Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) is a deck of 7 by 9 centimetres (2.8 in × 3.5 in) printed cards in a black container box, created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and first published in 1975. Each card offers an aphorism intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.
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.
Many references to Oblique Strategies exist in popular culture, notably in the film Slacker, in which a character offers passers-by cards from a deck. Strategies mentioned include “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 one which came to be seen as a summary of the film’s ethos (though it was not part of the official set of Oblique Strategies), “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.” This line was quoted in the 1994 song “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M., who also mentioned Oblique Strategies in their 1998 song “Diminished” from the album Up.
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. In response to their song “Brian Eno”, from their album Congratulations, MGMT has said they had a deck of Oblique Strategies in the studio, but they “don’t 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 instrumentals on “Heroes” such as “Sense of Doubt” and were utilized more extensively on Lodger (“Fantastic Voyage”, “Boys Keep Swinging”, “Red Money”).
You can buy your own limited edition, numbered set right here.