What links Brian Eno with Philip K Dick? Actually, quite a lot
THE SUNDAY TIMES, 2009
Back in the 1970s, the American sci-fi writer Philip K Dick believed he had made contact with God, or a Godlike entity. It was an intriguing development for a great thinker who continually questioned the nature of reality, and whose stories have been turned into visionary films such as Blade Runner and Minority Report. In Dick’s 1981 novel, Valis, the author is apparently contacted by a divine orbiting satellite, or Vast Active Living Intelligence System. We meet an articulate character called Brent Mini, a “master at electronic hardware” and composer of “Synchronicity Music” who is part of a Valis-worshipping sect.
Brian Eno’s impact on pop music has been as far-reaching as Philip K Dick’s on science fiction
Mini was based on Brian Eno, whose haunting 1975 instrumental album, Discreet Music, was often on Dick’s turntable, and whose impact on pop music has been as far-reaching as Dick’s on science fiction. A founder member of Roxy Music and father of “ambient music”, Eno has brought sonic magic to the work of countless artists, including David Bowie, U2, Coldplay and Talking Heads.
The Eno/Dick connections reach back as far as 1973, when Eno finished making the album No Pussyfooting with the guitarist Robert Fripp, and they named the first side-long track ‘The Heavenly Music Corporation’. Heavenly Music is a brand of marijuana cigarettes smoked by a character in Dick’s 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle.
Dick saw tens of millions of modern abstract paintings, in rapid succession, in his head
Curiously, Eno’s connections with the novel Valis have multiplied since Dick’s death in 1982. The book refers to the phenomenon of St Elmo’s Fire – the title of a 1975 Eno song – and also mentions the Greek god Apollo – the title of an Eno album in 1983. Brent Mini says he hears “The sound of bells” when he encounters Valis – and a 2003 Eno album consists entirely of bell sounds.
Perhaps most mind-blowingly, in the novel, Dick relates a hallucinatory episode that really happened to him, in which he saw “modern abstract paintings, literally tens of millions of them in rapid succession” in his head. This sounds uncannily like Eno’s software release 77 Million Paintings, which brings a dazzling sequence of ever-changing, mostly abstract paintings to people’s computer screens.
Eno claimed in an early interview that he was from the planet Xenon. Maybe he wasn’t joking. ♦
© 2014 Tony Barrell