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Created: 22nd September 2001
Oblique Strategies
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Flashes of Inspiration

The first edition of Oblique Strategies were published in 1975 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Two more editions were published prior to 1980. They were published in the form of a deck of cards. Upon each card was printed one of the many observations Eno and Schmidt had made during their work together. These observations were found to be principles underlying their efforts and accomplishments, based upon intuition and intellect. The early editions were relatively simple. The cards were about three inches by four inches, solid black on one side, and each card had one maxim or saying printed in undramatic ten point sans serif font face. Each deck came in a small black box with "Oblique Strategies.. Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt" printed on the box. Only 150 of the first edition were made. The other two editions were only a bit more aggressively produced, perhaps five hundred to a thousand copies exist today worldwide.

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt were long-time friends and collaborators on many creative, engineering projects. In 1980, Peter Schmidt met an untimely death in Spain, which unceremoniously ended their collaboration, and for many years Brian Eno refused to continue public work on Oblique Strategies, in honor of his fallen friend. He remained the curator, but it seemed to somehow profit or commercially make the Oblique Strategies available without his friend there to share the joy with him... Well, anything further on that would be speculation based on uncertain assumptions. Suffice it to say the Oblique Strategies have become quite rare and obscure, and the deck of cards itself never achieved mainstream popularity.

However, for Christmas of 1996 Eno decided to work with a gentleman named Peter Norton and his family. They published one final official edition. They made the cards much more elaborate, with more colorful and inspiring designs on each card. The rules were also written in several different languages on each card. There were only 4000 copies of this fourth edition made, and they were presented privately to friends. It is believed this final deck has reached throughout the world, but it is nearly impossible to attain a copy, as they were not intended for the public. Other names who contributed to the fourth edition include: Arto Lindsay, Ritva Saarikko, Dieter Rot, and Stewart Brand. Eno has contemplated the Oblique Strategies occasionally since. He published a diary once which included contemplations of other aphorisms that he considered including in some future version, if ever he felt compelled to do so. As of this writing, he still has not.

Others have also contemplated such additions, most notably the Whole Earth Catalog. The Oblique Strategies were also mentioned briefly in the 1991 film Slacker directed by Richard Linklatter. However, so was a Madonna pap smear, so I'm not sure how notable the Oblique Strategies being mentioned in the film Slacker might be, come to think of it. To be fair to the film, it did mention in the dialogue five of the Oblique Strategies' maxims: "Honor thy error as a hidden intention," "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify," "Not building a wall; making a brick," Repetition is a form of change," and "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy."


Throughout the world people have realized a universality among these word combinations: they speak to the mind, to the heart and to the gut. Whatever obstacles a person may find in their life, meditating on one of these strategies can help a person focus towards their goal. These oblique strategies never provide answers, but they give a person impetus to look somewhere they hadn't thought of looking before. It's like having someone look over your shoulder and point out something you overlooked.

One can mull over the entire list of possibilites and choose the one most appropriate to the moment. One can opt to have a specific personal life issue in mind, or just attempt to grok the wisdom of the list as a whole without a personal issue upon which to reflect. However, we all have issues of one form or another, and exploring the list, most individuals will hear one cry out to them as words of hope, or opportunities to open the mind and think outside the box. These strategies were generally inspired by engineers and creative artists, but they speak to the entire spectrum of mankind, from architects to zoologists, and everyone in between.

Traditionally, the strategies are seen separately, on cards. An individual holds the deck in hand, contemplates a personal issue of any kind, and draws a single card from a shuffled deck. If only one card is selected, the proper procedure is to trust implicitly the advice of that strategy, even if its validity to the moment is unclear. One can choose to select more than one card as separate words of advice, or buffer it with the original situation.

"They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident." - Brian Eno

The future of this project is unclear, but it should be pointed out that each of the decks also included blank cards, encouraging the possessor of each deck to add their own thoughts and observations to the deck. It can be surmised that this project does not have to end with the untimely passing of Peter Schmidt, but that each person can opt to create their own deck from scratch, using Eno and Schmidt's axioms as a starting point and adding their own at their leisure.

The List

I do this with hesitation. The following list is unarguably copyrighted by Brian Eno himself, and will no doubt be removed from this guide entry by some uninspired lawyer. The intent of this document is not to gain financially at the expense of anyone, but to spread the knowledge of this little known but really keen neato cool idea. Furthermore, since Mr. Eno has had a quarter of a century to make this project commercially available to the masses, and has yet to do so, one can easily surmise he never will. So we're not hurting anybody here.

The following list is a condensed version of all four of the original versions, and also includes examples from Brian Eno's own publically published diary, as well as a version made public by the Whole Earth Catalog. It should be pointed out that there were several minor differences between each of the four official editions. Also, any two people would look at this list and go, "what's that one doing there," or "I know you like this one but I prefer that one." So part of the fun of this list is the endless discussion and interpretation it can stir between friends, especially if they've all recently lubricated themselves on alcohol.

There are close to two hundred examples in all, and a person reading this may opt to make their own makeshift version of the Oblique Strategies deck by purchasing some index cards and writing the following down by hand. Adding to or removing them as one so desires.

