Oblique Strategies....

June 23, 2011 2:02 AM

Came across a reference to this the other day and followed up. Wikipedia succinctly elucidates thus: "Oblique Strategies (subtitled over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas) is a set of published cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt first published in 1975, and is now in its fifth, open ended, edition. Each card contains a phrase 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! - Honour thy error as a hidden intention. - Ask your body. - Work at a different speed. Here's a clip of Eno explaining matters to the thoroughly splendid Mr Jarvis Cocker. There's also this website that allows you access to randomly selected cards.

From the introduction to the 2001 edition:

These cards evolved from separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognised in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were identified as they were happening, sometimes they were 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...

I'm good with that. However at £30 a pop (what's that - about 50 bucks?) I'll stick with the website randomiser for now.
posted by MajorDundee (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

The website is great. Thank you, Major. I can almost imagine an album entitled 'oblique strategies' which begins with a piece and then mutates it according to the strategies, one by one.

Ha -- probably a challenge, no?
posted by unSane at 7:32 PM on June 23, 2011

Frankly, I'm surprised this hasn't come up before. They're extremely useful for improvisation.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 7:43 PM on June 23, 2011

I have an iPhone app with them, but the one I have appears not to exist anymore.
posted by dnash at 8:51 PM on June 23, 2011

Ha -- probably a challenge, no?
Yes indeed. Except.......how would could we make that work simply? Not easy. These cards are essentially about unlocking problems and creative blockages etc. In themselves they may just be a bunch of rather gnomic expressions or aphorisms that have no specific meaning or relevance outside of a "problem solving" context?

(sits back, steeples fingers, stares at screen ruminatively) So.........one way to make this work as a challenge might be to upload an unfinished track by someone (anyone) and then challenge people to finish the track by using the cards. "Finishing" might mean re-ordering, rewriting, remixing, looping, editing, whatever. That's rather neat even if I say so myself.

Basically this challenge will only work effectively imho if there's a clearly defined problem to solve.
posted by MajorDundee at 5:16 AM on June 24, 2011

should have qualified that...if there's a clearly defined problem to solve and a common point of reference.
posted by MajorDundee at 5:19 AM on June 24, 2011

I can almost imagine an album entitled 'oblique strategies' which begins with a piece and then mutates it according to the strategies, one by one.

Well, what are you waiting for? That's a great idea! Would also apply in writing fiction perhaps? I could equally imagine a computer game called Oblique Strategies that uses the cards to determine future "events" within the game. Imagine too a movie or play where the audience could play a card at key points and determine what happens in the following scenes. Obviously an audience of one! Interesting idea but a total commercial flop.

note to self - must remember to take medication...
posted by MajorDundee at 5:28 AM on June 24, 2011

Basically this challenge will only work effectively imho if there's a clearly defined problem to solve.

Yeah, exactly. Something very simple to begin with.
posted by unSane at 5:32 AM on June 24, 2011

dnash: "I have an iPhone app with them, but the one I have appears not to exist anymore."

Consider transitions.
posted by vanar sena at 8:42 AM on June 24, 2011

Thanks for posting this btw, I'd never seen these before.
posted by vanar sena at 8:44 AM on June 24, 2011

I've always liked the idea of Oblique Strategies, though I never picked up an actual set of cards.

When we first started doing Music Challenges lo those many years ago, I favored very simple thematic ideas: just pick a single word or phrase, like "water" or "snake", and leave it up to the musician to figure out how to take that and run with it. I liked the free form interpretive nature of that in the same way that I like the OS stuff, how it's less of a clear imperative like "do thing x or in style y" and more of a prompt to come up with your own challenge and then fulfill that.

But at the same time that can be less helpful to someone looking for a kick in the pants than an explicit "do thing x" challenge, which was a definite disadvantage and is a big part of why we've ended up more in the imperative territory of contemporary challenges. There's a lot of value in not having to say "yes thanks but what should I do?" to some cryptic non-answer of a prompt if you're looking for motivation rather than introspective puzzling.

