27 June 2009

A Boner In Brian Eno



My great disappointment in the brief history of this blog so far was the non-response of a commenter on the 'I Hate: Brian Eno' post.

This commenter rather crushingly despatched Eno thus:
I went to the pictures with Brian,when I was at Art School.We saw The Ballard of Joe Hill (my choice).You have to admire how a small,ugly,chain smoking man managed to get it together through sheer ego.He had nothing else going for him.
Could be an impostor / fantasist of course, but the reality effect, the telling detail: the film and who chose it... Sadly no further details (popcorn or Revels, did Brian pay) were forthcoming.

Can't help but imagine the famously priapic Eno suggesting some extraordinarily refined and experimental perversion as a way of rounding off the evening. But what might it have been? 'Burning shame', 'warm jets' or another card plucked from his pornographic deck?*

What I really want to know: somewhere in his cupboard of old unreleased master tapes, is there a Music for Fucking?

The notion of porn film music has always bored me, simply because it's always discussed as part of that sniggering post-Boogie Nights C4 naughty-student discourse... moustaches bad accents such silly scenarios! plumber arrives clothes fall off girl teehee etc. In this context porn music is always sleazy, cheezy library muzak.

But what would Eno's Music for Fucking sound like? You know you want to hear it too.



Pornography is always opposed to 'art' because it seemingly has no transcendental aspirations, it only satisfies basic physical desires. Where art is considered to have failed, its failure is often given the name of porn, it's reclassified as 'mere' porn. Examples: to their critics, Michael Mann or James Cameron make weaponry porn, techno porn; Merchant Ivory is mere landscape or Victoriana porn; Bertolucci is just porn porn. Porn is trivial because it's instrumental, aspiring to nothing more than fulfilling a specific libidinal purpose.**

Instrumental has two meanings relevant here:

Music without vocals (in the context of popular music)

And, number one in the Oxford English Dictionary:
Adj.
1.a. Of the nature of an instrument (material or subservient); serving as an instrument or means; contributing to the accomplishment of a purpose or result.
Segueing out of his initial post-Roxy persona as a shadow Bowie, Eno's projects of course fit both these descriptions: the Ambient series, Discreet Music, Music for Films (all of which were continuations of the trajectory implied by No Pussyfooting, Evening Star), plus moments on Another Green World and Before and After Science.

So forget the notional Music for Fucking – has Eno been attempting the pornographization of music all along?

Susan Sontag's famous conclusion at the end of 'Against Interpretation' is this: 'In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.' ***

In other words, criticism should abandon the hopeless of aim of explicating the discursive 'content' of art, the assumption that all its significance can be clearly translated into language.

The section that builds to this conclusion is very Eno avant-la-lettre:
Once upon a time (say, for Dante), it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life.

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life - its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness - conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.
Well, porn is only addressed to one 'level' of experience, as are the palliative Ambient records. What is Discreet Music if not a project designed to take the listener out of a modern world whose plenitude 'dulls our sensory faculties', and by resting the senses, aims to make them 'hear more'? 'Against Interpretation' argues for a libidinal sensory phenomenology to take its rightful place over incidental semantic 'content'. Take Eno's lyrics, which he happily admits are nonsense composed only with an ear for their phonetic, acoustic properties: this is precisely Sontag's plea coming to fruition (oo-er etc).

Category error alert: Eno isn't a critic, he's a musician? Keep up. All art is a form of critique. Every record is a critique of previous records, directly or indirectly. Opposing art and criticism is as false as divorcing form and content. That's not to level down artists or valorize the critic, but the two practices are not as easily separable as popular convention would still have it. Eno's eroticization of sound is also an eroticization of process, of systematization – and of criticism.

Me so horny!



* Afterthought, on Oblique Strategies. This quote from the Chrissie Hynde NME piece: 'It's a burning shame that most people want to keep pornography under cover when it's such a highly developed art form - which is one of the reasons that I started collecting pornographic playing cards.' So forget the I-Ching, Eno clearly came up with the idea of Oblique Strategies while shuffling a deck of pornographic cards in bed, trying to decide what to do next. Conversely, try reading some of the Strategies with your 'larger brain'... 'State the problem in words as clearly as possible'. (Talk dirty). And so on: 'Repetition is a form of change' (Don't stop) – I leave it to the reader to paraphrase these... 'Honor thy error as a hidden intention' – 'What would your closest friend do?' – 'Are there sections? Consider transitions.'


** Of course, there's nothing so deceptively simple and endlessly problematic as desire and the ways in which it's constructed. (For starters, see Dominic Fox here, here and here).

*** Sontag's essay can be read in full here.

7 comments:

Alastair said...

I find your post querying the attempt to pornography Eno, implying he reduces music top the libido fascinating as I keep finding him (I admit only) guilty by association with the nu-hegemony triumvirate of Dawkins, Dennett and Pinker (example in 5 seconds http://www.edge.org/about_edge.html) where we are reduced to mere self-interest by genes (Dawkins), our consciousness to biology (Dennett) or our language to biology, genetics (Pinker), and then there's Eno, in the battle for the supremacy of instrumental rationality, creating a new absolute truth instead of God (Dawkins), they are the dominant discourse.

Seb said...

Consider the gauntlet cast & accepted: I'll make Music For Fucking. Any further parameters, e.g. do you want it as Eno-circa-'77, post-No-Wave Eno, or perhaps Roxy-era Eno?

Alastair said...

The idea of fucking in airports sounds fascinating. Fucking whilst waiting interminably. Only to have coitus delayed an hour or two due to fog

Alastair said...

Having just been forced to watch the new Virgin ad reminding that although we are celebrating 25 years since the miners strike, we should rejoice that it's been 25 years since models as air hostesses were celebrated in the new Virgin Atlantic you should base Music for fucking onm the whole period between Music for airports and the last Music for films II in 1983. His discographical history of ambient setting the stage for the events that made 1984.

Murphy said...

Dear Sir, I already have made said music; for Owen and I.T.'s Kino Fist event. Basically it's a soundtrack for three very early 1900's hardcore movies, in what is basically a rather obvious hauntological style, described by a friend as 'fucking in the void'...

You can listen to a tiny extract here.

IT and I have often discussed releasing a tiny run of DVDs for the discerning ghostly-smut fiends out there...

ZoneStyxTravelcard said...

Alistair: The Eno-Dawkins-Dennett-Pinker axis isn't one I'd ever considered... So you think Eno is too rationalized and hence reductive...? Music for Fucking in Airports is indeed a good idea...

Seb: any era pre-U2 fine with me.

Murphy: Thanks for the link, I like it. Reminds me of something... I'll just find the link for it... here you go: http://bit.ly/rF2Ne

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