Inertial Frame

“this big block of machinery that actively…subdues what’s interesting”

Posted in Uncategorized by GL on June 28, 2011

Sweet Smell Of Success - J.J. Hunsecker

Substitute “movie press” for “music press” in this bit from Mary Harron’s 1977 interview with Brian Eno for Punk Magazine, and it’s allĀ  just as apt:

Punk: Can I ask you about the music press? Because I think they’ve been so used to dealing with a particular pattern of success, and what happened in the ’60s, and they tend to use the same standards for what’s happening now. What do you think of the music press?

Eno: I’m not very interested in them, actually.

Punk: Well what do you think is the function of a music press?

Eno: Well it seems to be to annoy artists. The only think I feel if I read the music papers these days is sort of like that [making a gesture of strangulation]. They really make me angry. Because the function should be to look at what’s going on and actually try to see the ideas that are around at the moment. Not what the personalities are. It’s alright, you know, you could have that as a gossip column feature, as a joke, but the personalities really aren’t the interesting thing.

What’s interesting is the flow of ideas and why, for example, suddenly the idea of a four piece band becomes viable again. Why the concept of skill starts to erode in music. Why bands aren’t being formed with flash guitarists anymore but with kids off the streets. Or why, on the other hand, on a purely technical level, reggae is starting to work by subtracting sound rather than adding it, and what differences that makes to the Western tradition of making music.

There’s a million questions that are really very, very interesting, and have – as far as I’m concerned – major sociological implications. Because music doesn’t change with whim or fashion. It changes for good reasons. I’m certain of that.

I think they may be frightened. If they’re aware of any of these questions they might be frightened they’re going to bore their audience. I think you can give the public much more credit than they presently get. They’re probably sick of being treated like fools.

Instead of doing that, they talk about the most insanely… useless transient details of people’s attire and personality conflicts and so on. Absolutely worthless rubbish. I think that on a level of reporting they’re worse than any of the bad daily newspapers in England. You know the papers like The Sun? Well they’re strictly on that level. They take news items to see what kind of visceral sensation can be extracted from them. And that’s why their focus is always on a particular brand of success, as you say. It’s the same way that gossip columns in papers like The Sun always talk about what Lords and Counts do. Not because Lords and Counts do anything particularly interesting, but because it is considered funny by people who write this sort of thing to point out that Lords and Counts actually behave like us. And do stupid things and get divorced and have affairs.

They’re dealing not only with trivial things, but they’re dealing with trivial things badly. You could deal with trivial things very interestingly.

If I do an interview – David Bowie was saying the same thing – if either of us do an interview and we throw out twenty ideas, whichever two are most banal will get the most space in the papers.

The whole attitude of people who work on big papers is “Well, it’s what they want, isn’t it?” Now it interests me that if they find this attitude typifying music they condemn it absolutely out of hand. If they find groups who say “Well, we’re only playing what they want,” they condemn that as the worst kind of charlatanism.

Really, they should simply apply the same standards… they’re in the art business. They’re part of the art business. That’s the problem, they don’t take themselves seriously. They regard themselves as peripheral and of no interest. As long as they do that they’re going to stay there.

Punk: It’s misleading when you’re writing about music now to just concentrate on the artist, because you’re missing a whole other world. You’re missing the record companies’ part in it, and the whole way in which people become successful.

Punk: Less sophisticated? I mean the music business.

Eno: Yeah. Umh. I must think… I’ve lost my train… The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t interest me very much, the music business.

Punk: You don’t have to talk about it.

Eno: No, I just meant that there seems to be this big block of machinery that actively – not intentionally, but by the very nature of its construction – subdues what’s interesting. And what’s interesting either is peripheral to it or accidental.

You know, there’s a vast business involved in music, a vast business. If you not only consider the part we’re involved in, but the classical music business, which is very big, and you consider all the folk and ethnic music businesses, and then you consider a company like Muzak which is supplying music all over the world, there are hundreds of thousands of millions of pounds involved in generating music. Making it a much bigger business than the Space Race. And the number of interesting ideas that are generated by this vast complex is really very small. In fact, if you analyse it on a kind of cost-efficient basis you’d find that you weren’t doing too well.

Punk: As far as production of ideas to size?

Eno: Yes. So it makes me think that this large organism is one whose express intention, or claimed intention, is to generate ideas, but whose mechanism is such that it can’t help subduing them. Its interest is in prolonging itself. By so doing, since its structure militates against the future, it militates for the present and the past. By attempting to prolong itself it does subdue those futures. They come out, sure enough, but they have a hard time.

I don’t feel bitter, I’m not saying this in bitterness. I think it’s the way most other systems work as well – the Civil Service…

Punk: It sounds like politics generally, doesn’t it?

Eno: It is, the implications are quite political.

Punk: What, the hostility to change?

Eno: Yes. Yes. Human beings have two orientations. One is towards the desire to participate in a predictable world, and the other is the knowledge that the world isn’t predictable, and that it constantly changes in a novel fashion…


[the industry] militates for the present and the past“: this is the movie journalist corps, in a nutshell – careerism, making deadlines and paying the bills, issuing overheated and ephemeral proclamations about movie events and innovations (every last one digested from PR releases), dilettantism and so on…