as the father of 'generative' music, it seems we should expect more from his apps.

    His music on the other hand is still fantastic. I very much enjoyed his latest and am looking forward to his next release in July.

  11. i have played with so many musicians that use a lack of hardware as an excuse. they always need better speakers or whatever. i came from a punk background which is make the most of what you've got. that is where true creativity comes form. not a massive fx rack.

  12. Totally agree, a piano has limited "options", but did this prevent the composition of great music on the instrument? I think that options proliferation is a trap and ultimately just a selling vehicle for vendors most of the times. Few quality options exploited with mastery are the key.

    But in my opinion things are even worse that in Eno's statement: in the last years it looks that it is more interesting where to have an option that what the option is. Options you already had ten years ago get the first page if thay are on an iPad.

  13. Agree; the recording studio is the new performance space, but the main audience has become only the band. Think; the Ukulele is quite low on functional feature options, yet it’s more popular than ever.

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