Brian Eno is one of the most significant record producers of all time. His ability to steer artists into radical new areas was first made obvious on the three albums he made with Talking Heads, culminating in Remain in Light in 1980.
By this time he had also produced the seminal compilation of New York’s New Wave, No New York, and Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. In the 1980s he applied his gear-changing skills to U2, helping an already great stadium rock band turn into the most original and creatively-challenging mega-band since the Beatles.
Other production credits range from Real World artist Geoffrey Oreyema to the band James as well as singer Jane Siberry and performance artist Laurie Anderson.
A pioneer in tape-looping and other early forms of sonic manipulation, Eno’s work with Robert Fripp in the early 1970s (No Pussyfooting’ and Evening 5tar), signalled a determination to look beyond the conventional song format.
His unusual, strategic approach to music-making (more likely to involve drawing a diagram than writing down chord changes) was made clear with the 1975 publication of Oblique Strategies” – a set of problem-solving cards for artists.
Also in 1975, Eno released Discreet Music, naming the new genre he had discovered ‘ambient’. Bringing the ideas of John Cage to a pop audience, the true significance of Eno’s landmark ambient release (including Music for Airports and Thursday Afternoon only became apparent in the early 199Os when ambient exploded into the charts and into a range of new hybrid musical forms.
Eno also pioneered sampling and the use of found sounds on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a collaboration with David Byrne released in 1981; again it would be some years before the rest of the world fully cottoned on to these ideas.
Eno’s instrumental works continue, with The Shutov Assembly’ released in 1992 and the minimal masterpiece Neroli in 1993.
By the 1990s, Eno was an established voice in a range of contemporary music. In Low Symphony, composer Philip Glass spun off themes and variations of Bowie’s Low, a work indelibly marked by Eno’s stamp; ambient techno bands like the Orb and Irresistible Force owed an obvious debt to Eno.
He has also long been interested in other media, his video installations having been exhibited at the Venice Biennale and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and his 1996 autobiography, A Year (With Swollen Appendices) having provided an index of his omnivorous interests.
Eno continued to expand the vocabulary of music into the new millennium, composing for video games and producing albums by artists ranging from veteran Paul Simon to newcomer Coldplay.
In 2004 he teamed up with old friend Fripp for another ambient collection, and in 2006 he celebrated the 25th anniversary of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts with Byrne.
The latter project had feet in both the past and future, as the marketing plan included a Website wherein fans of the classic work could legally download multi-tracks of two songs, remix them and then repost them for others to hear.
That same year, Eno released the visual work 77 Million Paintings, a DVD/software package offering computer screens a constantly evolving painting with an ambient-music background.
In 2008, after nearly 30 years, Eno and Byrne again reconnected for Everything That Will Happen Will Happen Today, a follow up of sorts to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.