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From Roxy Music to the cure? Brian Eno composes soundscapes to treat hospital patients

  • @adamsherwin10

He is a multi-media innovator, an app-creating visual sculptor and the intellectual guru to rock legends seeking inspiration.

Now Brian Eno is to help improve the nation’s health after designing an ambient “healing environment” which will be incorporated into new hospitals so that patients can recuperate to a backdrop of soothing light and sound.

Eno, the former Roxy Music member who produced landmark albums for David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2, will today unveil two individual light and sound installations at the newly-opened Montefiore Hospital in Hove, east Sussex.

The £35 million hospital is the first to incorporate Eno’s installations, which aim to evoke a “serene atmosphere” and enhance the hospital’s “three dimensional, all-embracing means of treating patients”, in its architectural design.

Often cited as the inventor of “ambient music”, Eno, 64, has created “77 Million Paintings for Montefiore”, an installation of light and “generative music” in the reception area. Eno’s “generative music” employs an electronic system so that the sounds are constantly changing and never repeat.

Eno has also created “Quiet Room for Montefiore”, a space available downstairs to patients, visitors and staff as a place to “escape” – “somewhere to think, take stock or simply relax.”

Here Eno decided that generative music would not be suitable so he has recorded a special soundtrack and created a light installation specifically for the space.

Eno, who previously created a soundtrack to enhance the airport experience for jittery fliers, was asked to provide installations by Robin Turner, a local surgeon, after this wife had spent two hours immersed in the quiet serenity of one of the producer’s installations.

The hospital, which takes 30 per cent of patients from National Health Service GP referrals, agreed that an installation could have a well-being effect on staff and patients.

Architects IBI Nightingale said: “Creating a healing environment isn’t only about correct surgical procedures and the right technology but also about making an atmosphere where the patients feel able to relax enough to clearly think through their options, and to properly take part in the healing process themselves.”

Eno hopes to create more hospital healing zones. A spokesman for Eno said: “Since word about this broke in the architectural world there have been four different architects who work specifically in the design of hospitals who have expressed particular interest in Brian’s installations. I believe they have already visited the Montefiore Hospital.  Brian may well get involved with more hospitals.”

Research has provided evidence that the use of art and music can produce improved psychological, physiological and biological outcomes of clinical significance in patient care.

Eno was directly inspired by Florence Nightingale, the spokesman added, who observed in 1859 that “variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients have a powerful effect and are actual means of recovery.”

The reception installation is designed to demonstrate that “patient care” starts as soon as staff and patients pass through the hospital doors.

However hardcore Eno fans, who have followed his 40 year career as a cultural innovator, may have to suffer a medical misfortune in order to hear his latest work. His spokesman said: “It’s true to say that ‘The Quiet Room for Montefiore’ is an album that can only be heard in the Montefiore Hospital”.

Brian Eno’s innovations:

Music For Airports

Aggravated by muzak at JFK, nervous flyer Eno composed an album soundtrack using tape loops designed to soothe passengers. The first “ambient music” was installed at La Guardia airport in New York in 1980 but Eno complained when Sao Paulo airport blasted his sounds at excruciating volume.

Oblique Strategies

A deck of 55 cards, containing cryptic instructions such as “only one element of each kind”, designed to help musicians overcome creative block in the studio. Oblique Strategies has helped David Bowie and Coldplay formulate lyrics. Eno produced a new set of cards in 2001.

Long Now Foundation

Director of a project which aims to peer into the future of humanity by building a clock which will operate for 10,000 years. Eno has composed a chime sequence for the 61-metre timekeeper being built in West Texas with $42m funding from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

App creator

Created Scape, a “generative” music app, which allows users to create their own music by arranging icons on the screen. Each icon plays different sounds and each will alter what it plays depending on the other elements you choose. Has the potential to change how we listen to music, says Eno.

Switching on Microsoft

Eno created the brief wash of sound when Windows 95 starts up. Microsoft asked for a sound which was “inspirational, sexy, driving, provocative, nostalgic, sentimental…and 3.8 seconds long.” Eno, who admitted “I wrote it on a Mac”, said “It's like making a tiny little jewel.”


A California university charged $100 to attend a lecture by Eno, who is an in-demand speaker. Topics can veer from his self-generating art installations via “cellular automata”, an explication of a Danish town’s waterworks and haircuts, “a little artwork that everyone carries around on their head.”