Last Night: Brian Eno at Cal State Long Beach

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Andrew Youssef


Last Night: Brian Eno at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at California State University, Long Beach; September 20, 2009.

Better Than: A majority of my lectures in grad school.

Download:
"Trope," Brian Eno's new app for the iPhone, and visit Eno's installation of "77 Million Paintings" at the University Art Museum in CSULB, on exhibit through December 13.

Copernicus, screwdrivers, haircuts, drugs and sex. Brian Eno covered all of those topics during his only US lecture for the exhibition of "77 Million Paintings" at Cal State Long Beach.

The exhibit's a relaxing visual journey generated by a computer--four individual unique storage banks of 100 images drawn by Brian Eno are weaved and assembled together into "77 million paintings" that morph continually. Eno elaborated that he was attracted to the impermanence of the project, in that he was constantly losing art by the inherent generation of new images from the computer.

Eno said his idea originally stemmed from a project he created at the age of 19--a box divided into nine parts with holes cut in, and different colored papers covering the holes. Lights were inserted into the nine divisions and would flicker at inconsistent intervals to create unique patterns of light.

When the discussion turned to music, Eno pointed to Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain" and Terry Riley's "In C" as some of his musical inspirations involving the ideas of looping to create unique sonic patterns. This tied into his concept of creating "complexity out of simplicity".

Eno told the crowd that he's been a "visual dabbler" for more than 40 years. This was his specific response to David Pagel's (he switched Pagel with "Bagel") review of "77 million paintings" in the Los Angeles Times. Eno is not a weekend warrior when it comes to art, defining it in a number of ways, and explaining that "art is everything you don't have to do" and that "art is a transaction."

The topics of control and surrender shifted the focus of the lecture. Surfing was his example of the midpoint between control and surrender, as you can improvise the direction on which way to surf but ultimately the wave controls your direction. Some of the avenues of surrender fell into the four categories of sex, drugs, art and religion. 

The only awkward portion of the evening was when Eno opened up the floor to take some questions of the audience. Eno looked skeptical and warned the audience not to ask any banal questions. Eno has such an engaging personality that a few attendees felt overly comfortable asking obscure questions; he subtlety let those folks know by underlining the letters "zzzz" on the overhead indicating their question had missed the mark.

Random notes: Brian Eno loves Penelope Cruz, enjoys the fact he isn't famous enough that he can still walk into a porn shop, and would like to work with singer Meshell Ndegeocello.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Brian Eno has influenced and worked with many of my favorite bands.
As much as I wanted to ask about which synthesizers were used during the recording sessions for Devo, I refrained.

Random Detail: The lecture was sponsored in part by Apple computers, yet ironically Brian Eno was using an overhead projector rather than MacBook.

By the Way: I spotted actor Micheal Cera, Robin Finck from Nine Inch Nails and Kevin Haskins from Bauhaus in the audience.