Brian Eno – The Sleepers

Posted: February 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

I Dormienti is an ambient installation album from British musician Brian Eno and Italian artist Mimmo Paladino released in 1999 by Opal.

The Paladino exhibition was in the form of drawings and terracota sculptures – about 30 reclining figures with about 20 attendant crocodiles. The publicity notice said of it “In the centre of a labyrinth of tunnels, Paladino will create an installation of primordial life forms that will be accompanied by Eno’s unique sound and light production”.


  1. Joseph Blanton says:

    Now this was a fascinating video; it worked quite well as background for perusing Eno and Paladino, but maybe I missed something by not staring at the scenes the whole time… Is this the soundtrack that would play many years in the future when humans are all dust? Well, no, since we will not be there, but how can we say for sure–we won’t be there! Again, it’s fascinating to think about what will anything mean if humanity doesn’t exist anymore. Not sure if that was what they were going for, but that was my impression.

    Just as I was about to declare Eno one of those fascinating people that has some better faculties or sensibilities than others, he says, “It’s all based on the idea that artists are automatically interesting people. I can tell you they aren’t. Their art might be very interesting, but as people they are no more or less interesting than anybody else.” And so Eliot’s analogy of the artist as a catalyst is restated in the 21st century. Moving on, he plays the political visionary: “We’ve been in decline for about 40 years since Thatcher and Reagan and the Ayn Rand infection spread through the political class, and perhaps we’ve bottomed out.” Is this multi-talented artist starting to wax on sociopolitical trends that are not his area (like Eliot did)? I like his idea that everything going to hell-in-a-hand-basket could be seen as a wake up call, but this guy is a musician. Why should I listen to him? Or are artists in-tune with society as much as anyone, and maybe more?

    • Eno is certainly not a politician or political theorist. He’s a groundbreaking musician and designer. I don’t think he feels even remotely responsible for adhering to Elliot or Greenberg’s demand for purism. That ideas was afloat decades before Eno ever got his start, like so many other important British rock musicians, in that nation’s government-funded art schoolsnow under attack in the days of Brexit. These schools were not only manifestly radical in their political leanings (important scholarship traces the roots of British punk to these institutions), but they were, as might be expected, disposed to wild experimentation of a kind that would not have please the older purists and formalists.

      It’s good you note Eno’s assertion that artists are not interesting. It does seem to echo Elliot, and I won’t entirely deny the connection. The explanation of the split in the artist, however, may not be the same for both persons. Elliot would have argued that something ultimately inexplicable but mappable happens in the mind of the artist in the moment of creation. In poetry, this process can be seen, second-hand, in traces left by the spontaneous generation of a poem, in the various literary tropes employed by the poet in the ‘heat of the moment’.

      Eno, however, seems not to believe in the residually romantic notion of genius. For him, the artist is not someone who quasi-miraculously brings art into being in a flash of insight and a simultaneous strike of the pen. Rather, Eno’s production process seems far closer to that of the ‘bricoleur’ (or handyman), a concept introduced by Claude Levi-Stauss, the dean of 20th-century anthropology and a disciple of Marcel Mauss. Less that creating monuments, he’s interested in modifying environments. As a tireless tinkerer, Eno left his band, Roxy Music, in order to devote himself to the production of eccentric and sparse music which lacked all the theatrics and narcissism of rock and roll. He became principally a designer of sounds and spaces.

      Such was Eno’s success in that he eventually became a professional consultant on creativity in general. He has spoken at countless schools and cooperations in the creative process. This hardly makes Eno an expert on politics, or economic or public policy. But he is someone who has spent his life looking for alternative solutions familiar or unexpected problems. His status as a celebrity allows him the rare opportunity to make public statements, and he has increasingly availed himself of that privilege. While Greenberg would certainly argue that Eno is stepping out of line in making such public statements, it nevertheless seems clear to me that Eno never strikes the authoritative or prophetic stance Greenberg criticized in Elliot. Eno’s suggestions lack Elliot’s prim and supercilious tone. I might put Eno more closely in line with American pragmatist philosophers such as William James and John Dewey, who saw life as a continuous process of experimentation, learning, and evolution. Hence, Eno’s impatience with the journalist’s attempts to revisit an idealized past, either his own the larger society’s. Instead, he prefers to discuss planning and constructing a better future.

      • Joseph Blanton says:

        (I like The Jam’s sound. I listened to quite a few songs while writing this. “Old school cool,” for sure! Kitsch rock with an easily digestible message? No! Stimulating art! I think I like Sontag’s interpretation more.) (Not so keen on the Airport music. If I am going to listen to sound while working, it better hold my aural attention.)

        I think I was just getting to begin to disagree with Greenberg’s insistence of purism with my last semi-rhetorical question. It takes a strong, cultivated mind to succeed in the arts like Eno did, so why should he not apply his faculties to other topics? Oh, but he also actively got professionally engaged with trying to fix problems; I was lacking that information in my initial judgement. And this structuralism of Levi-Strauss’ sounds very interesting. As you were saying, it’s better to work at the intersections of anthropology than anthropology only. I agree that tone and intent is very important, or, actually, I think not adopting an authoritative tone is essential. As a physicist, I know anything I say can be wrong for so many reasons, a mind-boggling number of reasons; thus, it is foolish to speak with authority, unless we are talking about core postulates in the theory.

        Like I tried to get at in my memo, the line between art and science is, I think, usually drawn too deep. It erroneously divides them by approach, when it can only divide them by content and end-goals. Eno, a man on the art side, is using thinking—pragmatism, planning—that is indispensable in scientific pursuits. That brings in those attempts to get Masters and Ph.Ds. in those English art schools; it takes a strong cultivated mind to really get to know your subject—without defining that the subject be “rigorous” or something. I am starting to lose a lot of accumulated disdain for the arts. You’re pulling all these examples and concepts and theories seemingly out of thin air, just like my research advisor would do concerning physical theories. It’s the same thinking with different content. But it’s the end-goals that get the goat. It seems like we live in a utilitarian society. Semi-ancient art schools do not produce concrete, measurable metric upticks? DEFUND. Greenberg better hope the rich can protect the highest of the arts, because the flood level seems to keep rising.

        • The arts and the sciences have much to offer one another, though it is increasingly hard to convince most persons of that. All anyone wants anymore is demonstrable objective results, though even objectivity is now under attack. I certainly have no issue with the critique of objectivity. But that’s something very different than the complete disregard of objectivity. In any case, there has been a movement afoot for the last two decades to heal the breach between the arts and sciences. Whatever progress has been made on that front has been gradual. I would suggest that TED talks are one on example of the gains that have been made. The U’s upcoming Science & Literature Symposium might be another.

          As for the necessity that someone preserve culture in the face of the rapid barbarization of American, I think Greenberg is right on this count. The thing to remember is that he never uses the word ‘rich’, but rather he mentions the ‘elite’. There is certainly a fair amount of overlap between the two categories, though they are hardly identical. Consider, for example, the billionaires who are now ‘draining the swamp’ in Washington. They are undeniably wealthy, but I see little evidence to suggest they are actually cultured. This whole new administration seems a massive and repugnant example of Kitsch.

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