On Friday 23rd August Brian Eno delivered a lecture (as part of the Edinburgh International Festival) called Movements, in which he expounded on the “relationship between what composers do and what audiences do,” often defined as music, and specifically the conceptual puzzle that the advent and eventual predominance of recorded music may have created.
I hadn’t realised that the old Lecture Theatre of Chambers Street museum had become attached to the National Museum of Scotland, so was surprised to enter from Lothian Street. I was also surprised by the three men who accompanied Eno into the theatre – they were handy geezers – I guess I expected him to be surrounded by beams of light or something…anyway, it was the second occasion in as many months (after Nile Rodgers at Summerhall) when a producer of multi-million selling records was speaking to a small audience in Edinburgh, so to be savoured for that at least. As it turns out, Eno is an engaging and humourous speaker.
The gist of what he was saying is that once, music was performed on specific occasions and the audience had to go to the music; after the advent of recording and cheap reproduction, music came to the audience and changed, had new possibilities, because of the new ubiquity.
Moreover, the nature of the music became different. Eno posited that perhaps the persistence of the word “music” to refer to both that which is performed in a concert hall and that which emanates from a radio has created a confusion. To wit; people didn’t call films of theatre performances (the genesis of cinema) “theatre” once the first masters of the medium had begun to create what we know now as “cinema,” so perhaps there should have been a new coinage for what happened when “music” changed into “recorded music,” and recordings became the object itself rather than an imperfect representation of (putatively perfect) past performance.
A lot of this is not dissimilar to the ideas expressed in Evan Eisenberg’s The Recording Angel from 1987, but I doubt that either man plagiarised the other; these ideas would be arrived at by anyone who spends much time thinking about music and how we perceive it.
Eno recounted the story of his one and only booking as a session musician, which was for The New Seekers. This unlikely event came about because Eno was the only person listed in the MU Handbook as a synthesiser player, due to his not being a proper keyboard player (every capable keyboard player was listed as a pianist or organist.) So when it came to the session, he couldn’t read the part or supply the synth sound The New Seekers wanted – the track was never released.
The story reminded me of the picture below from 1972, showing The New Seekers preparing to kick out the jams at The Eurovision Song Contest at the Usher Hall; I’ve contrasted with a picture from earlier this year of the same area – I feel something has been lost…even though there’s now a cow sticking out the front of the Rutland Hotel.