By Jessica Lim
Legendary music producer and artist Brian Eno recently reforested his backyard, 12ha of Oxfordshire countryside, with 4,800 trees, just so he could fly Down Under with peace of mind.
'It is pathetic really but it is an attempt to balance the books a little bit,' he tells Life! in an interview at the Sydney Opera House.
'I have never been to Australia and I have quite a big issue about doing too many flights without thinking about it.'
Finally, the 60-year-old had no choice but to fly 17,000km from his home in England to the sub-continent. He is the curator of Vivid Sydney's Luminous, a festival of music, light and performance at the Sydney Opera House.
But he did hold off the long flight as long as he could. To curate the inaugural Luminous programme, he listened and re-listened to auditions from different artists in his London office, particularly Australian ones because he had never worked with any before.
The artists who were eventually picked, says Eno, share a single characteristic: They do not fall into any obvious category.
The eclectic list includes experimental New York band Battles, British synth-popsters Ladytron, Fourth World trumpeter Jon Hassell and the hottest new name in electronic music, Jon Hopkins.
For the festival, he also lights up the Sydney Opera House's sails with evolving images of his artwork so the architectural icon becomes his canvas.
It is the spirit of change that has taken him to Australia, a country he had always wanted to visit, he says, describing winter here as 'at best a London summer'.
He has brought his free-form light and sound installation, 77 Million Paintings, which is his attempt to 'state some kind of new cultural position... where the barriers that used to separate the art forms from one another have withered away'.
'What I am most interested in is trying to create a situation where... for a little while you surrender to something and become immersed in it,' he says of the free exhibition.
Reinventing is something he has done his whole career. In androgynous clothing and garish make-up, he first grabbed the world's attention in the early 1970s as a founding member of Roxy Music, where he thrilled the masses with unique keyboard effects.
He then released numerous critically acclaimed solo albums, pioneering ambient music in the process.
Being one of the first users of a recording device as a musical instrument, he popularised music sampling, the act of taking a portion of one sound recording to layer in another piece of music.
The soft-spoken Winchester School of Art graduate insists he is a 'non-musician'. What he does is paint with sounds.
'Music, traditionally, is something that exists now and disappears. It is not like that with recording. Recording holds it in place and turns it into a malleable, plastic medium,' he says.
'It is a medium made for painting.'
He has produced albums for artists such as David Bowie and Talking Heads during their heyday and is instrumental in shaping the sound of Coldplay's and U2's latest albums. In fact, so crucial is he to the latter's No Line On The Horizon that he gets more than a producer credit - he is listed with the Irish quartet as a co-songwriter on more than half the album.
Yet he describes his role all too simply: He says he is merely part of the recording situation, providing a different set of ears.
'I do not walk into the studio and tell people what to do,' he says, describing his relationship with Bono as 'as close as you can possibly get'.
'I go in, try to listen and say, 'I think that is not working, why don't you try something else?' '
Do they listen?
For more The Straits Times stories, click here.