Creative Inspiration…Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies

As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Tim Harford’s: Messy: How to be Creative & Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

In Chapter 1 on Creativity, Harford introduced me to “Oblique Strategies”. They are intended as a creative tool for musicians and were developed by legendary producer Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt – the pair originally both came up with the same idea independently in 1975, and joined forces to make it a reality.

Oblique Strategies is a deck of cards, about 7×9 cm in size, supplied in a small black box labelled “OBLIQUE STRATEGIES”. The cards themselves are black on one side, white on the other, and have obscure, cryptic aphorisms printed on the front in small letters.

Eno’s own description explains the idea very well:

“The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation – particularly in studios – tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you’re in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that’s going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn’t the case – it’s just the most obvious and – apparently – reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt *this* attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt *that* attitude.”

Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies – the Ultimate Music Production Tool

By the way, Brian Eno had found fame as Roxy Music’s crazy Keyboard player and had also created a new sonic aesthetic called ambient music.bowie-heroesEno used the cards in song writing sessions in Berlin with David Bowie and Tony Visconti and Messy tells how “the strange chaotic working process produced two of the decades most critically acclaimed albums, Low and Heroes, along with Iggy Pop’s most respected work, The Idiot and Lust for Life, which Bowie co-wrote and benefited from the same messy approach.”

Here’s a few examples of what’s written on the cards:

  • Use an old idea.
  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
  • Only one element of each kind.
  • What would your closest friend do?
  • What to increase? What to reduce?
  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.
  • Try faking it!
  • Honour thy error as a hidden intention.
  • Ask your body.
  • Work at a different speed.

Have you ever tried using the Oblique Strategy cards?

I am thinking about buying a pack but will make a few of my own cards first and see how it goes.

I’d be interested in your feedback.

xx Rowena

11 thoughts on “Creative Inspiration…Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies

  1. TanGental

    Nope never heard of them but they sound fascinating. I saw a programme on ambient music and was an eno fan then. Weird genius but definitely genius

  2. Rowena Post author

    I’ll actually have to listen to his music. I am so word oriented that I focus on that and don’t follow through to the logical conclusion. I’ve done the same with the dancers I’ve been researching lately. That said, I’m so inspired by this book that it’s going to take me a long time to follow up on all the leads.
    I’m sure you’d love it!
    I was at a Christmas bookshop night tonight down the street and I tried selling Messy to three friends and then I noticed it had gone.
    BTW while I’m tapping away here a Christmas beetle is zooming around he room crashing into the lights and making rather distracting noises. Ah! It’s that time of year again!
    Hope things with you are going well!
    xx Ro

  3. trentpmcd

    Eno is a favorite (as are the Berlin trilogy of Bowie albums…) Eno talks about the method on some of his recordings – I first heard of it from the cover of Before and After Science.

  4. Rowena Post author

    Happy Birthday, Geoff. It was my Geoff’s birth last weekend with 6 weeks to Christmas. You’re cutting it fine, although our nephew was born on Christmas Day. Instead of the run down to Christmas, how about the runaway from it? Some years, it’s felt tempting but when I could’ve been in Germany and experienced a white Christmas, I flew home. A cold Christmas didn’t feel right and I pretty close with my family and extended family. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

  5. Rowena Post author

    Thanks, Trent. Have you ever tried it? I’m sure you’d really enjoy “Messy by Tim Harford. I was at a bookshop Chrissy function last Friday and tried to sell it to 3 friends by the time of the third pitch, it had gone. I’m also looking into Twyla Thrupp I think her name is. She’s a choreographer and she also wrote a book on Creativity. I was planning to read it next but spent a fortune at the bookshop so it might have to wait. The shop provided me with a box and before I checked and culled, I’d paid and walked out.
    BTW, tonight we’re listening to Crowded House playing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Don’t know whether you can access it but it’s brilliant. Lead singer Neil Finn is a legend. Not just due to his voice and the depth of his lyrics, but is also so warm, spirit and nice. I took a few photos from the TV. Would’ve been great to be there but we had School Spectacular where our daughter was performing in the choir.

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  7. trentpmcd

    I’ve never tried it. Interestingly enough, most of books and exercises for creativity I’ve tried haven’t really done much for me. Just being me seems to work better. Like everyone I get stuck in a groove, often without realizing it, but something always come along which knocks me out of that groove into something else.
    I hope you enjoyed Crowded House, but I’m sure your daughter’s performance was better (at least for you 😉 )

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