A good day for me at work involves little or no contact at all with either of my bosses, zero interference with my work process, and a minimum of idiotic behavior from everyone around me. I haven’t had a good day at work since 1991.
The past few weeks have been particularly trying because nearly everyone I work with – especially my bosses – seems hell bent on making the job harder, and finding new ways to do things in the worst possible way. There is no one in a position of authority capable of making sound decisions, troubleshooting problems, thinking outside the box, or following through on any task. There is no premium placed on creative thinking. In fact, creative thinking, like dedication and commitment to excellence, is actually discouraged because it slows the entire process down which results in using more payroll to get the job done on time. So rather than finish the job and do so accurately and efficiently, the goal is to finish the job as fast as possible, and don’t trouble yourself about errors (although you will be blamed for them later when and if they’re discovered). I’ve been dwelling in such an environment now for far too long, and for several reasons, I’m stuck where I am with the only hope of escape retirement (still several years off) or an early death. At this point, death seems like the better option.
I have almost no tolerance whatsoever anymore for stupidity. The more I witness it, the angrier it makes me. I went to work this morning anticipating another bad day at work, and a possible skirmish with either or both of my bosses (based on some things that happened yesterday which I won’t bother to detail here). Since I can’t afford to lose my temper and mouth off and possibly get fired, and since gunning them down in cold blood would result in some jail time – at least – I decided I’d better figure out some way to keep my temper in check. Time to fire up the iPod.
I needed something calming, but intelligent. The music that immediately came to mind was that of Brian Eno. I own quite a bit of Eno’s work, but I wanted to create an aural experience that would wrap me in a sort of safety net at work regardless of what I might encounter when I got there. So I went to YouTube, and typed in Brian Eno interview. Any number of choices popped up, and I downloaded three separate interviews each of 25 minutes in length and spanning the past 15 years or so. Brian Eno enjoys talking about his work, and is very forthcoming about sharing the thought processes that inform his work. I put together a file alternating an ambient work with an interview. The music would calm me, and allow me to focus on something other than my work (not a problem since I can do what I do on autopilot), and the interviews would engage my intellect – which usually starves when I’m at work.
Listening to Brian Eno’s music is its own reward. Hearing him talk, in detail, about how he came to create that music is an education – an education in creative thinking, keen observation, logic, reason, articulate communication, and the joys of invention. Eno tells a couple of different stories to illustrate how he came to invent the ambient music genre. He delves into why he created the 77 Million Paintings project (he is also an accomplished visual artist). He talks about the pleasures of the collaborative process, and seeing his own working methods as that of a curator (someone that puts together seemingly dissimilar things causing the audience to think about them in new and different ways). One of the most fascinating concepts he discussed, however, related to what he referred to as “generative art”. Asked to define it, he replied, “the responsibility of the artist becomes inventing a system that produces his work rather than just producing the work.” He went on to explain his 77 Million Paintings project as creating several works, and then writing a computer program which will recreate and reproduce those initial works in as many as 77 million different ways without replication. This was all new to me even though the project was initiated a decade ago.
That’s the kind of creative thinking that energizes me. I truly enjoy hearing creative people talk about how they do what they do. It’s my misfortune to be in an environment each day that kills the spirit, and rots the mind because if there’s a single concept I hold as sacred in my advancing years, it’s a dedication to creative thought. It’s the only way we can continue to grow and evolve as human beings. One must continue to observe and to ask questions. One must look for new ideas, ways to break old habits, invent methods for discarding destructive or non-constructive behaviors, and to actively exercise the mind so that some growth and evolution happens on a daily basis in spite of one’s environment. I use music and the spoken (and written) word as tools to help me do that. Brian Eno is a perfect example of a thinking man’s artist because he is interested in viewing all of life conceptually. Ideas can come from anywhere, and any single idea mated with another and another can become the agent of one’s own evolution. That’s what art is for. That’s why art matters.
Any thinking artist can provide a great deal of stimulation if you take the time to explore the work, and learn how the work was created. If you want to start with Brian Eno, I can recommend the following as starting points. How far you want to go is up to you.
Another Green World
Before and After Science
Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Apollo: Atmospheres and Landscapes
January 07003: Bell Studies For The Clock of the Long Now
Evening Star (with Robert Fripp)
My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (with David Byrne)
The Pearl (with Harold Budd)
Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror (with Harold Budd)
Wrong Way Up (with John Cale)
Drawn From Life (with J. Peter Schwalm)
Imaginary Landscapes (documentary)
77 Million Paintings
HARDtalk with Peter Dobbie
One On One (from the BBC)
Desert Island Discs (BBC4 – available free from iTunes)
The interviews above are available along with countless others on YouTube except where noted. Imaginary Landscapes is also available on YouTube as is most of Brian Eno’s music catalog. For more information on 77 Million Paintings, go to Wikipedia, and do a Google image search for “77 Million Paintings”.
I’ve not experienced all of Brian Eno’s music or art by any means, but I feel I can recommend them because there is an artist’s sensibility that informs and energizes all of his work. He is, by any measure, one of the great artists of his time, and well worth thorough investigation.