Brian Eno is famous for creating music that keeps the intentionality of the composer as distant as possible. He tends to focus on the process of creating compositional structures that open possibilities for random activities to occur by chance. Unlike the spontaneity of improvisational jazz, the spontaneous moments in Eno’s music follow from a radical passivity, with Eno acting as a conduit for randomness to occur. He has likened this approach to wind-chime music: The composer selects the length of each physical chime, which determines the note and harmonics it will play, but the rest depends on forces (such as the wind) that lie beyond the composer’s control.
One form of creative prompting that Eno has used is a deck of cards called Oblique Strategies. Each card offers abstract, frequently cryptic advice–for instance, “Emphasize differences”; “Destroy nothing; destroy the most important thing”; and “Faced with a choice, do both.” Eno says that the direction of some of his compositions reflects the random advice of the cards, not his own desires. Of course, despite the abstract nature of the advice, Eno plays an active, crucial role in interpreting the cards’ advice. Theoretical complications aside, Oblique Strategies can be a source of inspiration–and a possible way to overcome creative roadblocks.
Oblique Strategies is now available for the Android phone. The app has a single button: ‘draw a card’. And that’s all there is to it. From the menu you can select which edition of the cards you’d like to use. My only criticism of the Oblique Strategies app is that you have to press the back button on your phone, and then press the ‘draw a card’ button again each time you want to read a new card. After drawing a card, you ought to be able to select another card without hitting the back button first.