x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Brian Eno lives in real time

This much I know Composer, producer, music theorist and digital artist Brian Eno is bored with recorded music.

Brian Eno recently showed his programme 77 million Paintings in Abu Dhabi.
Brian Eno recently showed his programme 77 million Paintings in Abu Dhabi.

The composer, producer, music theorist and digital artist Brian Eno is best known for his work with Roxy Music and subsequent long-standing collaborations with David Bowie and U2. He was recently in Abu Dhabi showing 77 Million Paintings, a programme of video and music. With this exhibition, I wanted to create a nice, quiet place. I call them "quiet clubs". My idea of a great club is somewhere you go to and nothing much happens. You know that Talking Heads song, Heaven Is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens? That's my idea of heaven, too. My life seems so crowded with stimulus; I'm very happy to be in no-stimulus situations.

I had been working in video for many years, but I wanted to work on a bigger scale, so I started using slide projectors and doing shows where I would have four or five projecting onto the same surface to create an overlay of separate images. I've had 12 of these shows this year, but I also produced the Coldplay and U2 albums, as well as an album with David Byrne of Talking Heads, which came out a few weeks ago. I did the soundtrack for the film The Lovely Bones and the sound for the computer game Spore.

I was always very much inspired by the visual arts and music of the Arab world. We made some of the new U2 album in Fez, Morocco. It was a fantastic place to work and we recorded quite a lot of Arabic music. But in the end, I could never make it sound like more than a sprinkling; it just sounded a bit artificial. What did remain with us was the structural approach to music in the Arab world, using different combinations of the orchestra as a way of producing colours, which is something close to my heart.

I've almost stopped listening to recorded music now. I'm quite bored with it. But I love going to shows. I get so many more ideas from watching people playing and seeing things go wrong. Nothing ever goes wrong with records anymore; it's so easy to fix it all. When people fix it, what they actually do is make it sound more normal. I'm anti-fixing at the moment. I've spent my life being told that people's attention spans are getting shorter, so it's great to see people spending four hours at a show like mine where nothing much goes on. There's no story, there's no continuity, and people just get completely absorbed. I hide and watch them. I love it.

Making records is like throwing a ball onto a roulette wheel: there are certain points where if the wheel stopped playing, you would have the best record ever made and if it went on for a little bit longer, it wouldn't be that good. It's so difficult to know where it's going to stop. This year, I signed a deal to write a book. It's an attempt to ask the questions, "Why do people make art and why do other people want to look at it? Why are you interested in the fact that your shirt has that kind of stripe?" They're aesthetic decisions and they're important.

Different distribution systems always change the meaning of things. I have two teenage daughters and they belong to the download generation. Music to them is like water, something you can switch on. They hear tons of it, but their whole musical experience - the meaningful part - is the performance, and they go to loads of festivals. So downloads have the funny effect of stimulating live music. In London now, there's more amazing live music than there's ever been in my experience. You can go out every night and see something really unusual and new.