Released: 14 October 1977
Brian Eno: synthesizer
The first instrumental on David Bowie’s “Heroes” album, ‘Sense Of Doubt’ was composed using Oblique Strategies cards.
I don’t understand “Heroes”… It’s something that’s derived through process and method, with absolutely no idea of the consequences and no preconceptions of any kind.
NME, 12 November 1977
Oblique Strategies, subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas, is a deck of cards designed to promote creativity, designed by Brian Eno and multimedia artist Peter Schmidt. Each card conveys an instruction or constraint intended to encourage lateral thinking and open up new options in the creative process.
We used Oblique Strategies a lot – ‘Sense Of Doubt’ was done almost entirely using the cards – and we did talk about work-methods, but no I don’t think we have that much in common [in terms of creative approach]. But that’s fine, so long as there’s give and take.
NME, 3 December 1977
The first deck was published in 1975 (500 copies), with second and third editions in 1978 and 1979 (both 2,500 copies). Peter Schmidt died in 1980, and the early editions became collector’s items. Further print runs followed in subsequent years, along with digital versions.
In the studio
On ‘Sense Of Doubt’, effective sounds were made organically by dragging a guitar pick slowly along a guitar string with David doubling it by imitating that sound in the back of his throat.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
‘Sense Of Doubt’ features no musicians other than Bowie and Eno. The piece was built around a descending sequence of four notes. Prior to recording each overdub, the musicians would draw a new card and execute the instruction, not revealing it to the other.
It was like a game. We took turns working on it; he’d do one overdub and I’d do the next. The idea was that each was to observe his Oblique Strategy as closely as he could. And, as it turned out, they were entirely opposed to one another. Effectively mine said, “Try to make everything as similar as possible” … and his said, “Emphasize differences”.
On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno, David Sheppard
‘Beauty And The Beast’ was the album’s second single, the follow-up to the title track. It was released in January 1978 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the USA, and in April in the Netherlands. In all instances ‘Sense Of Doubt’ was the b-side.
On 1 October 1977, David Bowie performed “Heroes” and ‘Sense Of Doubt’ on the Italian television show L’Altra Domenica (The Other Sunday). He was also interviewed by Fiorella Gentile.
‘Sense Of Doubt’ was performed throughout the Isolar II Tour in 1978. Recordings from that year can be heard on the live albums Stage and Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78), and on Live In Berlin (1978), the limited-edition mini-album sold at New York’s David Bowie Is exhibition.
Tony Visconti mixed the Stage recordings in May 1978 at his Good Earth Studios in London. He made the decision to mostly omit audience noise during the performances, keeping it mainly between the songs. This, he said, was in part because audience members occasionally disrupted the instrumental songs from Low and “Heroes”.
The audience, I must admit, got a bit raucous during these performances and that was too distracting (check out the “boo” at the beginning of ‘Sense Of Doubt’) – this type of realism didn’t work (not that there was a lot, but it was distracting enough to mar the recording). I just used the audience tracks in the intros and endings to prove that they were there, but cut them completely during the bulk of the recording. The sound was so pristine that we were accused of substituting studio recordings for these. I can assure you that they were totally live and very difficult to play, deserving clean sound unfettered from jeers.
Sean Mayes played piano and keyboards on the tour. In his memoir he mentioned the reception to ‘Sense Of Doubt’ at the tour’s second show in Osaka, Japan, in December 1978.
The show that night was livelier people threw streamers and there seemed to be quite a few gays. Dennis decorated his face with Red Indian-style warpaint. The crowd were certainly more responsive and there was even applause for the start of ‘Sense Of Doubt’! David spoke a few words of Japanese which produced a noisy response.
Life on Tour with Bowie