Much as it pains me to admit it, there are times when one simply has to lay down the Motörhead, shelve the Municipal Waste and tidy away the Ministry LPs (and that’s just the M’s). So rather than take the, frankly unimaginable, No Music route – you reach for the quiet stuff. I do own more of this than I care to admit, a fair chunk of which dates from my studies over the last 8 years. I always found that having something on in the background helped me work / revise*; and therein lies the rub. Is this proper music, to like actually listen to and stuff? or just aural wallpaper? and does this matter? Yes, also Yes and No. There easy. Now bring on the meaning of life.
Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music For Airports is a great case in point, consciously designed as Muzak in 1978 and played at La Guardia Airport it hits the debate head on, in a quiet dignified manner. Whether you groove along to Mr Eno’s learned defence of it on the inner sleeve, or not. When I listen to this LP I find myself consciously dipping in and out of it, like trying to clear your mind of all narative thought, it isn’t actually an easy LP to actively listen to**. There’s plenty of melody in these four pieces of music surrounded by plenty of space and so I find myself fore-grounding and back-grounding chunks of it continually, at will and involuntarily. Eno has mischieviously suggested that he makes music to sleep to sometimes, which being the total princess I am over my sleeping conditions I have never tried – I expect what he likes is the possibility of the music reacting directly with the subconscious; which is precisely the kind of conceptual dialogue you don’t have to worry about too much with Venom***. I accept that the whole turn-the-goddamn-LP-over-is-that-dust-I-hear? factor means that such ambient washes are possibly best heard on (coughs) other formats and that’s not easy for me to admit.
The Four tracks – helpfully denoted by nothing as pedestrian as names, but by pictograms purporting to give the viewer some insight into the melodic contents of the delights awaiting within^, are all different from each other and most other stuff out there. The first track, featuring Robert Wyatt on piano is the best and most striking and I have to fight my baser urges to not type words such as ‘glacial’ to describe it, but it does make for a graceful 16 minutes. The second one featuring irregularly looped breathy vocal samples is also a treat – but how airporty is it? The third track is the quietest – not saying too much in this company, in fact its a little like claiming the honour of being the campest member of the Village People (construction worker, hands down!) and the fourth track is a little more climactic, featuring delicately trembling strings. In fact listening again to it now it strikes me as a really excellent LP all over again.
So, yes Ambient 1: Music For Airports is aural wallpaper but I don’t see that as a valid criticism of it, there’s a reason we tend to decorate our walls, it makes living within them a far more pleasant experience. As the man says ‘it must be as ignorable as it is interesting’, which is surely just a feeble, rambling, poorly phrased attempt to encapsulate everything I just said above.
73 (Quietly) Down.
* There are lots of proper psych studies which bang on about this sort of thing, believe me I’ve read most of them.
** Not helped by the pressures of 2.4 children, job, chores etc. which can often mean that if you put me in a darkened room with soft music on, unmolested for more than 10 minutes I tend to wake up an hour later with a cold coffee to drink.
*** There again I’d be a little less worried about backwards-masking mind control with Eno; I mean what would he have us do? ‘Disconnect rationality’, ‘Mistakes are unwanted spontaneous eruptions of creativity’, ‘Hail Satan! Feed the blood-Gods!’ and ‘Buy more ambient LPs’ ….
^ A trick he resurrected for last year’s Lux – which I got last weekend and am not very keen on so far.