I don't know. It's interesting stuff, different ways of looking at things. Oblique Strategies is great because it gives you such a random, free-form opportunity to attack a problem from a new direction when you're feeling stuck; but it's also free-form and non-committal and random enough that it wouldn't be out of line to see it as basically handwavey bullshit if you don't buy in to the idea.
posted by cortex at 9:22 AM on June 24, 2011

cortex: " it wouldn't be out of line to see it as basically handwavey bullshit if you don't buy in to the idea."

I know what you mean. I clearly remember the homicidal fury I felt the first time someone saw me struggling with a problem and said, "think laterally!" It's odd that I don't feel that way about these. I guess they fall somewhere near a magic 8 ball on the continuum.
posted by vanar sena at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2011

What intrigues me is that I was fully expecting someone to pretty quickly come back with the equivalent of a yawn, saying "Oh that old bullshit - where have you been Dundee?". But apparently not.

Personally I'm naturally sceptical about any kind of psychobabbly/mystical/snake oil hippy bollocks or, worse, the-latest-management-school schtick - and prima facie this smacks of all of that. It's got that beads, chunky sweaters and shower-aversion feel to it - all a bit too WOMAD for a cynical bastard like me. But it resonates because I've kind of naturally arrived at the same conclusion in terms of unblocking creative brick walls. That is - there are several ways up or round the mountain.

And I'm increasingly an admirer of Brian Eno. Not for his music as such, but for his attitude and approach and sheer creative intelligence. He's had a hand in a lot of really important music over the last 30 years or so. A seriously cool dude. So when he has something to say - I listen.
posted by MajorDundee at 1:01 PM on June 24, 2011

WOMAD - LOL, no-one will have the faintest idea what you are on about, Major, except me.

WOMAD 85 - Mersea Island - The Fall, New Order, A Certain Ratio, James, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Thomas Mapfumo, Toots and the Maytals, The Pogues, The Go-Betweens.

We drove there in my Hillman Hunter which was the color of baked beans. Of course it pissed down and the lovely girl I was sharing a tent with turned out to, um, swing the other way. And I forgot my sleeping bag and had to sleep under a ratty old trenchcoat. But still awesome.

Thomas Mapfumo, man. He was the highlight.
posted by unSane at 1:25 PM on June 24, 2011

Hillman Hunter* - lol. Mine was a mustard/excrement brownish yellow Morris Marina*. In truth I love WOMAD. Last time I went in 2009 I came across a great Argentinian artist called Daniel Melinga who I'd heartily recommend checking out. Terrific.

For those bewildered by yet another arcane reminiscence from myself and unSane, WOMAD is an acronym. It stands for World of Music, Arts and Dance. Comprises various festivals across the world, and inspired the RealWorld label. Started by Peter Gabriel whose words sum it up for me "I challenge anyone to come to a WOMAD festival and not be really excited or inspired by at least one thing".

* these are ghastly British cars of the late 70's/early '80's.
posted by MajorDundee at 3:25 PM on June 24, 2011

Correction - Daniel Melingo. (not Melinga)
posted by MajorDundee at 3:28 PM on June 24, 2011

Actually I really loved my Hillman Hunter - my first car. I can remember buying it for, I dunno, a hundred quid and just standing there and staring at it, thinking 'this is the largest object I have ever bought', amazed at the amount of rubber and metal I now owned. I never tired of that vehicle.
posted by unSane at 8:51 PM on June 24, 2011

My first was a knackered Mini - the floor was so rusted that you could see the road through parts of it. And one of the headlights tended to rotate eccentrically through points of the compass as you drove along which made for an interesting show at night. Other dirvers, strangely, didn't seem to appreciate it.
posted by MajorDundee at 8:15 AM on June 25, 2011

Oblique Strategies are great for when you're *stuck* - I've used them when mixing/arranging (an area that is not my strength), and the results were always good and satisfying. Our brains seem to take the card's advice and then apply it to the area of the work that needs the most help.

I could see these being used for a theme & variations, or some sort of piece with sections...

The first card I got was "voice your suspicions," which makes me think I should get an a capella of Ke$ha's Tik Tok and then make it a duet in which I advise her on the dangers of her bacchanalian lifestyle....

Then for the next section, "Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame." Hhhmmm....Perhaps 30 seconds of noisy flanger over no audio...Like Cage's 4" 33' of silence...Instead of Ke$ha, I'll create ¢age...
posted by audiodidactic at 4:08 AM on June 27, 2011

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