Deconstructing Brian Eno’s Music for Airports: Explore the Tape Loops That Make Up His Groundbreaking Ambient Music

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The “True” Sto­ry Of How Bri­an Eno Invent­ed Ambi­ent Music

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 and/or watch his films here.

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