Name: Roger Eno
Occupation: Composer, pianist
Recent release: Roger Eno's The Turning Year is out via Deutsche Grammophon.
Over the course of his career, Roger Eno has worked with a wide range of artists, including Brian Eno, David Torn, Laraji, Gaudi, The Orb, and Thomas Fehlmann.
[Read our David Torn interview]
[Read our Gaudi interview]
[Read our The Orb interview]
[Read our Thomas Fehlmann interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Roger Eno and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Instagram.
For an even deeper look into Roger's perspectives, read our more expansive Roger Eno interview.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
My main ‘inspirations’ are the area in which I live (East Anglia,a rural part of England which seems to have all but avoided the industrial revolution), poetry and the poetic method of living imagination, as well as the investigation of the interior.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I see myself as a perfecter of my material rather than one who changes tack with each new piece. I polish stones to make them yet shinier. I usually begin pieces with my personal style of improvisation - thus I know whatever appears will be linked to passed work.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions’?
I call myself a ‘decomposer’ as my usual process is subtraction rather than addition. I will record into Logic, then take out any extraneous material until the ‘core’ or ‘skeleton’ is revealed. I eliminate ‘busyness’.
I rarely develop ideas in the classical sense and usually keep pieces short and open ended.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I find alcohol a great ally in my work as it simultaneously relaxes and stimulates. Cycle rides are inspirational as are my coastal walks and time in the many ancient churches that dot my area.
I cannot work whilst under the influence of cannabis as I forget how equipment works and drift into seemingly endless gazes. So Guinness or a good red wine it is for me.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
A start is only difficult if you feel that one note isn’t enough. If you would be content with that then carrying on is easy as you can always just stop … The key is not thinking of a piece as a problem to be solved but an enjoyable way to spend some time playing.
That’s what musicians do: Artists and poets work, musicians play.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I feel that I’m going for a walk in a familiar landscape when I write /improvise music. I do usually adhere to ‘paths’ that I know but make a point of noticing along what’s the way either side of me.
I sketch in sound, often in watercolours.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Part of the joy of ‘writing’ is that you can take any road you choose.
I often deliberately limit myself. For example I’ve always liked slow music over fast, I love working in modes, I adore open fifths and semitone clashes. Everytime I work (or play) I put these in the soup pan along with other ingredients, mix and cook until I feel that particular version of my ‘speciality’ is done.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
This depends greatly on what time of the day I work.
Often I work early in the morning, straight out of bed and into my studio. It is then, before the world has awakened, that an almost magical stillness exists. I adore the total involvement one feels when (literally)putting pen to paper or allowing one to work whilst still so close to sleep.
So, yes,there certainly is an element of spirituality there - playing piano is my form of meditation.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I never finish the process. The listener does.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
As many pieces are recorded as they are made, later evaluation happens naturally as everything feels good / interesting whilst it is being born.
However on later listening (after weeks or months) there will be some pieces that are utterly worthless and so rejected without a second thought. But there will be others which surprize me with their quality.
It’s generally like this-quite binary-either good or bad. So the ‘improvement’ / ‘refinement’ department is rather small in my personal factory, I’m afraid.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
This is not an area I have a great interest in and don’t consider myself particularly adept at. The elements of music that I love are the emotional, magical and meditative.
This is far from saying that I do not enjoy the results of excellent production - it can itself be transporting - but it’s just that I do other things.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
We all carry within us a feeling of emptiness and much of what we do is an attempt to fill that hole with something. I fill mine by strategies that I’ve touched on earlier in this Q and A - I carry on writing, cycling and visiting now silent, isolated churches (Google Heckingham, Norfolk for example, and Little Witchingham, also Norfolk). I read poetry and find fossils on the coast, walk with my wife and our dog, watch the world change throughout the seasons.
In short I ‘keep going’.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
For me, in the arts, music is the pinnacle of human expression. Poetry comes next (but by nature is more 'figurative') and painting follows. There is nothing to touch music. Perhaps this is why in medieval stone carvings the angels are playing instruments rather than making coffee or watching television …
Music invites us to consider the meaning and possibilities of what it is to be human, it transmits collectively, individually and personally. It is the greatest of the arts and I feel honoured to be a practitioner.