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Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas ) is a deck of 7-by-9-centimeters (2.8 in × 3.5 in) printed cards in a black container box, [1] created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and first published in 1975. [2] Each card offers a challenging constraint to help artists (especially musicians) creative break blocks by encouraging lateral thinking .

Origin and history

In 1970, Peter Schmidt created “The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts”, [3] a box containing 55 sentences, which is still in the possession of Eno. Eno, who had known Schmidt since the late 1960s, had been pursuing a similar project in the past (“Oblique Strategies” in 1974). There was a significant overlap between the two projects, and so, in late 1974, Schmidt and Eno combined them into a single pack of cards and offered them for general sale. The set went through three limited printings before Schmidt suddenly died in early 1980, after which the card decks became rather rare and expensive. Sixteen years later software pioneerPeter Norton convinced Eno to let him create a fourth edition as a Christmas gifts for his friends. Eno’s decision to revisit the cards and his collaboration with Norton in their 1996 book A Year with Swollen Appendices . With 2001, Eno once again produced a new set of Oblique Strategies cards. The number and content of the cards. In May 2013 a limited edition of 500 boxes, in burgundy rather than black, was issued.

The whole story of Oblique Strategies, with the content of all the cards, is published in the authoritative document, put together by musician and educator Gregory Alan Taylor. [4]

The text of Schmidt’s “The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts” was published by Mindmade Books in 2012.

Design and use

Each card contains a sentence or cryptic remark which can be used to break a deadlock or dilemma situation. Some are specific to music composition; others are more general. Examples include:

  • Use an old idea.
  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
  • Only one element of each kind.
  • What would your closest friend do?
  • What to increase? What to reduce?
  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.
  • Try faking it!
  • Honor thy error as a hidden intention.
  • Ask your body.
  • Work at a different speed.

From the introduction to the 2001 edition:

These cards evolved from separate observations of the underlying principles. Sometimes they have been recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they have been identified as being happening, sometimes they have been formulated.

They can be used as a pack, or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear …

Cultural impact

Many references to Oblique Strategies exist in popular culture, notably in the movie Slacker , [5] in which a character offers passers-by cards from a deck. Strategies mentioned include “Honor thy error as a hidden intention”, “Looking closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify”, “Not building a wall, making a brick”, “Repetition is a form of change”, and one which came to “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.” This line was quoted in the 1994 song ” What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? ” By REM , who also mentioned Oblique Strategies in their 1998 song “. The Oblique Strategies are also referenced in comic 1018, “Oblique Angles,” [6] of popular web comics .

Other musicians inspired by Oblique Strategies include the British band Coldplay , said to have used the cards when recording their 2008 Brian Eno -produced album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and French band Phoenix , who used the cards when recording their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix . [7] German musician / composer Blixa Bargeld has a similar navigation system, called Dave. In their response to their song “Brian Eno”, from their album Congratulations , MGMT said they had a deck of Oblique Strategies in the studio, but they “do not know if [they] used them correctly.”

They Were MOST famously used by Eno During the recording of David Bowie ‘s Berlin triptych of albums ( Low , “Heroes” , Lodger ). Stories suggest they were used during the recording of instruments on “Heroes” such as ” Sense of Doubt ” and were used extensively on Lodger (” Fantastic Voyage “, ” Boys Keep Swinging “, “Red Money”). They were used again on Bowie’s 1995 album Outside, which Eno was involved with as a writer, producer and musician. Carlos Alomar, who worked with Eno and Bowie on these albums, was a fan on using the cards, later at the Center for Performing Arts at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where I teach Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies and when my students get a mental block, I immediately direct them to that wall. ” [8]

Editions and variations

Edition year No. Cards Edition of Notes
Original 1975 113 500 Individually numbered, and signed by Eno and Schmidt [9]
Second 1978 128 1,000 Available through Eno ‘s record label at the time, Opal Records [10] [11]
Third 1979 123 1,000 Advertised for sale in the EG Newsletter [12] and elsewhere [13]
French 1979 128 unknown Alain D’Hooghe translator; produced in association with an exhibition “More Than Nothing” by Schmidt & Eno [14] at the Paul Gallery in Brussels , February 1980 [15]
japanese n / A n / A n / A Although much-rumored to exist, no conclusive evidence has surfaced to confirm one was ever produced [16]
Fourth 1996 100 4,000 Produced by the Peter Norton family (with the blessing of Brian Eno) as Christmas presents for his friends and colleagues (ie not for commercial sale). [17] Unlike other editions, the cards feature translations to the other most common languages, [18] include artwork (by Pae White ) on the cards, and come in a molded white plastic container. [19] A handful of the cards are by new contributors ( Arto Lindsay , Ritva Saarikko, Dieter Rot , and Stewart Brand ).
Fifth 2001 113 + 2 informational unlimited Currently still on sale [20]
Sixth 2013 106 + 2 informational 500 Limited Edition in Burgundy Case [21]
Hypertext version 1995 unknown n / A By Cetacean Enterprises [22] for Mac software [23]
iPhone version 2013 unknown n / A Includes all five versions of Oblique Strategies [24]
Processing (programming language)version 2010 110 n / A Open-source plugin by David Wicks [25] for the Processing creative coding environment.

See also

  • Aleatoric music
  • Fluxus § Event score
  • I Ching
  • Lateral thinking
  • Water Yam (artist’s book)
  • More Dark Than Shark


  1. Jump up^ “Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies – The Ultimate Music Production Tool”. Productionadvice.co.uk. 2009-04-29 . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  2. Jump up^ “h2g2 – Oblique Strategies” . BBC . Retrieved 2013-03-14 .
  3. Jump up^ Emr, John (2010-03-09). “Peter Schmidt Web:” The Thoughts Behind the Thoughts ” ” . Peterschmidtweb.blogspot.com . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  4. Jump up^ “A Primer On Oblique Strategizing” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  5. Jump up^ “Slacker’s Oblique Strategy” . The Criterion Collection . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  6. Jump up^ “Oblique Angles” . Questionable Content .
  7. Jump up^ “Phoenix (interview with Thomas Mars)” . Ear Farm .
  8. Jump up^ “Carlos Alomar’s Golden Years with David Bowie (Interview)” . Rock Cellar Magazine . 11 February 2016 . Retrieved 11 February 2016 .
  9. Jump up^ “The Oblique Strategies Web Site” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  10. Jump up^ “Oblique Strategies” . Gruntose . Retrieved 2014-09-29 .
  11. Jump up^ “Edition 2 (1978)” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  12. Jump up^ personal collection
  13. Jump up^ “Edition 3 (1979)” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  14. Jump up^ “Brian Eno Is More Dark Than Shark” . Moredarkthanshark.org . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  15. Jump up^ “Consulting Other Sources” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  16. Jump up^ “Consulting Other Sources” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  17. Jump up^ “Edition 4 (1996)” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  18. Jump up^ “A New Appears Edition (in a limited way)” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  19. Jump up^ “Some Cards From Edition 4” . Rtqe.net . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  20. Jump up^ Brian Eno Official Store – enoshop.co.uk
  21. Jump up^ “Oblique Strategies Limited Numbered Edition” . Enoshop.co.uk . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  22. Jump up^ http://music.hyperreal.org/artists/brian_eno/obliquew.html
  23. Jump up^ “ObliqueWare review” . Music.hyperreal.org . Retrieved 2013-09-20 .
  24. Jump up^ https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-oblique-strategies/id638528266?mt=8
  25. Jump up^ https://github.com/sansumbrella/Processing-ObliqueStrategies