By the time Brian Eno released his third solo record, Another Green World, in 1975, he was already widely recognized as an innovator in experimental and ambient music. After completing his tenure as the synthesizer player for the glam rock outfit Roxy Music, Eno was torn as to which direction his life should go. He was not formally trained in music and had, in fact, considered himself a non-musician when approached by the band, only agreeing to join as a ‘technical adviser’ to the group. On top of that, Eno had left Roxy Music because, amongst other things, he had become bored with the life of a rock star. Still, the music called to him. After releasing two overwhelmingly well-reviewed records, Here Come the Warm Jets and Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), in 1973 and 1974 respectively, Eno decided in 1975 to let innovation take a front seat. Eno scaled back on the traditional rock song formula, and opted instead for instrumental sprawl and quirky, unpredictable structure. Only five of Another Green World’s fourteen tracks actually have lyrics, and even those often stray into non-sense and whimsy. Still, fans and music critics adore the record to this day.
The reason for Eno’s sudden departure from the typical song-writing structure and move toward a more free-associative approach might be credited to his use of Oblique Strategies, a series of cards created by Eno and German artist Peter Schmidt. Each card displays a word or phrase, meant to be used as an open-ended suggestion or prompt. Each card (still in print today) is intended to provoke a problem or dilemma that may require a different point of view. These cards were trusted, even when their meanings were ambiguous in specific situations.
A particular card that Eno used, for example, might have read:
While the words might seem difficult to interpret, many believe that the application of the suggestion opens new alleyways for the mind, and perhaps even a new context to help one solve a problem. The system is not unlike the ancient Chinese I Ching, which was used for purposes in everyday life as well as divination.
It was with this philosophy in mind that Beep Beep Gallery co-owner James McConnell curated Another Green World—a collection of pieces by various artists, each representing a track from the record by the same name.
“The album is a mix of ambient and experimental pieces, with some vocals. Because of that, and the descriptive song titles, we thought this record would be perfect for this kind of project. It is very open to interpretation,” says McConnell, explaining the sheer diversity of the works in the exhibit.
The fourteen participating artists were also asked to try and incorporate the Oblique Strategies tactic while deciding how to best approach creating their work, and many did. The result is a unique exhibition. Upon entering the gallery, one of the first things you will notice are the listening stations next to each of the show’s fourteen works. Each listening station plays the track from the record that corresponds with the art work, offering the patron an opportunity to take in the art object while simultaneously being wrapped in the oft-ethereal music that inspired it. This method of presentation, using Eno’s music as a sort of audio-curator to the show, does wonders to tie the very different individual works together—creating a sense of cohesiveness: an ‘album experience,’ if you will.
And much like Eno’s classic album, the goal of this particular exhibition appears to be that one should take it in as a whole, rather than focus on individual tracks or works. After all, it is a critically acclaimed record without any hit singles. This is in no way to imply that some of the works present in the gallery are not absolutely worthy of individual acclaim—they are—but, then again, a quality album is rarely comprised of fourteen mediocre tracks.
After viewing the exhibition, a process which, if done correctly, should last no less than 40 minutes and 24 seconds, you will not only have experienced the entirety of Brian Eno’s 1975 classic album, but its equally sonorous collection of accompanying works that it inspired. A person’s most prominent senses (the visual and the aural) are immersed in the exhibition, and once finished, the line between the two blurs. This is an exhibition that takes you on a journey as it asks you to try new techniques of absorbing art. And in this way, the show itself is an Oblique Strategy, a thought that has no doubt crossed the mind of Beep Beep’s James McConnell.
No exhibition is without its missteps, however. Fortunately for us, Another Green World‘s one obvious flaw is also one of its strengths—an unavoidable result of the experiment. Each artist involved was asked to pick one of the record’s tracks (a process that was surprisingly simple, according to McConnell) and to use the song (and a card or two from the deck) to guide them in their creation. The end result is a wildly diverse collection, but one that only marginally represents each artist. Having only a solitary piece displayed is not always ideal, and this issue becomes all the more obvious when you are confronted with a particular artist’s eight by ten inch work juxtaposed with a much larger canvas or sculpture.
This problem is diminished, however, when one factors that the works, and the record itself, are not necessarily meant to be viewed as individual elements but as parts that make up a whole. For fans of Brian Eno’s music, this show is an obvious must. For those who are less familiar with his work, a better introduction to him as a musician/artist/thinker could not have been asked for.
Another Green World, featuring 14 works coinciding with Brian Eno’s 14-track album, will remain exhibited at Beep Beep Gallery through February 25, 2012. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from Noon to 6PM.