Deciphering Culture

Artistic practice, relaxation and a bit of whimsy help develop your creativity

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Photograph of Brian Eno at a 2006 Long Now Fou...

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Brian Eno has been a creative force for decades now, producing a wide range of entertaining and challenging music with an admirable collection of collaborators. Thanks to 99% (Developing Your Creative Practice: Tips from Brian Eno by Scott McDowell) for pointing me to a new e-book by Eric Tamm, BRIAN ENO, HIS MUSIC AND THE VERTICAL COLOR OF SOUND, that “delves deeply into Eno’s creative process.” What Eno himself calls (from Tamm’s book):

…a practice of some kind … It quite frequently happens that you’re just treading water for quite a long time. Nothing really dramatic seems to be happening. … And then suddenly everything seems to lock together in a different way. It’s like a crystallization point where you can’t detect any single element having changed. There’s a proverb that says that the fruit takes a long time to ripen, but it falls suddenly … And that seems to be the process.

McDowell presents a list of  tools Eno has relied upon to assist the creative process when he gets stuck — No 5, the Oblique Strategies deck of cards is the bit of whimsy, something all creative workers needs to get the juices flowing again.

1. Freeform capture. Grab from a range of sources without editorializing. According to Tamm, one of Eno’s tactics “involves keeping a microcassette tape recorder on hand at all times and recording any stray ideas that hit him out of the blue – a melody, a rhythm, a verbal phrase.” He’ll then go through and look for links or connections, something that can form the foundation for a new piece of music.

2. Blank state. Start with new tools, from nothing, and toy around. For example, Eno approaches this by entering the recording studio with no preconceived ideas, only a set of instruments or a few musicians and “just dabble with sounds until something starts to happen that suggests a texture.” When the sound texture evokes a memory or emotion that impression then takes over in guiding the process.

3. Deliberate limitations. Before a project begins, develop specific limitations. Eno’s example: “this piece is going to be three minutes and nineteen seconds long and it’s going to have changes here, here and here, and there’s going to be a convolution of events here, and there’s going to be a very fast rhythm here with a very slow moving part over the top of it.”

4. Opposing forces. Sometimes it’s best to generate a forced collision of ideas. Eno would “gather together a group of musicians who wouldn’t normally work together.” Dissimilar background and approaches can often evoke fresh thinking.

[oblique strategy 5.9.10]: "Abandon Desir...

Image by courtneyBolton via Flickr

5. Creative prompts. In the ‘70s Eno developed his Oblique Strategies cards, a series of prompts modeled after the I Ching to disrupt the process and encourage a new way of encountering a creative problem. On the cards are statements and questions like: “Would anybody want it?” “Try faking it!” “Only a part, not the whole.” “Work at a different speed.” “Disconnect from desire.” “Turn it upside down.” “Use an old idea.” These prompts are a method of generating specifics, which most creatives respond favorably to.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] a big fan of Brian Eno’s music, and I found this post from Deciphering Culture to be very interesting, especially this bit about his creative process: It […]

  2. […] Artistic practice, relaxation and a bit of whimsy help develop your creativity (decipheringculture.com) […]

  3. […] a big fan of Brian Eno’s music, and I found this post from Deciphering Culture to be very interesting, especially this bit about his creative process: It […]


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