Brian Eno’s Ambient Album Music for Airports Performed by Musicians in an Airport

Ambi­ent Music must be able to accom­mo­date many lev­els of lis­ten­ing atten­tion with­out enforc­ing one in par­tic­u­lar; it must be as ignor­able as it is inter­est­ing.

In the orig­i­nal lin­er notes to Bri­an Eno’s found­ing doc­u­ment of Ambi­ent music — 1978’s Ambi­ent 1: Music for Air­ports — the artist explains that he named his genre after “an atmos­phere, or a sur­round­ing influ­ence: a tint. My inten­tion is to pro­duce orig­i­nal pieces osten­si­bly (but not exclu­sive­ly) for par­tic­u­lar times and sit­u­a­tions with a view to build­ing up a small but ver­sa­tile cat­a­logue of envi­ron­men­tal music suit­ed to a wide vari­ety of moods and atmos­pheres.”

In defin­ing “envi­ron­men­tal music,” Eno takes great pains to dis­tin­guish his new work from the mak­ers of Muzak. Rather than recre­at­ing the famil­iar with instru­men­tal schmaltz, and “strip­ping away all sense of doubt and uncer­tain­ty,” Ambi­ent should stim­u­late lis­ten­ers’ minds with­out dis­turb­ing or dis­tract­ing them, induc­ing “calm and a space to think.” Rolling Stone at the time coined the deri­sive, but not whol­ly inac­cu­rate, phrase “aes­thet­ic white noise.”

Reverb Machine painstak­ing­ly shows in a decon­struc­tion how Eno him­self intro­duced as much uncer­tain­ty into the com­po­si­tion­al process as pos­si­ble. Music for Air­ports is not, that is to say, a com­po­si­tion, but lay­ers of tape loops with snip­pets of record­ed music. These loops he set run­ning and “let them con­fig­ure in whichev­er way they want­ed to.” Act­ing as ini­tial selec­tor of sounds and engi­neer, Eno’s role as com­pos­er and play­er of the piece involved “hard­ly inter­fer­ing at all,” he’s said.

How could such a com­po­si­tion trans­late to a tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance set­ting, in which musi­cians, ele­vat­ed on a stage, play instru­ments for audi­ence mem­bers who face them, lis­ten­ing intent­ly? The sit­u­a­tion seems anti­thet­i­cal to Eno’s design. And yet, some­how, the musi­cians who make up the Bang on a Can All Stars ensem­ble have made it work beau­ti­ful­ly, per­form­ing Music for Air­ports’s first track, the non­de­script­ly named “1/1,” in an arrange­ment by the group’s Michael Gor­don, above, for an appre­cia­tive audi­ence at the San Diego Air­port Ter­mi­nal.

Bang on a Can is a group com­mit­ted, like Eno, to “mak­ing music new.” Since 1987, they have (unlike Eno) done so in a live per­for­mance-based way, hold­ing 12-hour marathon con­certs, for exam­ple. These per­for­mances have includ­ed their ren­di­tion of Music for Air­ports in full. The Vil­lage Voice described a 2007 per­for­mance in New York City for hun­dreds of atten­tive fans as “beau­ti­ful,” a word that often gets applied to Eno’s mas­ter­work of ran­dom­ness. Eno him­self described the results as “very, very nice,” and he’s maybe the last per­son to be sur­prised that a live per­for­mance of the first so-called Ambi­ent record works so well.

“The inter­est­ing thing is that it does­n’t sound at all mechan­i­cal as you would imag­ine,” he wrote of these ear­ly tape loop exper­i­ments. “It sounds like some guy is sit­ting there play­ing the piano with quite intense feel­ing. The spac­ing and dynam­ics of ‘his’ play­ing sound very well orga­nized.” See a quin­tet of “guys” just above — on cel­lo, bass, key­board, per­cus­sion, and gui­tar — recre­ate the mild­ly dis­joint­ed mood of stand­ing around in the lim­i­nal space of an air­port, for a crowd of peo­ple who, pre­sum­ably, came there for the express pur­pose of hear­ing back­ground music.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Explains the Ori­gins of Ambi­ent Music

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

The Ther­a­peu­tic Ben­e­fits of Ambi­ent Music: Sci­ence Shows How It Eas­es Chron­ic Anx­i­ety, Phys­i­cal Pain, and ICU-Relat­ed Trau­ma

Dis­cov­er the Ambi­ent Music of Hiroshi Yoshimu­ra, the Pio­neer­ing Japan­ese Com­pos­er

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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