(2012-11-30) Brian Eno Stafford Beer And The Quiet Revolution

Brian Eno, Stafford Beer, and the The Quiet Revolution. It was from Swiss Cottage Library, in 1974, that the intellectually curious Joan Harvey borrowed a book called Brain Of The Firm: The Managerial Cybernetics Of Organization by Stafford Beer. This would prove to be particularly culturally propitious. She was so enamoured by the book that she lent it to her bright son-in-law who she knew would be equally fascinated. He was; his name was Brian Eno.

1971: The recently elected socialist President Salvador Allende of Chile invited Beer to develop a cybernetic approach to the organisation and regulation of the whole of that country's economy at every level, from the industrial sectors through to the Cabinet and the President himself with a real-time computerised system

The enterprise was labelled Project Cybersyn.

About two-thirds of the process was in place, but not yet applied, when the bloody coup of September 11, 1973 occurred.

The cynicism and disregard for democracy and humanity by which the rich world orchestrated this atrocity pitched Beer into a state of despair, resulting in the successful globe-trotting businessman renouncing material goods and adopting a lifestyle consistent with the national weal. He acquired a remote stone cottage

Meanwhile, back in London Brian Eno was getting to grips with Brain Of The Firm. Eno had just left Roxy Music where his coloured sequins (and youthful ego) had clashed once too often with Bryan Ferry's manicured persona.

Beer defined it as the science of effective organisation of large complex systems, be they nervous systems, ecosystems, economic systems, societies, families or whatever. It is therefore interdisciplinary and holistic in nature.

In more recent years both chaos and complexity theory have become popular and they do have an affinity with cybernetics. However, there is a significant difference in that cybernetics always includes the role of the observer in the system under observation

Eno was so thrilled by all of this that he immediately incorporated it into a series of lectures and wrote an article for Studio International, Generating And Organising Variety In The Arts, which deals with a specific piece of music, The Great Learning by Cornelius Cardew. The article is an early attempt to understand how a simple set of instructions or constraints in the context of a live performance of a piece of music can lead to the emergence of complex novelty and variety

Beer perceived Eno as something of a protégé (he later commissioned Eno to write a chapter - an extension of the Studio piece - for a book called Challenge To Paradigm, but the book never materialised)

Eno also visited Beer at his Welsh hideaway; this could be described as a character building experience for him

Much of the work that Eno did from this period was characterised by playful exploration using not only Beer's ideas but also those of John Cage's book Silence and Morse Peckham's Man's Rage For Chaos (the latter arguing that the biological function of art is to provide a safe milieu wherein to take risks). Furthermore, in alliance with the artist Peter Schmidt, he released the box of 'oracle' cards Oblique Strategies ('Over 100 Worthwhile Dilemmas')

collaborations and productions which included Robert Fripp (also well versed in Beer's work), David Bowie (who has listed Brain Of The Firm as a desert island book), (and long list)

It was in 1975 that he released one of his finest albums of songs and short instrumentals, Another Green World, and it was here that some of the new working strategies came into play

An important part of Beer's work was the rejection of the dominant notion of hierarchy as a way of locating people and activities in organisations. As an alternative he advocated the concept of recursion

This suited Eno as an egalitarian way of managing extremely diverse musicians, instruments and sounds

Bowie admits to being mystified in the studio watching Eno drawing cybernetic charts and equations in his notebooks, however the two albums they made together at this time in Berlin, Low and "Heroes", are acknowledged to be among his best.

Systems music and Minimalism had been around since the sixties and exploited by Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young amongst others... Eno criticised this for lack of rigour and singled out some of Reich's work from this era as being too diagrammatic

He preferred to be selective about the initial ingredients (cookery could be a good metaphor here) and adjusted the results, applying some judgement and taste in the direction he wanted to go.

One of the early Ambient albums Music For Airports is a good example of this.

Ambient Music itself has further developed in other hands: Aphex Twin, The Orb, Future Sound of London are just a few significant examples; Bill Laswell has made 'ambient translations' of the music of Miles Davis and Bob Marley.

As for Stafford Beer himself, in his robust stone cottage he quietly got on with writing an expanded edition of Brain Of The Firm which included the events in Chile and a companion volume The Heart Of Enterprise.

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