A Six-Hour Time-Stretched Version of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports: Meditate, Relax, Study

Writ­ing in his 1995 diary about his sem­i­nal ambi­ent album Music for Air­ports, Eno remem­bered his ini­tial thoughts going into it: “I want to make a kind of music that pre­pares you for dying–that doesn’t get all bright and cheer­ful and pre­tend you’re not a lit­tle appre­hen­sive, but which makes you say to your­self, ‘Actu­al­ly, it’s not that big a deal if I die.’”

Cre­at­ed in 1978 from sec­onds-long tape loops from a much longer improv ses­sion with musi­cians includ­ing Robert Wyatt, Music for Air­ports start­ed the idea of slow, media­tive music that aban­doned typ­i­cal major and minor scales, brought in melod­ic ambi­gu­i­ty, and began the explo­ration of sounds that were designed to exist some­where in the back­ground, beyond the scope of full atten­tion.

For those who think 50 min­utes is too short and those piano notes too rec­og­niz­able, may we sug­gest this 6‑hour, time-stretched ver­sion of the album, cre­at­ed by YouTube user “Slow Motion TV.” The tonal field is the same, but now the notes are no attack, all decay. It’s gran­u­lar as hell, but you could imag­ine the whole piece unspool­ing unno­ticed in a ter­mi­nal while a flight is delayed for the third time. (Maybe that’s when the accep­tance of death hap­pens, when you’ve giv­en up on ever get­ting home?)

Unlike Music for Films, which fea­tured sev­er­al tracks Eno had giv­en to film­mak­ers like Derek Jar­man, it took some time for Music for Air­ports to be real­ized in its intend­ed loca­tion: being piped in at a ter­mi­nal at La Guardia, New York, some­time in the 1980s. And that was just a one-time thing.

The album seemed des­tined for per­son­al use only, but then in 1997 the mod­ern ensem­ble Bang on a Can played it live, trans­lat­ing the ran­dom­ness of out of sync tape loops into music nota­tion. Over the years they’ve per­formed it at air­ports in Brus­sels, Hol­land and Liv­er­pool, and in 2015 the group brought it to Ter­mi­nal 2 of San Diego Inter­na­tion­al. Writ­ing for KCET, Alex Zaragoza report­ed that “cry­ing babies, echoes of rolling suit­cas­es and board­ing pass­es serv­ing as tick­ets to the con­cert failed to remind any­one that they were, indeed, at one of the busiest air­ports in the coun­try. Even the tell­tale announce­ments were there: Air­port secu­ri­ty is every­one’s respon­si­bil­i­ty. Do not leave bags unat­tend­ed.”

And then in 2018, Lon­don City Air­port played the orig­i­nal album in a day-long long loop for the album’s 40th anniver­sary.

As site-spe­cif­ic mul­ti-media art builds pop­u­lar­i­ty in the 21st cen­tu­ry with increas­ing­ly cheap­er and small­er tech­nol­o­gy, we might hope to hear ambi­ent drones, and not clas­sic rock or pop, in more and more land­scapes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Behold the Orig­i­nal Deck of Oblique Strate­gies Cards, Hand­writ­ten by Bri­an Eno Him­self

Bri­an Eno Explains the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

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.

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