Music for Airports - An appreciation
How Brian Eno's album connects 60s minimalism, 70s Krautrock and IDM
Name: Hamish Brown
Occupation: producer/ musician/ The List’s digital editor
I discovered Music for Airports aged 18 via TV and David Bowie. Eno's involvement 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. The lucky streak continued when 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 also sparse, nearing silence in places - with the CD reissue actually adding 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 that 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.
Music For Airports' 1978 release date can mistakenly paint Eno as a boffin contrarian at odds 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, but also lacking the 'look at me' histrionics that plague some instrumental music, 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.