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“Oblique Strategies” for Reviving Creativity

Oblique Strategy
Lately, in the midst of promoting our Ralph Munn Creative Writing Contest, I’ve been thinking about all of the aspects in a teen’s life that can impede creativity. Is the impulse just not there? Perhaps its there but is just being diverted? I wonder if any of these seem familiar:

Enter Brian Eno…

Brian Eno glam

(b Woodbridge, 15 May 1948). English composer and producer. While attending art school in Ipswich and then Winchester he developed an interest in ‘systems’ music, and much of his work can be seen as continuing the work of composers such as John Cage. He first worked professionally from 1970 to 1973 with the seminal art-rock band Roxy Music, lending their first two albums, Roxy Music (Island, 1972) and For Your Pleasure (Island, 1973), a quirky surrealist edge. By treating the group’s live sound electronically with a tape recorder and VC5 3 synthesizer, he defined a role for himself as an ‘aural collagist’. After leaving Roxy Music in 1973, Eno developed this interest in the timbral quality of music further with the albums No Pussy Footing (Island, 1973; with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp) and the seminal Another Green World (Island, 1975), the latter a brilliant combination of quirky songs and pastoral instrumentals. In 1975 his interest in aleatory music led him to produce with Peter Schmidt ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards, a collection of ‘over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas’, which formed a sort of musical tarot, each card containing a directive on how to proceed to the next creative stage. He then collaborated on three of David Bowie’s most innovatory albums (Low, ‘Heroes’ and Lodger), produced new-wave bands such as Talking Heads and Devo, and released two important ambient instrumental albums, Music for Films (EG, 1978) and Music for Airports (EG, 1979).

Info from our Grove Music Online database of music.

Basically, Brian Eno is a creative genius who is one of the most important musical artists of the seventies. And he’s a critically important part of making the following scene happen (you might remember it).


What I want to focus on today are the “Oblique Strategies” cards, which are a great legacy to leave to people of any creative persuasion.

Brian Eno and his artist friend Peter Schmidt had discovered that they both developed a set of working principles for whenever they were getting creatively stuck under pressure. They mixed, matched, meditated, and ultimately developed a deck of cards with ideas designed to move the creative process forward.

Whenever you’re stuck within a creative activity, draw a card, read it, and trust it.

oblique box

While the original cards are long out of print, and while recent reincarnations are fairly expensive, some Eno historians have made electronic copies available to any creative adventurers. Check out this colorful web recreation. And, of course, there’s an app for that (and for Android, too).

Happy creating!

~Joseph
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main

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