Music for Airports: An appreciation by John Foxx
The artist, electro pioneer and friend of Brian Eno on his relationship to the now classic work
Name: John Foxx
Occupation: Artist, electro pioneer, friend of Brian Eno
I first heard Music For Airports in [legendary 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.
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 identifying and extracting significant elements like these, then concentrating them into something delightful.
This was pre-sampling and made possible through technology and ingenuity -- via Conny’s brilliant tape loop/recording console technique – he looped one sung note at a time, recorded a long section of this onto a 24 track tape, then you could replay these individually, using the console faders as a kind of keyboard, moving voices or groups of voices in and out as you went along. A prefiguring of digital sampling replay, years before it happened.
We used the same technique on ‘Dislocation’ from [Ultravox’s] Systems of Romance, around the same time, in 1977/78. The title of that album came partly from Conny’s interest in systems, and and music as organised noise theory – he worked with Holger Czukay from Can, who’d been a student of Stockhausen, so these ideas were discussed, acted on and incorporated into the studio work in various ways. I remember Terry Riley, Philip Glass and John Cage’s ideas and work being discussed in similar contexts, as well as Lee Perry.
I liked the idea of systems allied to chaotic organic elements - modern electronic recording studios seemed the perfect environment to explore and realise all these new possibilities.
Music for Airports was in many ways a manifestation of all this – a dissociated human voice abstracted into a sound cloud through pure technological intelligence.
That whole German music scene of the time fascinated me. It was the international crossroads of intelligent, adventurous music, where experimental and avant-garde theory intersected with popular music, and Conny was conductor. He was really central to it. Brian was the first Brit to get there.
Music for Airports was also bold because it stepped away from anything to do with the popular music of the time. What was left out was most significant – no rhythm, 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.
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.