(Organic) machinery
A line has two sides
A very small object -Its centre
Abandon desire
Abandon normal instructions
Accept advice
Adding on
Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)
Always first steps
Always give yourself credit for having more than personality
Always the first steps
Are there sections? Consider transitions
Ask people to work against their better judgement
Ask your body
Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group
Back up a few steps. What else could you have done?
Balance the consistency principle with the inconsistency principle
Be dirty
Be extravagant
Be less critical more often
Breathe more deeply
Bridges -build -burn
Call your mother and ask her what to do.
Change ambiguities to specifics
Change instrument roles
Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency
Change specifics to ambiguities
Children's voices -speaking -singing
Cluster analysis
Consider different fading systems
Consider transitions
Consult other sources -promising -unpromising
Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element
Cut a vital connection
Decorate, decorate
Define an area as `safe' and use it as an anchor
Describe the landscape in which this belongs. (9 August)
Destroy nothing; Destroy the most important thing
Discard an axiom
Disciplined self-indulgence
Disconnect from desire
Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them
Discover your formulas and abandon them
Display your talent
Distorting time
Do nothing for as long as possible
Do something boring
Do something sudden, destructive and unpredictable
Do the last thing first
Do the washing up
Do the words need changing?
Do we need holes?
Don't avoid what is easy
Don't be afraid of things because they're easy to do
Don't be frightened of cliches
Don't be frightened to display your talents
Don't break the silence
Don't stress one thing more than another
Emphasize differences
Emphasize repetitions
Emphasize the flaws
Faced with a choice, do both
Feed the recording back out of the medium
Feedback recordings into an acoustic situation
Fill every beat with something
Find a safe part and use it as an anchor
First work alone, then work in unusual pairs.
From nothing to more than nothing
Get your neck massaged
Ghost echoes
Give the game away
Give way to your worst impulse
Go outside. Shut the door.
Go slowly all the way round the outside
Go to an extreme, move back to a more comfortable place
How would someone else do it?
How would you explain this to your parents?
How would you have done it?
Humanize something that is free of error.
Idiot glee (?)
Imagine the music as a moving chain or caterpillar
Imagine the music as a series of disconnected events
In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly
Infinitesimal gradations
Instead of changing the thing, change the world around it.
Intentions -credibility of -nobility of -humility of
Into the impossible
Is it finished?
Is something missing?
Is the intonation correct?
Is the style right?
Is the tuning appropriate?
Is the tuning intonation correct?
Is there something missing?
It is quite possible (after all)
It is simply a matter or work
Just carry on
Left channel, right channel, centre channel
List the qualities it has. List those you'd like.
Listen in total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly
Listen to the quiet voice
Look at a very small object, look at its centre
Look at the order in which you do things
Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify.
Lost in useless territory
Lowest common denominator check -single beat -single note -single riff
Magnify the most difficult details
Make a blank valuable by putting it in an excquisite frame
Make a sudden, destructive unpredictable action; incorporate
Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the last thing on the list
Make it more sensual
Make what's perfect more human
Mechanize something idiosyncratic
Move towards the unimportant
Mute and continue
Not building a wall but making a brick
Once the search has begun, something will be found
Only a part, not the whole
Only one element of each kind
Overtly resist change
Pae White's non-blank graphic metacard
Pay attention to distractions
Picture of a man spotlighted
Put in earplugs
Question the heroic approach
Remember those quiet evenings
Remove a restriction
Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics
Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
Remove the middle, extend the edges
Repetition is a form of change
Retrace your steps
Revaluation (a warm feeling)
Short circuit (example; a man eating peas with the idea that they will improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)
Shut the door and listen from outside
Simple subtraction
Simply a matter of work
Slow preparation, fast execution
Spectrum analysis
State the problem in words as simply as possible
Steal a solution.
Take a break
Take away as much mystery as possible. What is left?
Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance
Take away the important parts
Tape your mouth
The inconsistency principle
The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten
The tape is now the music
Think - inside the work -outside the work
Think of the radio
Tidy up
Towards the insignificant
Trust in the you of now
Try faking it
Turn it upside down
Twist the spine
Use "unqualified" people.
Use an old idea
Use an unacceptable color
Use cliches
Use fewer notes
Use filters
Use something nearby as a model
Use your own ideas
Voice your suspicions
What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving
What context would look right?
What do you do? Now, what do you do best?
What else is this like?
What is the reality of the situation?
What is the simplest solution?
What mistakes did you make last time?
What most recently impressed you? How is it similar? What can you learn from it? What could you take from it?
What to increase? What to reduce? What to maintain?
What were the branch points in the evolution of this entity
What were you really thinking about just now? Incorporate
What would make this really successful?
What would your closest friend do?
What wouldn't you do?
When is it for? Who is it for?
Where is the edge?
Which parts can be grouped?
Who would make this really successful?
Work at a different speed
Would anyone want it?
You are an engineer
You can only make one dot at a time
You don't have to be ashamed of using your own ideas
Your mistake was a hidden intention

For more information, try or go to any Internet search engine and type in "Oblique Strategies." You might get lucky.

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Edited by:

Zach Garland


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Oblique StrategiesMay 24, 2009


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