Brian Eno On How To Make Ambient Music

In this video, via the BBC, Brian Eno discusses some of the techniques behind his music and demonstrates his current setup for creating and ‘tuning’ systems for creating ambient soundscapes.

While the video focuses primarily on the aleatory processes Eno uses, attentive viewers will note that Eno emphasizes his process of listening and refining his compositional rules to meet his aesthetic goals. 

Video Summary:

BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly spends an afternoon talking art, science, music and potatoes with music legend and godfather of ambient music Brian Eno.

26 thoughts on “Brian Eno On How To Make Ambient Music

  1. Big influence to me, this man is. Grateful for this clip i am.

    Recommend the documentary about Eno, i would. Forgotten the name of it, i have. Easy to find on google, it should be anyway.

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  2. I love seeing someone else’s process because it often reflects exactly what I do which is very affirming. Often Eno makes apps that do what I was thinking, or like the cards – I didn’t know he did that, I have my own set of cards I made for myself years ago.

    I wish more artists shared their home, their process like this. Like Zeno, I get annoyed by artists who just say “oh it’s a mystery, you wouldn’t understand” because I can’t learn from that. It’s like they’re just refusing to share.

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    1. Those are the artists who probably have ghost writers, ghost producers or massive backing with rooms full of real musicians for each album.

      That’s why they won’t reveal the truth, cos the truth is they are hacks.

      I remember watching a short clip on Mac Cooper once, and when asked about how he writes music, he said:

      ‘I just wrote a whole bunch of shit songs for many years until I finally wrote something half decent’

      Love that honesty

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  3. This was great. I love how Eno is so generous with his creative processes. Most artists/musicians keep those cards very close to their chests.
    Does anyone know any resources where any of these ‘scripts’ /logic addons can be downloaded …or good guides to creating your own?

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    1. For his 1996 Generative Music 1 album, Eno used the software Koan, which evolved into the generative composition app Noatikl 3, both by Intermorphic.com. Noaktikl still plays Koan files, so Eno may be using a Noatikl template in the video. As Eno describes, Noatikl generates MIDI events using a “rule set” that can be manipulated in real-time.

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  4. @ 16:50 – Interviewer: “Are other people doing this?” Eno: “Not as far as I know.” Let’s just hope it was a slip of the tongue, as can happen in these interviews, because if not, it would make Eno look quite out of touch with what has been happening in electronic music for the last 20 years. I mean, that super-evil funk thingie sounds like a 1998 IDM record. No problem, you can’t expect him to keep track of everything. But he has worked with electronic musicians like John Hopkins, so he could know. Maybe he was just talking about pop music.

    No idea why pointing this out leads to some of the hostile replies seen in this thread. Eno did a great job of introducing aleatoric concepts developed in art music in the 50s and 60s into pop music, and he has inspired many current electronic musicians. Myself included. But if he gets something wrong, he can be corrected like anybody else. As a man of science he wouldn’t want it any other way.

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    1. Do you know nothing about mr. Eno? He is notoriously arrogant (justified) he rarely acknowledges contemporary’s/peer’s work, very coy with his words, and is a famously voracious listener. As he himself has admitted over the last 40+ years these are all defensive mechanisms so he can feel good about himself. I am sure he is aware of the last 15 years, but also I am sure he is trying to be cheeky and talking about his *specific algorithm* and not randomness in general. Random in music is not something the average person has any knowledge of…

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      1. Thanks, I wasn’t aware of Eno admitting to have those defense mechanisms. But I’m not surprised. I’ve never considered him to be a particularly strong mind. Sure, he is a playful thinker, and he is able to get an interesting perspective on many subjects. But his thinking is simply too pragmatic to ever develop into bigger structures. Probably that’s why (to my knowledge) his only bigger-scale writing is an extended diary, filled with lots of nice small ideas. Let’s call it pop-philosophy, just so he can feel good about having invented that too 😉

        As for his *specific algorithm*, as the commenter below points out, these are all standard Logic scripts. I guess it’s the luxury of being somewhat known to the general public: You can take stuff that happens out of the public eye and present it as your own.

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  5. “Does anyone know any resources where any of these ‘scripts’ /logic addons can be downloaded”

    The Logic Pro Scripter script Eno is using is called the “Drum Probability Sequencer” and is a factory script in the scripter plugin. There are 25 other factory scripts and a tutorial scripts popup menu with 15 others. Select the scripter plugin in Logic Pro by clicking on the MIDI FX section of a channel strip, and select “Scripter” from the popup menu. This is also available in MainStage.

    Here’s “An Introduction to Scripting in Logic X”:
    https://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/an-introduction-to-scripting-in-logic-x–cms-23920

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    1. Ed A sez: “The Logic Pro Scripter script Eno is using is called the “Drum Probability Sequencer” and is a factory script in the scripter plugin.”

      Except he’s not.

      The Drum Probability script is a four voice sequencer where the probability is set for each step in each voice. Each step is a simple coin toss to determine if the step will sound ((Math.ceil(Math.random() * 100) <= PROBABILITY) ? true : false;) Useful if you want to add a little variety to a loop but very different from Eno's demonstration. In the factory script a step with a probability of 100 percent always plays.

      Now go back and listen to Eno demonstrate his script. When he changes the probability value he's changing the distribution. Unlike the Drum Probability Script, the values generated in Eno's script are multivariate and are distributed across all events in the set. Unlike a simple coin toss, his algorithm returns multiple values used to determine: should the drum sound (event.send); if so, what is the velocity (event.velocity); should the event pitch be the same as received or should the value change (event.pitch += NOTEOFFSET); should the event be sent with the same timing or offset; should the event be sent multiple times and, if so, do any or all of the rules above apply?

      Will the factory scripts take you there? Sure. If you added the PROBABILITY GATE, RANDOM OFFSET PROBABILITY, and NOTE REPEATER scripts to the channel you'd be in the ballpark. But don't kid yourself that what Eno is doing is as pedestrian as slapping a few factory presets together.

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      1. Eno admitted before in interviews that he’s not a programmer, so it’s not likely that he has the ability to program something as complex as that in JavaScript by himself. Maybe his associate, programmer Peter Chilvers did it, and Eno took the credit. I agree with “Why” and “Mikey” above in that Eno is a master at marketing himself, he’s kind of like Steve Jobs was, a big picture sort of guy who doesn’t really know the details but takes credit for them anyway.

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  6. I notice 20 mins in that he doesn’t vary the timbre that much. But is it really that random? If he ‘chooses’ the finished sound recording? Would a good drummer be able to repeat a seemingly random set of bars of music, twice?

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