Berlin born British painter, theoretician of colour and composition Peter Schmidt had collaborated with many musicians and artists in his lifetime.
One particular collaboration worth noting is the one with English musician, composer, writer and visual artist Brian Eno. First published in 1975, the collaborators invented a special deck of cards they called the Oblique Strategies, subtitled: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas, contained in a mysterious black box. These are cards created for the purpose of stimulating artists in a moment of creative block, each card reads a sentence designed to give direction by means of lateral thinking.
Both artists simultaneously conceived of similar projects, aphorisms they wanted to remember in their creative processes, specially in the recording studio with a ticking clock. In 1970, Schmidt came up with “the thoughts behind the thoughts”, 55 printed phrases he progressively wrote down and let accumulate in the corners of his studio. Eno had written on bamboo cards, the same type of motivational messages in 1974. Eno would go to the studio with the following mantra: ” Honor thy error as a hidden intention”. Noticing that he liked certain elements like vocals being too loud on a track led him to believe that one should acknowledge one’s mistakes under a new light. It wasn’t what he intended but it didn’t make them wrong.
Accumulating such secret knowledges, the artists bound them into one volume to be commercialized soon after. Examples of the cards read: “Mute and continue”, “Decorate; Decorate”, “Change specifics to ambiguities”, “Shut the door and listen from outside”, “You are an engineer”, “Do nothing for as long as possible”, “Water”, “Question the heroic approach”, “Look at a very small object, look at its center”, “Courage!”, “Don’t be frightened of cliches”, “Ghost echoes”, “Idiot Glee”, “Bridges -build -burn”, “Look at the order in which you do things”, “Use an old idea”, “State the problem in words as clearly as possible”, “Only one element of each kind”, “Try faking it!”, “Ask your body” “Work at a different speed”.
The reason why they were laid out on cards and not given as a list is that one would directly jump to the sentence that was least disruptive. Whereas if you have to stick to the card you were given, a more interesting dynamic can emerge.
After three printed editions, Peter Norton, pioneer in the programming, software publishing world persuaded Eno to make a 4th online edition. This collaboration is described in the 1996 book “A year with Swollen Appendices”.