Even before the 1.Outside concept took shape, the foundations were laid for an ambitious and inventive piece of work which combined David Bowie’s passions for music and modern art.
Early recruits to the project were pianist Mike Garson and guitarist Reeves Gabrels, both innovative musicians who thrived on improvisation and creative leeway. Gabrels heard of the project via a fax from Brian Eno, the first of many which sought to outline the parameters and aims.
One idea that David and Brian were trying to figure out was almost like a Charles Ives thing where you have two songs playing simultaneously then have them suddenly link up where the same word, beat, everything was right on the same spot: a mathematical problem.
Starman, Paul Trynka
Early in 1994, Bowie and Eno visited the Gugging mental hospital near Vienna. The facility had an “outsiders’ wing” where those with mental disabilities were allowed to indulge their creativity.
We kind of had these artistic – at least conceptual – parameters in place before we went into the studio. We sort of knew we were on a mission. Out of the set-ups we gave ourselves, we went to a mental hospital just outside of Vienna and that particular hospital is famous for its artistic wing. Inmates who’ve shown really strong orientation to painting or sculpting or something like that are given their own wing. And they paint and they sculpt and do all these fantastic things and they’re allowed to sell their work. Because it’s an experiment that’s been going since the fifties, some of these guys are in their sixties and seventies, even eighties and they’ve become the mainstay of what’s now called “outsider art.” So we spent two days with them and sort of had their stories translated. Some of their stories are so bizarre and off the wall. I can’t even begin to tell you…
Raygun, October 1995
David visited a psychiatric hospital with @dark_shark when developing this concept. They interviewed some very creative patients. A lot of their artwork was what they called "outside” which helped to contribute to the development of this album. #TimsTwitterListeningParty
— Mike Garson (@mikegarson) July 5, 2020
Bowie spoke about the visit to Gugging during the press launch for 1.Outside in London.
Gugging was an incredible experience. For those of you who maybe don’t know it, it’s a mental hospital, institution, on the outskirts of Vienna in Austria. A mutual friend of Brian Eno’s and myself, André Heller, who’s an artist and something of an entrepreneur, suggested we might like to do some work there or with the inmates or, somehow, he wanted us to go and see Gugging and see what’s going on. And what it is, it’s a hospital where a hundred percent of the inmates are involved in the visual arts. It was, I believe, an experiment that was set up in the mid 60s. Something like the mid 60s.
So many inmates in hospitals in and around Austria showed a proclivity for the visual arts that they thought it might be a good idea to give them their own wing where they could sort of examine and create things, and this is really the foundation of what’s subsequently become called ‘outsider art’. And we went to talked with the patients there and looked at what they were doing. It reminded me a lot, of course, of a museum in Switzerland called l’Art Brut, which is in Lausanne, that was started by Dubuffet, a similar source of ideas, I think. And I just like the sense of exploration and the lack of self-judgment about what the artists were doing, and it became one of the atmospheres for the album. I enjoyed it very much.
Prior to the 1.Outside recording sessions, Eno prepared materials to assist and encourage unorthodox creativity from the musicians. These included, in addition to his now-familiar Oblique Strategies decks of cards, personas for the musicians to adopt, cards indicating chords to play, and two experimental “games” for the musicians to play while working.
In the first game I gave each musician one of these role-sheets, but no one knew what instructions the others were operating under – so that individuals were in different cultural universes. Initially people got roles that related to the instruments, but for later improvisations I swapped them round (but again covertly). It wasn’t until afterwards that everyone found out where everyone else had been…
A Year (With Swollen Appendices)
The second experiment was titled ‘Notes on the vernacular music of the Acrux region’, and was, according to Eno, “an attempt to imagine a new musical culture, and to invent roles for musicians within it.” The full set of instructions was reproduced in Eno’s 1994 diary, and includes such instructions as:
It’s 2008. You are a musician in one of the new ‘Neo-Science’ bands, playing in an underground club in the Afro-Chinese ghetto in Osaka, not far from the university. The whole audience is high on ‘Dreamwater’, an auditory hallucinogen so powerful that it can be transmitted by sweat condensation alone. You are also feeling its effects, finding yourself fascinated by intricate single-note rhythm patterns, shard-like Rosetta-stone sonic hieroglyphs. You are in no particular key – making random bursts of data which you beam into the performance. You are lost in the abstracted rational beauty of a system no one else fully understands, sending out messages that can’t be translated. You are a great artist, and the audience is expecting something intellectually challenging from you.
As a kid, your favourite record (in your Dad’s record collection) was Trout Mask Replica.
A Year (With Swollen Appendices)
While these methods would have been not unfamiliar to Bowie, they were not received with the same enthusiasm from the other musicians, who had not previously encountered Eno in the studio. Particularly resistant was Erdal Kızılçay, who resented being directed to play a certain way.
He wrote me something like that I was an Arabic Sheik and I wanted to marry this guy’s daughter – so I needed to show him I can play psychedelic, arabesque funk. But I don’t need a letter to play Oriental stuff!
Starman, Paul Trynka
Eno wrote an exhaustive description of the music and musicians of the Sector Acrux, totalling 2,600 words. Whether this often-baffling screed was for the benefit of himself, the band or his diary’s readers remains uncertain, although it does provide illuminating insights into his working methods.
The studio musicians, in their Acrux personas, were given anagrammatical names: Elvas Ge’beer (Reeves Gabrels); G. Noisemark (Mike Garson); P. Maclert Singbell (Sterling Campbell); Azile Clark-Idy (Erdal Kızılçay). Eno was himself recast as Ann O’Brie:
The mythical Belgian-lrish expeditor Ann O’Brie, for example, is the source of many popular aphorisms, such as ‘The most brilliant must learn from the most benighted’, ‘The future will be like perfume’ and ‘He who lives by the condom shall die by the con dom.’ In performance, the expeditor will assume a variety of roles – dancing to indicate different inferences appearing in the painter’s verbal games, for example, or yelling urgent verbal instructions such as ‘HOLD!’ or ‘KEEP ON!’ or ‘EASY DOES IT!’ A popular expeditor’s comments are frequently met with enormous gales of applause from the audience, and they often achieve great popularity and adulation, for they are seen as repre senting the voice of the people.
A Year (With Swollen Appendices)
Bowie had his own creative aids, including a computer program which cut up and rearranged text into new patterns and forms. He had been using similar methods since the 1970s, as demonstrated in the 1974 BBC documentary Cracked Actor.
The computer program, co-created with Ty Roberts, and later refined as the Verbasizer, automated the process.
The 1997 documentary Inspirations, directed by Michael Apted, showed Bowie using the program on his black Apple PowerBook after the making of 1.Outside, ahead of his summer 1996 tour.
It’s a program that I’ve developed with a friend of mine from San Francisco, and it’s called the Verbasizer.
It’ll take the sentence, and I’ll divide it up between the columns, and then when I’ve got say, three or four or five – sometimes I’ll go as much as 20, 25 different sentences going across here, and then I’ll set it to randomize. And it’ll take those 20 sentences and cut in between them all the time, picking out, choosing different words from different columns, and from different rows of sentences.
So what you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other.
This is really interesting, and very nicely written. I have a very minor quibble. That “Ikon” quote is slightly wrong. “It was important for this town, this locale, to have a populous…” says Bowie.
The correct noun is “populace” – “populous” is a homophonic adjective that isn’t appropriate here.