After Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings appeared in New York and on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, it was installed at the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo in June 2018 with the support of the British Council’s Music team, Visual Arts team and our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This was “an abstract piece” Eno says – a large scale music and light installation that the audience can explore as it changes and evolves slowly around them. “You can still relate to it as a conventional painting, but you as a viewer are also aware that you will never see the same painting again.”
The exhibition ran from 13 June to 29 August. Watch Brian Eno talk about his work and the installation on the Facebook live stream below. Warning: contains some very strong language.
Eno is well known in the music world for his collaborations with some of the biggest names going, including production credits for Talking Heads, Coldplay and David Bowie during his Berlin years.
Under the name Passengers, his perhaps unlikely-sounding collaboration with U2 and opera singer Pavarotti resulted in the track “Miss Sarajevo” however he has more affinity with the region than this song title alone. Working with the charity War Child, Brian Eno has been a central figure in fundraising and awareness-raising for those suffering the consequences of war in the region and was instrumental in the opening of the Pavarotti Centre in Mostar. He’s also produced music with Sikter, an alt-rock band from Sarajevo.
Although 77 Million Paintings was first developed over a decade ago, its new incarnation in Sarajevo was different to what has gone before: “I have dramatically changed the environment in which this piece is seen, making the space a relaxing living-room rather than an art gallery,” explains Eno.
Generative Art … and gardening
77 Million Paintings is an example of what Brian Eno calls “generative art”: “One of the things which strongly draws me to generative art is the idea that the thing is so big, in that there are so many variations, that not even the artist can see all the possibilities.” He concluded that it was almost impossible to see the same combination twice: “If you stay for maybe a few million years you might see the same combination [of light, image and music] again”.
If you stay for maybe a few million years you might see the same combination again
Speaking at the British Library about “Discreet Music” (1975) – another generative piece and one he claims has been the music of choice for scores of women during labour – Eno explains how the combination of sounds can have the same effect as combinations of colours: the result is an altogether new creation rather than two distinct voices happening at the same time. Red and yellow becomes brown once combined and two or more notes result in harmony and “chords” which are more than the sum of their parts. When these phenomena are left to the control of an algorithm which is constantly shifting the parameters, the result is even Eno himself doesn’t know quite what will happen next. Rather than “aleatory” Eno prefers to think of this approach as the musical equivalent of gardening. “I came up with this term, 'generative music' which is essentially the idea that one is making a kind of music in the way that one might make a garden … carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, planting them and then letting them have their life … in fact, I'm deliberately constructing systems that will put me in the same position as any other member of the audience. I want to be surprised by it as well. What this means, really, is a rethinking of one's own position as a creator. You stop thinking of the situation as me, the controller, you the audience, and you start thinking of all of us as the audience, all of us as people enjoying the garden together. Gardener included.”
Music For Installations
Music For Installations is a collection of music from the past few decades charting Eno's work for mixed media pieces. The album includes a 43 minute track, “77 Million Paintings” – offering a taste of the music for the installation. “the music from the box set is just 43 possible minutes of what is an endlessly evolving piece of music. So it’s an example of what you might hear, just as photographs of 77 Million are examples of what you might possibly see. The music in the actual installation, like the visuals, is constantly changing.”