Sunday, May 5, 2024

Gary Hustwit and Brendan Dawes' "Eno" at SIFF Cinema Downtown: May 5

As an artist who bridged modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings", Brian Eno is an almost singular fixture of the late 20th century. His methodology remained both constant and changing, introducing John Cage-like opportunities for chance, and unexpected variables, as well as being an early advocate of generative content. From light sculptures, to video art, to music both popular and experimental in its nature, his was sound and texture that was both elusive and instantly recognizable. The latter running the gamut of densely constructed ventures into the furthermost fringes of glam rock, to the ultra-minimal and contemplative spaces of "Discreet Music'', to the geography of "Fourth World Music", to his most recent exploration of spatial works, such as those documented by the New York Times in, "Brian Eno Wants to Take You ‘Inside the Music’". Among his collaborative inventions was the variables-introducing card process that he created with visual artist, Peter Schmidt. Their "Oblique Strategies" circumnavigating linear rational approaches to material, by introducing lateral thinking, triggered by the card's instructed phrases and their offering of outside themes and perspectives. It comes as no surprise then that the composer and artist was resistant to the formula of the chronological array of interviews and footage that comprise the common music documentary. As presented in Rolling Stone's, "‘Eno’ Remixes the Music Documentary - and Brian Eno’s Entire Career", the idea of a movie depicting his 50-year career behind keyboards, and mixing boards, much less one involving his participation, felt counterintuitive to him. “You’re becoming a filmmaker’s story,” Eno has said when asked about the subject. “And I don’t want to be anyone’s story.”

So, enters director Gary Hustwit and digital artist Brendan Dawes, as chronicled by Rolling Stone; "The filmmaker asked him to compose music for "Rams", a 2018 look at industrialist designer Dieter Rams. After that collaboration, Hustwit proposed something different. He’d been talking to a programmer about software that would be able to remix film footage in real time. The feature would be fully edited and completed, mind you. But if you ran the work through this program, it would rejigger the order of the sequences at random. Certain scenes would be “pinned” at the beginning and the end, per the director. Everything else, from the chronology to what was or was not included within a two-hour timeframe, could be left to chance. It was not unlike how Eno made what he dubbed “generative music.” So what if this legacy - all that music, all of those albums, all of his experimental video work, all of the five decades of insanely fertile artistry - was not so much rehashed but reshuffled? What if a music documentary on someone’s life was less an LP and more of a fate-curated mix tape." Hustwit and Dawes' generative software system became this tool to develop and combine contemporary interviews with Brian Eno’s rich archive of more than five hundred hours of studio, live, vintage home video, and television appearances into "Eno". The resulting variable screening experience, presented here at SIFF Cinema Downtown, bears some resemblance to Brian Eno's creative practices with technology in making art and music, and resonates with the artist's take on the introduction of exterior pathways towards chance and variables. It's release also acts as a timely vehicle for Eno's expression of his personal philosophy on ecological consideration, and materialism, as presented in recent interviews like, "‘Capitalism Didn’t Understand Community’: Brian Eno Steps Up the Climate Crisis Battle", and, "Brian Eno: ‘I Don’t Get Much of a Thrill Out of Spending Money’", for The Guardian.