Beatmaking With Brian Eno

In this short video from BBC Click, Brian Eno demonstrates one of his main techniques for creating ambient music – using probability to control the likelihood of various events happening – using drum beats.

From the video summary:

“BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly finds out how to make constantly changing drum loops and funk, using probabilities and complicated maths, from music legend Brian Eno.”

33 thoughts on “Beatmaking With Brian Eno

  1. With all due respect…there are other ways to achieve the same results, or better using some timely inputs instead of randomness. For example, just playing the individual drum faders in real time. My old Zoom drum machine has a feature called “jam” that makes a special fader control one aspect of the sound (volume, pitch, pan or sample switch). I usually combine this with the repeat button and the quantize button to get all kinds of fills and rolls…deliberately.

  2. Yea, I don’t think this process is as unique or innovative as perhaps Eno himself might think.

    Probability to turn on/off events is pretty standard in step sequencers (like Numerology). And the ability to add in rolls is also not that tricky, either.

    The LumBeat Apps have a jam slider that increases “randomness” and fills. It sounds much more intelligent than random, as the fills seem pretty consistently excellent. Even when the beats are set to unusual tuplets (like quintuplets).

    1. It’s true that numerology can do some complex things, though I find it too awkward and unintuitive to be fun. I think some of the elektron stuff sounds like it has interesting options trig conditions though they are also clunky and too expensive for me and there are some maxforlive step sequencers that do probability but the difference I see here is that he is playing into a standard midi sequencer and has the capability with those scripts to alter what he played with some rules that a bit more complicated than just probability, and he is doing it on the fly. I’ve been looking for software that can make editing rules for probabilistic midi easy but haven’t found any yet. I wish probability was a pre note value that could edited in a standard piano roll like other properties like velocity. I made a simple probability filter in maxforlive recently so I could automate the amount per note but it I would really like to be able to select specific notes with probabilitys to hit specific alternate notes. If there is something out there that can do that I’d be glad to know. What is Eno using to script that? It looks like logic and if logic has the capability to add scripts like that I’d be tempted to give it a try.

  3. Is this what I have to look forward to when I turn 70?

    “Dear John, come over this weekend… I got something lit I really need to show you. Bring lean”

    1. Pedantic perhaps, but I’m pretty sure Flutter was entirely programmed. It’s an interesting track nonetheless. They used a Roland R8 and simply programmed every bar of the song to be different. It was a protest against the newly introduced Criminal Justice Bill, which outlawed raves, a gatherings where music is played, with music being defined as a “succession of repetitive beats.”

  4. I love how the first comments have to be criticisms. Classic internet mansplaining. “With all due respect to you Mr Eno, let me tell you about my important way of doing things, which no one asked for but I will give anyways”

    1. Doesn’t a woman have to be the intended recipient of the ‘splaining for it to be mansplaining? Or is it any ‘splaining by a man is mansplaining?

      1. Specifically the term is a man who knows less talking down to/patronizing a woman with more experience/capability about the subject matter she’s an expert on, whether it’s her academic field, technology expertise, or very biology.

        The rest is just some dude going “well, ACTUALLY…”

        Back to the topic, what host is Eno using there?

        1. Allow me to explain, man! I believe that is the DAW called Logic. *clears throat* Pronounced Law-jic, you know, how we smart MEN pronounce things. That appears to be their built in drummer feature set, yet I am not sure what is magical about this video since drummers are fairly common in other realms. Reason has an extraordinary version as well while Maschine is also touting a version as well.


          1. I believe the term is ‘femsplaining’, whereby a female or feminine male will coin a word in order to respond to a perceived or imagined slight in conversation with a masculine male. In 2017, both man- and fem-splaining have been replaced by ‘cucksplaining’, whereby people of all 92+ genders will present themselves as butthurt when disagreed with or corrected appropriately, instead of simply sticking to the simple, straightforward topic of conversation in either the real or imaginary online world.

            1. First, there was the video– which was worth of criticism. Then there was the criticism, also worthy of criticism, then the criticism of the criticism, which because of its unusual use of “mansplaining” was worthy of criticism, then there was the criticism of THAT criticism.

              Moral: Criticism is fun.

              Eno might be a genius, but he’s not the first person to add probability to a drum groove.

    2. I was fine with the whole thing…until the interviewer and Eno himself seem to imply that what he was doing was somehow new or unique. Come on. And yes, I have genuine respect for the man and own many of his albums. However, it’s not a reason to treat him like a sacred cow. And BTW, I never inplied that “my way of doing things” was that important, it was just an example.

    1. You can do something similar with the ‘follow action’ options in the launch box for clips in the session view.

    2. Follow Actions as suggested is a neat feature. Max4Live also has a javascript object (the Logic Pro “Scripter” plugin is javascript based too). Randomisation can be done with standard Max objects though. And even before that, you can do alot with Live’s default MIDI effects.

  5. There’s a zillion ways to do things, all good. What works for you and do you like it? That’s all that matters.

  6. This video clip is a bit brief but I like that it showed a glimpse into his use of the Scripter MIDI effect in Logic Pro X. I think this stuff is quite interesting. It seems that production and performance features like these let users take their DAW to new interesting places using generative and algorithmic processes that haven’t been as accessible. The Scripter MIDI effect has been around for a bit, but it’s cool to see it in use. I think it’s great that Logic had added this. DAWs don’t have to be just a cookie sheet to lay down a cookie-cut arrangement anymore. Many companies are opening up to allow indeterminacy and generative elements to exist in the project. I primarily use Ableton Live because of Max4Live. I use it to generate MIDI patterns based on a corpus of any clips that I grab from. It’s fun not having to rely on building a whole DAW in Max, I can use Live instead. To be able to use your own compositional assistive tools in a DAW is pretty fun and something that goes beyond accepting what the DAW gives you. I think Eno is just showing one of the many ways he goes about adding indeterminacy in his compositions. A while a ago James Holden did an interview with Ableton about his use of MaxForLive to create more human-like performances. He uses an algorithm that treats each MIDI signal like a performer and plays the real-time sequences in a way that a band would listen to each other. To me this is quite fascinating in that it goes beyond just using the groove tools/humanize features in a DAW or manually adjusting.
    Just as it would be hard to ask a Jazz combo to play a song the exact same way twice, I think electronic music is also moving in that direction. Why should MIDI sequences play the same way twice and why does it matter how Eno does it? He’s exploring one of many ways to do it and it seems he’s having fun doing it which I think is the point.

  7. Ehh..I thought this was what many of us already do…pretty much standard stuff. The guy interviewing him acts like it’s all so surprising. Eno looks bored with the whole thing.

  8. no need to put Eno down in anyway here. He’s just showing someone what can be done, he wasn’t claiming to be showcasing something miraculous or new. In fact I’m sure he was dumbing down to the max…when random beats were dropped by the ‘scripters’, the interviewer said “ooh, you’ve made it more human!”, even though I think it was possibly more computery/robotic

  9. Is this a script that Eno made? Is it available for download or purchase? I’d love to play around with this. Looks cool!

  10. Eno’s work contributed greatly to a wider musical picture. My life in the Bush of Ghosts was a masterpiece.I am amused by people “miffed by the master” .

  11. well i’m going to continue to program my beats ,if you think using probability is creating a track then good for you ,i will however continue to disagree.
    and i am in fact laughing very hard at you ..

Leave a Reply