Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
Brian Eno's talk set the tone for Moogfest weekend. His presence in Asheville, along with several other pioneers of electronic music, offered a nod of authenticity to a genre still gaining a footing in US popular culture. Introducing himself as “Ramblin' Jack Eno” to the mostly southern audience, he wound a circuitous path through his intellect and worldview, covering a variety of topics from cybernetics to alternative haircuts. Shedding the oppressive format of a PowerPoint presentation, he tastefully opted for witty hand-drawn pictures and overlaid transparencies on a digital overhead projector. The effect was an air of modesty and intimacy from a man considered by many as one of our era's great intellects.
The talk’s scope, on the other hand, was lofty. Taking a scientific approach to music and culture, Eno attempted—and arguably succeeded—in answering the question, "Why culture?" He positioned cultural ideas along an axis of “Surrender” vs. “Control.” The listener surrenders to the performer, allowing their feelings to be guided and manipulated. Feelings help people deal with change faster than intellect, and music happens when our brain pieces those feelings together. The performer also becomes listener, surrendering to the randomness of error and nuance of their own instrument. The creative act occurs collectively between performer, audience, and randomness. Experiencing art and culture as adults is an extension of the learning process of play as children, and this act of play and learning happens collectively as a community.
Of the topics discussed, the one most fitting for Moogfest weekend related to cultural ecosystems. The state of modern culture is a rich ecosystem of technologists, producers, visual artists, musicians, and the act of tasteful cultivation by the audience. Eno dubbed this state of collective creative intelligence “scenius,” eliciting a few chuckles. Indeed, this concept of “scenius” was a pervasive element at Moogfest. The experience of watching talented musicians masterfully manipulate complex, engineered electronic instruments against a backdrop of sophisticated visuals and light shows elicited a sense of pride in having the good taste to be a part of it all. At most of the performances the role of the performer felt reduced and humbled, lacking the “rock star” arrogance of past decades. There was less of a bumbling “Hello Cleveland!” and more of an intimate “Hey, this is happening; let's do this, together.”
We should be proud of Moogfest. Seldom do we have a luminary such as Brian Eno stopping in our backyard to participate in a tribute to one of North Carolina's more obscure and esoteric adopted sons.