Brian Eno debuted Music for Airports in 1978 and in terms of ambient music he’s been remaking it ever since. This groundbreaking album was both composed and left to chance. “Composed” in that for each piece Eno selected a number of notes and simple melodic fragments that would work together without dissonance. And "left to chance" because each fragment was given a tape loop of different length. Once Eno set the loops in motion, the piece created itself in all sorts of permutations and intersections.
Eno no longer uses tape loops, but he still believes in “generative music,” creating albums that are hour-long captures of randomly generated tones that could conceivably go on forever.
Dan Carr over at his site Reverb Machine has written a deconstruction of two of the four pieces on Music for Airports, reverse engineering them to figure out their original loops. And the best thing is, you can set the loops rolling and have your own version play out all day long if you wish.
The first, “2/1” is recognizable from the choral voices used in the score. Each loop contains one note sung for a whole bar, but the note and the length of the tape containing the bar changes. This is the most basic of all the four tracks, but there is something quite magical when all seven loops sync up.
The second “1/2” contains eight loops containing either a single piano note, a melodic phrase, or a glissando chord. (Although the article doesn’t mention it, it also contains the choral loops of “2/1”)
You can play the loops at Reverb Machine simply by clicking on the arrow beneath each bar, or at the bottom “play all” or “pause all.”
For musicians thinking they’d like to make their own loops and follow Eno’s methodology, Dan includes some instructions.
In the comments section, musician Glenn Sogge notes that he took the loops and created his own deconstructed take on Eno’s classic, Blooms Engulfing Deconstructed Airports, which you can play at the top of this post. As he explains, the piece started with downloading the WAV files from Reverb Machine’s post. Then:
Beside the 15 clips of voices and piano, 10 long loops were build from the 10 worlds of the Brian Eno & Peter Chilvers generative music app Bloom: 10 Worlds (Android Version). A mixture of improvised clip-launching and more stucture form resulted in 25 audio files that then mixed & mastered. In keeping with the Oblique Strategies dictum, “Honour thy error as hidden intention,” even a random phone notification sound has been left in.
What do you think of Sogge's tribute to the master? Let us know in the comments.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.