Brian Eno named the Long Now Foundation, the San Francisco-based organization that promotes long-term thinking. How long term? The Foundation writes years as a series of five digits, thus suggesting a continuity well beyond the sort imposed by a mere four digits, or so the theory goes. Thus it was this past Monday, June 26, 2006 (or 02006, in the Long Now mode), that Eno took the stage at the Herbst in downtown San Francisco, sat across from the creator of the video game The Sims, Will Wright, and launched into a lengthy discussion about generative art.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the 900 attendees at the sold out Eno-Wright event, and I took a bunch of notes, but they’re rendered somewhat redundant, since the Foundation has quickly posted a downloadable file of the discussion (MP3) and launched an online forum (at longnow.org). They had three laptop computers between them: two PCs for Wright, and an Apple for Eno, who also had an Evolution musical keyboard hooked up. At times he provided a score to the talk, or to Wright’s visuals.
Some key observations from each of them: Eno on being a maker of seeds, not forests; on wind chimes as an early version of generative art; on how he recorded much of his ambient work at twice the speed at which it was commercially released. Wright on Eno re-releasing the music at the speed at which it was recorded. Eno christening such a re-release “amphetamine ambient.” Eno on hearing a piece of a country song emerge from a random piece he’d played for thousands of hours. Wright on how his next game, Spore, was inspired by the film Powers of 10 by Ray and Charles Eames; the game is amazing, by the way, so much so that it makes Pikmin (one of the best games ever for the GameCube) look like Pickup Sticks by comparison.
Eno on how culture is “everything you don’t have to do,” how he was so entranced by the game Life at the S.F. Exploratorium when he was living here that he became a docent, an “explainer,” at the museum. Wright on discovering art made with material from The Sims by players of the game: he realized fans were entertaining him much as he had been entertaining them. Stewart Brand, another Long Now founder, at the start of the question period, contrasting the way Eno and Wright work: Eno’s ambient music expands time, while Wright’s simulations compress it. Wright, in response to Brand’s question about how one “plays” both music and games, suggesting that “play” is a word that is designed not to be precise.