"The record age was just a blip": Brian Eno on the end of records

From a new interview published in The Guardian:

“I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2022: I publish a weeklyish email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca., where I practiced with Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison and was involved in various pro-ecology and social justice activist activities.

8 thoughts on “"The record age was just a blip": Brian Eno on the end of records

  1. Right on the money. I think this could be a new oblique strategy card:

    Stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along.

  2. I’ll admit that it’s likely naive and silly to think that our current mediums will persist throughout the future (however distant), but this statement reeks of the same arrogance that was showcased in Branca’s recent blanket statements on the “death of music in our time” (Ugh) –


    …or Stockhausen in the 70’s on “human evolution” –

    Brilliant? Hardly – It’s an interesting analogy, but he doesn’t offer much in terms of what will “replace” it, it’s just a broad speculation that’s only been given credence because of the name attached to it.

    Unfortunately, it seems that Eno has also fallen victim to the over-generalization that’s ever-popular amongst aging greats time and time again. He has tread far too deeply into his own art-fag void and he (distressingly) appears to be “forward-thinking” to a fault.

    I love ya Eno; you’re probably the least-deserving of this ‘critique’ and I applaud you for continuing your pursuit to push art & music forward in favor of becoming an old curmudgeon (see: Branca), but I don’t know what you’re *really* getting at here. I shudder to think of a future that favors something like “generative music” over records…perhaps I’m overly sentimental…

  3. I don’t find Eno’s comments very illuminating. They seem like something to throw out there, somewhat flippantly. I guess he’s talking about albums (he says ‘recorded music). But what kind of albums on what format? And, I can’t get behind his celebration of where ‘things are going’. I mean, all well and good for a guy who’s made a living making those albums that seem so unnecessarily old fashioned now. Guess he doesn’t believe in documenting important, ephemeral musics anymore like the album No New York. He’s made his statements, but things aren’t finished. There are plenty more to be made and plenty more to be done. His words describe an attitude of satiety, but a lot of us haven’t been so ‘well fed’ and are not satisfied. And where exactly are things going anyway?

  4. Cee: I think he’s right about what’s happening (or more accurately, what’s already happened). I don’t share his glee, although I’m willing to grant that it’s probably a bit of gallows humor. And I certainly don’t share his optimism that “something new” will come along. We’ve had a while now for “something new” to appear, and it hasn’t. And I don’t see *anything* on the horizon, either. What I see are careers ending — or never beginning — and a culture in decline.

  5. Yeah, Sgt. Pepper was whale blubber.

    Just because something is “new” does not automatically make it “improved.” I’m used to the accusations of fogeyism and do not care. I wish I had 20 bucks for every time someone told me I had to adapt. It would at least be a sign that one can make a living on the internet without artists having to become businessmen.

  6. sgt. pepper is a great album, sure. but what eno is saying is that in the grand scope of things, sgt. pepper will only be important to those living in a certain timeframe. you don’t have to adapt. keep your turntable and keep spinning your records. thanks to yard sales, goodwill and salvation army, you can keep on keepin’ on until you die. but, in 200 years from now, in 500 years, in a thousand years from now, sgt. pepper will be whale blubber. sorry, but nothing lasts. so, enjoy it now for yourself.

  7. That must be why over 200 years after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death, no one listens to his “records,” performs his music live, makes biopics about him. Mozart? Whale blubber! Beethoven? Whale blubber! Stephen Foster? Whale blubber! Have you tried finding the original recordings of Stephen Foster? Can’t do it! Not on Amazon, not at Amoeba! He — like Wolfgang, like Ludwig van — wrote his music before recording was invented. Then why are people still singing “Camptown Races” and “Swanee River”?

    And following this “logic,” human beings will cease singing “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “A Day In The Life” because they too are whale blubber. And no one will know Sgt. Pepper, even though it was the score to a decade that will be recognized as crucial for the human race (if humans are to survive, that is). Might there be historians who note this and have some technology to play it?

    It’s not that I don’t recognize that the buying/selling of recorded music has changed and will continue to change. But for Brian Eno to hyperbolically state that “recorded music equals whale blubber” discounts the music while focusing exclusively on the means of performance. Whale blubber may be nothin’ but Eskimo food in the 21st Century, but human beings are not going to stop listening to recorded music in some form whether they pay for it or not. I agree that the Recording Age AS WE KNOW IT may be an historical blip, but Eno’s dialectics are sloppy.

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