IN THE LOOP Brian Eno wrote his much adored 1978 album Music for Airports as a continuous loop, designed to defuse tense atmospheres in airport terminals. Here two fans share their appreciation for an album they still give heavy rotation to . . .
Name John Foxx Occupation artist/electro pioneer/friend of Brian Eno Name Hamish Brown Occupation producer/musician/ The List’s digital editor
[legendary I first heard Music For Airports in krautrock producer] Conny Plank’s studio, as Brian was making it. Christa [Fast] and Inge [Zeininger] were assistants at the studio. Brian roped them in to sing.
I thought it was a great idea. Distilled essence, mainly I think, of [German prog band] Popol Vuh’s Aguirre music – epecially ‘L’acrime’, plus a few other connected evolutionary threads, including Ligeti’s music for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Brian is good at extracting significant elements, then concentrating them into something delightful.
Conny’s brilliant recording technique looped one sung note at a time onto a 24-track tape, then you could replay these individually – moving voices or groups of voices in and out as you went along. It was a prefiguring of digital replay, sampling years it happened. before
title for [Ultravox’s] Systems of Romance came from Conny’s interest in music as organised noise theory – he worked with Holger Czukay from Can, and I remember Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Lee Perry’s work being discussed in similar contexts.
That whole German music scene of the time fascinated me. It was the international crossroads of intelligent, adventurous music, where experimental theory intersected with popular music, and Conny was conductor. He was really central to it. Brian was the first Brit to get there. Airports was bold because it stepped away from anything to do with popular music of the time. What was left out was most significant – no no drums, no melody, no posturing. Instead you had this nice, textural, abstracted piece, unafraid to be gorgeous, when there was a lot of avant- gardist frowning at anything beautiful. Quietly courageous. Brian Eno’s audacity is what distinguishes his music from others. He jumps on the horse and rides off in all directions. He also seems to have the secret of instant and effortless rapport with women. Enviable.
I discovered Music for Airports aged 18. Eno’s involvement [as co-writer] with Bowie’s Low and Heroes put him on my radar, but the deal sealer was learning that the theme to long-running BBC programme Arena was ‘Another Green World’ from his 1974 album of the same name. It’s still my favourite Eno album. I arrived at Music for Airports next.
In a world flooded with pop music desperately trying to grab your attention, this is the opposite, but its mood can stay with you for weeks. It’s sparse – the CD reissue actually adds 30 seconds of silence to each track – and where the sleevenotes to quintessential ‘rock’ album Ziggy Stardust states ‘To Be Played At Maximum Volume’, Eno requests you listen ‘. . . at comparatively low levels, even to the extent it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility.’ It doesn’t even have proper song titles. Where pop music is all about personality, this is music as pure utility, essentially offering an upgraded version of silence. that
odds Music For Airports’ 1978 release date can mistakenly paint Eno as a boffin contrarian at with prevailing punk and disco culture – in reality he was also producing Talking Heads, the No New York No Wave compilation and collaborating with German experimentalists, Cluster. Still, his recording of a sound installation of randomly overlapping tape loops that never repeats itself was different enough to ensure it was met with ‘howls of neglect’ upon release. Over time, however, its reputation grew. Lyric free, it leaves the mind free to engage with something else, leading to Airports becoming popular among painters, and as an accompaniment to reading, writing or falling asleep.
Music For Airports was my route into exploring the musical lineage it forms part of, from the 60s minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, German electronic groups like Harmonia, to IDM, post-rock and drone artists such as Autechre, Tortoise or Emeralds that followed. Personally though, despite the advice on the sleevenotes, I think it also sounds pretty good cranked up loud.
Brian Eno’s Music For Airports will be performed by Bang On A Can and The Red Note Ensemble, as part of Minimal: Glass at 75 (Part I) Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sun 30 Oct. John Foxx and the Maths play The Arches, Glasgow, Sun 23 Oct. 80 THE LIST 20 Oct–17 Nov 2011
MINIMAL: GLASS AT 75 Tramway, Glasgow, Sat 29 Oct; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Sun 30 Oct
How fragile is Glass? And how shattering? Audiences have had plenty of time of late to ponder the cause and effect of veteran New York composer Philip Glass’ considerable body of work. Glass himself appeared with his Ensemble to perform the dizzying soundtracks to Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy of films as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Hot on its heels came a performance of 1000 Airplanes On The Roof, the Glass- scored ‘science-fiction opera’, featuring the Red Note Ensemble playing beneath a Concorde in a hangar at the National Museum of Flight. The latter performance is
repeated, sans Concorde, as part of the self-explanatory Minimal festival, which this year celebrates Glass’ 75th birthday with a weekend programme split between Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and Tramway. As well as 1000 Airplanes On The Roof, avant-chamber group Bang On A Can (pictured, below) will present free afternoon programmes at both venues showcasing some of Glass’ cutting-edge New York heirs, while a Saturday teatime Tramway show features some of the elder statesman’s more hardcore concoctions.
More intimate should be The Smith Quartet’s renditions of Glass’s string-works, while the Scottish Ensemble will feature violinist Robert McDuffie playing a double bill of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons alongside Glass’ The American Four Seasons, written especially for McDuffie. Moving beyond Glass even further, Bang on a Can and Red Note will converge for the weekend’s final performance of Music For Airports (see feature, left), Brian Eno’s 1978 suite that formed the first of his self-styled ‘Ambient’ series, pretty much inventing chill- out rooms as he went. (Neil Cooper) ■ For more info, see glasgowconcerthalls.com/ glasgowmusic