Happy Birthday to the Eccentric Brian Eno! | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Happy Birthday to the Eccentric Brian Eno!

Born May 15, 1948, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno -- thankfully known in most quarters simply as Brian Eno -- is easily one of the most prolific producers and musicians of the last 30 years. More importantly, he's also one of the most innovative. His efforts in popularizing the use of ambient music, an experimental blend of environmental and synthesized sounds, made him one of the leaders in that genre before eventually bringing him more into the mainstream through collaborations with U2, David Bowie, David Byrne, Paul Simon, Coldplay, Laurie Anderson, Devo, and other artists whose music tends to navigate toward more mainstream realms. 

While his name alone (thankfully, in its abbreviated version) has come to represent that which is progressive in music, Eno's initial career was more predictable: as keyboard and synthesizer player in Roxy Music, a new wave combo that reflected the glam rock leanings of the mid '70s. Flamboyantly attired and a self-described "nonmusician," Eno's tenure in that band was short-lived, lasting only two albums. Nevertheless, that was all the masses needed to bring him to their attention. "As a result of going into a subway station and meeting Andy [saxophonist Andy Mackay], I joined Roxy Music, and, as a result of that, I have a career in music," he once said. "If I'd walked ten yards further on the platform, or missed that train, or been in the next carriage, I probably would have been an art teacher now."

Next came a pair of singles -- "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Seven Deadly Finns" -- and his first three solo albums -- Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Another Green World. Though these utilized his former Roxy Music compatriots and were of a more conventional nature, he soon phased into a series of ambient efforts that involved imagining the sounds of particular settings -- airports, everyday environs, etc. -- and turning them into subtle, nonrhythmic soundscapes. 

Before and After Science began the transition to more progressive instrumental spheres, but Eno continued to hew toward more populist forms of expression as well, participating in bands such as 805 and Quiet Sun. He subsequently joined forces with King Crimson's Robert Fripp for a series of albums that emphasized so-called "Frippertronics," a tape delay system that fed back the sounds of Fripp's guitar with all matter of electronic manipulation. Always in the pursuit of odder experimentation, Eno then fostered the Portsmouth Sinfonia Orchestra, a group of players whose lack of skills created a discordant set of classical readings that distorted and bastardized the original arrangements.

Eno's Discreet Music series continued these efforts and eventually he founded the Obscure Music label, which released the work of more avant-garde composers. He also collaborated with artists whose work tended to be out on the fringe, among them Kevin Ayers, John Cale, and Robert Wyatt. This added a layer of sound that he began to refer to as "treatments" (as opposed to conventional instrumental applications). 

Nevertheless, for all his efforts and achievements, there are some intriguing facts about Eno that many of his most avid fans may not be aware of. Here are a few things that would likely win you a round of Eno-esque trivia: 

Early On: Eno's first recording was the Deutsch Grammophon edition of "The Great Learning" in which he was one of the voices in the instructional reading. 

A Scribe?: He writes a newspaper column in the British newspaper The Observer that covers political commentary, societal observations, and "oblique strategies." He writes about random insights or occasional scenarios that are used to resolve dilemmas. 

Gr-owl: In 1975, Eno performed the role of the Wolf in a rock version of Sergei Prokofiev's classic Peter and the Wolf. Other artists included the late guitarist Gary Moore, Manfred Mann, Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, and Alvin Lee. 

Worldwide Exclusive: Eno's initial collaboration with former head Talking Head David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, originated with radio broadcasts Eno compiled while living in the United States, as well as recording samples from around the world and overlaid atop African and Middle Eastern rhythms. 

Bowie, of Course: He was a key collaborator on David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy, which spanned the period from 1977 to 1979 and included the albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger

Computer Savvy: In late 2006, Eno released 77 Million Paintings, a video and music program designed specifically for the PC. It offers a possible combination of 77 million paintings that allow the viewer to see a different video slideshow -- prepared by Eno -- each time the program is launched. Likewise, the accompanying music guarantees that the listener will never hear the same arrangement twice. 

You Go, Go: Eno played keyboards on Voila, an album by ex-Go-Go Belinda Carlisle that was sung entirely in French. 

Medical Miracle: In May 2009, Eno revealed that a skin graft he received as treatment for a severe burn on his arm was part human skin, part carbon fiber. He suggested that since human skin is based on carbon, the experimental treatment was likely going to be a success. 

Spaced Out: The first album with Eno credited as producer was Lucky Leif and the Longships by Robert Calvert, formerly of the band Hawkwind. 

Yes, U2 Can Eno: Aside from Eno's co-production of The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987), Achtung Baby (1991), Zooropa (1993), and All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000) for U2, he also worked with the band on the album Original Soundtracks 1 under the group name Passengers. 

Digital Sounds: Eno composed music for the Windows 95, which resulted in the six-second start-up music-sound of the Windows 95 operating system, The Microsoft Sound. 

Oh, Lord: Eno's momentary interest in acting led him to the role of Father Brian Eno in the British television sitcom Father Ted. 

Hello? Is It Eno You're Looking For?: The Nokia 8800 Sirocco Edition mobile phone features exclusive music composed by Eno. 

Do the Right Thing: In 2006, Eno was one of more than 100 artists and writers who signed an open letter calling for an international boycott of Israeli political and cultural institutions due to what he saw as aggressive military policies against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. 

Bringing Up Babies: In December 2007, the newly elected leader of Britain's Liberal Democratic party appointed Eno as his youth affairs adviser. Not bad for a guy who had just turned 60.

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