Week 11 – Brian Eno/Generative/Ambient

Brian Eno is a musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist, regarded as an innovator of ambient music. Through his solo music he has explored musical styles and pioneered ambient and generative music. Key to Eno’s style are innovative production techniques with an emphasis on theory over practice. Much of Eno’s solo work is classed in the minimalist genre and is often referred to as ‘systems music’ or ‘generative music’. Systems music being a term referring to pieces revolving primarily around sound continuums which evolve gradually, often over very long periods of time (Sutherland 1994, 172) and generative music being a term coined by Brian Eno to describe music that is constantly evolving and created by a system.

Eno has used generative techniques on much of his works, from early works using tape-delays (1972, in collaboration with Robert Fripp) and Discreet Music (1975) up to the present day. His compositions, lectures and interviews have boosted the popularity of generative music, particularly, among the avant-garde music community. The tape-delay system pioneered by Fripp and Eno, named ‘Frippertronics’, was used for the generative processes on the 1973 album No Pussyfooting. It involved setting up two Revox tape recorders side by side with the tape unspooling from the first deck being carried over to the second deck to be spooled, thus audio recorded on the first deck is then played back on the second deck at a time delay determined by the distance between the two decks and the tape speed (usually a few seconds). The technique was similar to Terry Riley’s Revox tape-delay feedback system (which Riley used to call the “Time-Lag Accumulator”) Riley used on his album Music for the Gift (1963).


Fripp and Eno released a second album Evening star in 1975.

For this week’s composition the Brian Eno-Robert Fripp tape delay loop system was investigated. The idea was to create an ambient and evolving piece with some interesting textures. The method was adapted for production using modern techniques, as it is probably a lot easier these days to set up the system using a DAW than it was with tape and tape machines back in the 70’s. Basically the system was created making a synth loop on one track in Pro Tools which was then sent to a delay unit on another channel. The fully wet output of this delay unit was then sent through an auxiliary channel back into the delay unit. Only the fully wet output from the delay unit is the audible part of the chain. This piece was crammed into under 4 minutes which is extremely short for an Eno style track but long enough to experiment a little with the evolution of the sound. To create an ambient sort of suspended feel root notes were omitted from the mode used. The strategy was to layer 2 delay-feedback loops which were of different lengths and harmonic content to see how they interacted over the length of the piece and also to experiment with recording it whilst manually automating the faders of the auxiliary send back into the delay, the feedback amount on the delay itself and the delay time. The set-up is pictured below:

Tape Delay

Below is a link to this week’s composition:

• Eno, B. (1975). Discreet Music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Vq4pmzMaE – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B. (1976), “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts,” Studio International 984 (Nov./Dec. 1976), 279-83.
• Eno, B. (1996) Generative Music. http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/eno1.html – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B., Fripp, R. (1975). Evening Star. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edmkr0lDft4 – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B., Fripp, R. (1973). No Pussyfooting, The Heavenly Music Corporation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuf9nwSrtDA&list=PL5DEE869F9BE48A30 – accessed 20/05/14.
• Gogins, Michael (1991). “Iterated-Functions Systems Music”. Computer Music Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring): 40–48.
• Riley, T. Music for the Gift V. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TKFLiuHYos – accessed 20/05/14.
• Sheppard, D. (2008) On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno. Orion.
• Sutherland, Roger. (1994). New Perspectives in Music. London: Sun Tavern Fields. ISBN 0-9517012-6-6.
• Tamm, E. (1995) Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound. Da Capo.
• Terrano, A (2007). Dub Mixing. Sound On Sound. http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul07/articles/dubmixing.htm – accessed 20/05/14.
• Toop, D. (2004). The Generation Game: Experimental Music and Digital Culture. Audio Culture: Reading in Modern Music. Cox, Warner (Eds.). New York. Continuum.


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