I have to confess I am old enough to vividly remember how Roxy Music made its entry into the pop music scene. It must have been early in the seventies, the steam machine had just been invented and most homes were still lighted by candles. Ceramics teacher Brian Ferry thought the moment was right to create an entirely new band, as an eclectic mix of post-modern noise, absurd and yet semi-literary lyrics, powerhouse glam rock and a totally over-the-top visual presentation.
Now why had nobody thought of that before?
Quite an innovative band they were, and with classics as Virginia Plane and Do the Strand (“It’s the new way, that’s why we say, do the strand”) they shook the fundaments of the establishment. Undoubtedly, the most eye-catching band member was Brian Eno – sort of a 70’s version of Lord of the Rings’ Legolas – who produced the weirdest sounds out of a primeval synthesizer. It’s this same Eno who – 35 years later – has created a spectacular digital work of art that is both a great illustration of the power of mashing up through new technology and, even more important, contains an important innovation lesson: don’t just try to improve or renew what you were already doing, reinvent your fundaments instead. These are the real breakthroughs.
Let me explain.
Eno’s 77 Million Paintings is actually one big, virtual Pandora ’s Box, full of hand-painted elements that are randomly combined through a generative computer program and then displayed on the screen. Using smart lighting and fading techniques, the result is a gradually changing painting that never looks the same, not even if the software runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: you are not likely to run into duplicates with 77 million potential permutations. The accompanying sounds are thin, ambient elements that are also combined on the spot into unique soundscapes.
I guess at this point, it is no longer necessary to argue that 77 Million Paintings is such a good illustration of the power of mashing up flexible components, enabled by leading-edge technology (noteworthy is that Eno uses pretty standard, off-the-shelf software such as Macromedia’s Flash and Photoshop)? Definitely a good, metaphorical help for lonely IT experts that struggle with bringing the essence of Service Oriented Architecture into the limelight.
Equally well, Eno shows us how business models sometimes can only be innovated by radically challenging the most basic, established principles. Technology as the wedge that creates sweeping innovations: without it, IT would be so much more boring. Every now and then, we should not be paving the cow path. Instead, we should be utilising the capabilities of new technology to its full extent. Without compromises, without sticking to our unshakeable beliefs.
Then all of a sudden, paintings turn out to be living, evolving works of art. Something the Old Masters certainly never have foreseen. And even so, the financial administration can close its books every day, premises full of warehouses turn out to be obsolete and civilians never have to fill in tax forms again. As long as we dare to break with what we consider as established and stable, inspired by the potential of new technology.
Need a mental anchor to hold on to this positive, upward spirit? To watch 77 Million Paintings you don’t have to go to that avant-garde art gallery anymore. Just order the DVD on the Internet, nice to visit a good, old e-commerce site anyway. Run the program on a flat display in your workshop room, and you have a topic of discussion and inspiration for the entire day. Guaranteed to work better than yet another digital fire or aquarium and it’s actually amazing, often great looking art. Or put the display in the lobby of your office, just to remind everyone that the organisation – like a true Perpetual Delta – changes every minute.
All this thanks to Eno, or Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, as his full name is. The urge to combine is probably something genetic.