Composers as Gardeners

From Edge:

Brian_eno_01Brian Eno [11.10.11] “My topic is the shift from 'architect' to 'gardener', where 'architect' stands for 'someone who carries a full picture of the work before it is made', to 'gardener' standing for 'someone who plants seeds and waits to see exactly what will come up'. I will argue that today's composer are more frequently 'gardeners' than 'architects' and, further, that the 'composer as architect' metaphor was a transitory historical blip.”

About the time when I first started making records, I was also starting to become aware of a new sort of organizing principle in music. I think like many people, I had assumed that music was produced, or created in the way that you imagine symphony composers make music, which is by having a complete idea in their head in every detail and then somehow writing out ways by which other people could reproduce that. In the same way as one imagines an architect working. You know, designing the building, in all its details, and then having that constructed. In the mid-'60s, there started to appear some music that really wasn't like that at all. And in fact, it was about the time I started making music, and I found that I was making music in this same rather unusual new way. So that the music I was listening to then in particular, in relation to this point, was Terry Riley's “In C” and Steve Reich's famous tape pieces, “It's Gonna Rain” and “Come Out.” And various other pieces as well.

Of course, I was also familiar with Cage and his use of randomness, and new ways of making musical decisions. Or not making them. What fascinated me about these kinds of music was that they really completely moved away from that old idea of how a composer worked. It was quite clear with these pieces, for example “In C,” that the composer didn't have a picture of the finished piece in his head when he started. What the composer had was a kind of menu, a packet of seeds, you might say. And those musical seeds, once planted, turned into the piece. And they turned into a different version of that piece every time. So for me, this was really a new paradigm of composing. Changing the idea of the composer from somebody who stood at the top of a process and dictated precisely how it was carried out, to somebody who stood at the bottom of a process who carefully planted some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, and watched them turn into something. Now, I was sort of looking for support for that idea. The term 'bottom-up' hadn't come into existence then. Chaos theory, complexity theory, so on, they didn't exist. I don't even think we had catastrophe theory then.

More here.