A Year with Swollen Appendices

A Year with Swollen Appendices



The Pequod Review:

A Year with Swollen Appendices is a diary of Brian Eno's personal and professional life in 1995. Eno maintained his diary on an almost daily basis, and his subjects range from mundane events (what he ate for dinner) to his musical work (much of his time that year was focused on collaborations with U2 and James) to various political/philosophical thoughts.

Eno has several good insights on music and musicians. Here he describes Elvis Costello (and Scott Walker):

One very interesting thing about [Costello's] piece: his orchestral approach. So a bass that only plays about five notes in the whole song -- something no bass player would do spontaneously. I’ve only ever seen one other person who had the piece so minutely organized in his head -- Scott Walker. I was very impressed then too, and felt equally semi-superfluous.

Here he describes the power of music joined to film:

The reason we were originally interested in doing a film soundtrack is because the film supports the music -- that’s to say, one’s awareness that this is music for a film stimulates the imagination to think pictorially and scenically, to connect the emotions of the film with the music. You stop just listening to a piece of music in the abstract and imagine the situation that it belongs to. This is why the Lynch and Tarantino soundtracks have such strength -- because the music is completely reinfused with power by being placed in a strong context. The song ‘Blue Velvet’, for instance, is a song from my childhood (I was 13 or 14 when it came out) and I remember despising it for being so pathetically white and wimpy. But hearing it in the Lynch film completely changed it: everything that had seemed pale and restrained about it became weird and mysterious -- as though the song was a kind of veil that concealed all sorts of kinky undertones. In a case like that, you can say that the film -- the thing around the music -- rewrote the music. ‘Blue Velvet’ is now a different piece of music, imbued with far more depth and ambiguity than it ever had before.

Bono comes across as a more impressive and productive artist than you might expect, as well as an adventure-seeker ("Bono drives with the sort of abandon that suggests he really believes in an afterlife. This is the kind of driving you see in Thailand and Greece."). And it becomes apparent that Eno's restlessness and curiosity was a key driver of some of his most innovative music:

Sometimes I’m so sick of music. All I want to hear is noise that I might imagine music into. When music occupies so much cultural space, you yearn for any noise that wasn’t meant to be music, that is fresh and complicated and free from aesthetic intention (and therefore available for aesthetic invention).

His philosophical observations are often trite and predictable, but not always:

Spending lots of money is often an admission of lack of research, preparation and imagination. First class on Eurostar, for example–to be placed with boring and ugly people stinking of ill-chosen colognes rather than with the smart and lively people in standard accommodation.


Perhaps people who feel their own lives unfulfilled are inclined to lavish more time on their children’s.

The book also includes an appendix with several essays, short stories and correspondence. These are of higher and more refined quality than his diary; I liked this description of how Music for Airports came about:

In late 1977 I was waiting for a plane in Cologne airport. It was early on a sunny, clear morning, the place was nearly empty, and the space of the building (designed, I believe, by the father of one of the founders of Kraftwerk) was very attractive. I started to wonder what kind of music would sound good in a building like that. I thought, ‘It has to be interruptible (because there’ll be announcements), it has to work outside the frequencies at which people speak, and at different speeds from speech patterns (so as not to confuse communication), and it has to be able to accommodate all the noises that airports produce. And, most importantly for me, it has to have something to do with where you are and what you’re there for -- flying, floating and, secretly, flirting with death.’ I thought, ‘I want to make a kind of music that prepares you for dying–that doesn’t get all bright and cheerful and pretend you’re not a little apprehensive, but which makes you say to yourself, “Actually, it’s not that big a deal if I die.”’ Thus was born the first Ambient record -- Music for Airports -- which I released on my own label (called Ambient Records, of course).

Overall, this is an excellent account of what the day-to-day life of a successful creative individual is really like.