Hive Five: Strange Brian Eno Endeavors

Brian Eno in Mexico City, June 2010. Photo: Victor Chavez/WireImage

For a self-described “non-musician,” Brian Eno has enjoyed a remarkable career in music. Since leaving Roxy Music in the early ‘70s, Eno’s released a string of influential albums, emerging as a pioneer in the fields of electronic and ambient music. He’s also helped such artists as David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2 craft the finest albums of their careers, serving less as a producer than a “sonic architect.”

To mark the release of Eno’s latest, Drums Between the Bells — a collection of amorphous dance tunes written in collaboration with poet Rick Holland — we look back at some of the stranger places this insanely prolific, multi-talented artist has popped up over the years.

1. Your ‘90s computer

Eno got his start in the ‘70s, when rock bands routinely made sprawling double and triple albums. But in 1994, at the behest of Microsoft, he limited himself to a mere six seconds of recording. The software giant needed a piece of start-up music for its Windows 95 operating system, and Eno composed dozens of pieces en route to the final product — a twinkling magic-wand sound instantly familiar to anyone raised in the ‘90s. [Watch here.]

2. Producer, JamesLaid

Eno hasn’t only worked with groundbreaking, genre-defying mega-sellers like U2 and Bowie. In the early ‘90s, he hit the studio with the relatively low-key Manchester indie-pop band James. Their collaboration resulted in two albums, the first of which, 1993’s Laid, gave the group its only taste of real U.S. success. While not exactly representative of Eno’s atmospheric production techniques, the disc’s title track remains a club favorite, particularly when it gets to that part where everyone sings “kitchen knives and skeweeeeeers.” [Watch here.]

3. British Television

To many fans and musicians, Eno is nothing short of a holy man. It was fitting, then, that he should play a priest — “Father Brian Eno,” as he’s introduced in the clip below — in the final episode of the ‘90s British sitcom Father Ted. Sadly, he doesn’t get a line, but Eno has always favored minimalism, and he makes the most of his few seconds onscreen. [Watch here.]

4. On Your Wii

In 2008, Eno scored the videogame Spore, creating a soundtrack of “generative music” designed to change with the action and ensure players would never hear the same thing twice. For longtime Eno fans, this idea is simultaneously amazing and fleeting — most want to revisit an Eno composition, not just hear it once. [Watch here.]

5. Card Prophecy Designer

Before Magic: The Gathering, there was Oblique Strategies, a card game (of sorts) designed by Eno and Peter Schmidt. Yet the design was more of a Chinese fortune cookie, where each card contained a phrase that’s designed to break a deadlocked situation in mostly philosophical terms (e.g. Ask your body; Try Faking It!). While the decks were updated throughout the years, it never really caught on with the basement geek types. But many musicians, such as Coldplay, MGMT, R.E.M. and Phoenix, have all cited the cards as studio inspirations in one form or another. [Oblique Strategies website]

RELATED POSTS