Tuesday, July 9, 2013

music for airports

Brian Eno pioneered ambient music with the soaring soothing soundscapes of this meditative masterwork.  After he was hit by a taxi in 1975, Eno was bedridden for several months.  It was during this time that he began to develop the concept of an unobtrusive 'environmental music'.  He experimented with it first with 'Discreet Music'but didn't coin the term 'ambient' until 'Ambient 1:  Music For Airports'.  In the liner notes, he explains:    "The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. in the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces - familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention.  Over the past three years, I have become interested in the use of music as ambience, and have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in any way compromised. To create a distinction between my own experiments in this area and the products of the various purveyors of canned music, I have begun using the term Ambient Music.  An ambience is defined as 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 environmentalmusic suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres.  Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Musicretains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to `brighten' the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.  Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

'Music For Airports' was inspired by an extended layover at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany where Eno found himself annoyed by the musical atmosphere.  The album features Brian Eno on synthesizer, electric piano, production, and engineering; with Robert Wyatt on acoustic piano; and vocals by Christa Fast, Christine Gomez, and Inge Zeininger; with additional engineering by Dave Hutchins, Conny Plank, and Rhett Davies.  

'Music For Airports' makes extensive use of tape loops with other instruments phasing in and out to develop a mood.  Eno elucidates:     "The first piece on 'Music For Airports': I had four musicians in the studio, and we were doing some improvising exercises that I'd suggested. I couldn't hear the musicians very well at the time, and I'm sure they couldn't hear each other, but listening back, later, I found this very short section of tape where two pianos, unbeknownst to each other, played melodic lines that interlocked in an interesting way. To make a piece of music out of it, I cut that part out, made a stereo loop on the 24-track, then I discovered I liked it best at half speed, so the instruments sounded very soft, and the whole movement was very slow. I didn't want the bass and guitar - they weren't necessary for the piece - but there was a bit of Fred Frith's guitar breaking through the acoustic piano mic, a kind of scrape I couldn't get rid of. Usually I like Fred's scrapes a lot, but this wasn't in keeping, so I had to find a way of dealing with that scrape, and I had the idea of putting in variable orchestration each time the loop repeated. You only hear Fred's scrape the first time the loop goes around...There are other examples of things I do with loops and editing based on fairly simple material, to get singular, very rare events I couldn't have forseen. But perhaps I should mention that you only have control of your studio composition to the pressing plant - then the reproduction is completely arbitrary. So when I mix a record, I mix on at least two speaker systems - and often more than two - so I'm not mixing just for optimum conditions. Most of my records don't sound good in optimum conditions, where there are very large speakers which are extremely well balanced and have lots of high and low frequencies. I mix, really, for what I imagine most people have medium-priced hi-fi - and for radio a bit as well. It's the very naive producer who works only on optimum systems."

'Music For Airports' never charted; but it became the template for a whole new movement in music and a series of releases that included:  'Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror', 'Ambient 3: Day of Radiance', and 'Ambient 4: On Land'.  The album was actually installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York’s LaGuardia Airport for a brief period in the 1980's.  

'Music For Airports'

full album:

1/1 00:00 - 17:21

2/1 17:21 - 26:15

1/2 26:15 - 38:22

2/2 38:22 - 48:34

"Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan" is a video painting by Eno that incorporates music from 'Ambient 1' and 'Ambient 4'

1 comment:

  1. This is a great explanation about the origin of Ambient - thanks for writing it !
    By the way, I'm listening to this album right now and greatly enjoying it...