BRIAN ENO-AMBIENT 1/MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS.

BRIAN ENO-AMBIENT 1/MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS.

After leaving Roxy Music in 1973, Brian Eno’s career changed direction. Instead, his attention turned to ambient and electronic music. This was a controversial decision, given Roxy Music were one of the most successful British bands of the early seventies. Brian Eno’s creativity was being stifled. He felt he’d much more to offer music. So, he made the decision to leave Roxy music and change direction musically.

Whilst he didn’t enjoy the commercial success he enjoyed with Roxy Music, Brian Eno released a string of critically acclaimed albums. Some of his most critically acclaimed music was released between 1974 and 1983. During that period, Brian Eno could do no wrong. One of the finest albums he produced during this period, was Ambient 1/Music For Airports which was recently reissued by Glitterbeat. It was released in 1978 and is an ambient classic. However, Ambient 1/Music For Airports wasn’t Brian Eno’s debut album.

As Brian Eno’s solo career began, it was apparent he hadn’t turned his back on glam rock entirely. His 1974 debut album, Here Come The Warm Jets was a fusion of art rock, avant garde, experimental and glam rock. Here Come The Warm Jets was recorded in just twelve days in September 1973, with the help of some of rock music’s luminaries. This included Robert Fripp of King Crimson and Phil Manzqnera of Roxy Music. On its release in January 1974, Here Come The Warm Jets was well received, reaching number twenty-six in the UK and number 151 in the US Billboard 200. After Here Come The Warm Jets, Brian Eno’s music changed direction again. 

Just ten months after the release of his debut album, Brian Eno returned with his sophomore album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It was a concept album, where Brian had been inspired by a series of postcards of a Chinese revolutionary opera, entitled Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). That’s why the subject matters included revolution in China and espionage. This was what Brian Eno did so well, create cerebral, experimental music.

Accompanied by a band that featured Robert Wyatt and Phil Manzqnera, with Andy McKay of Roxy Music one of the guest artists, recording took place in September 1974. The result was an album of contrasts. Somehow, the music manages to be upbeat and dark. Essentially, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) was a concept album. Released in November 1974, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) failed to chart. Critics, however, hailed the album. They approved this progressive concept album. For Brian Eno, the lack of commercial success was surely just a minor blip. Things would improve with his third album? Surely?

Another Green World which was released in September 1975, saw a change in direction from Brian Eno. He moved further towards the ambient sound he became known for. There were less songs with lyrics. Most of the songs were ambient instrumentals. When there were songs with lyrics, they were lush, lysergic and dreamy. They were more like sonic experiments. With a band featuring John Cale and Robert Fripp, Brian Eno recorded what was undoubtably his best solo album of his career so far.

Critics realised this and hailed Another Green World a minor classic. Despite being critically acclaimed, Another Green World failed to chart. It seemed Brian Eno was enjoying the most creative period of his career, but apart from critics, nobody realised this. Maybe his next album Discreet Music, would mark a change in fortune for Brian Eno?

Discreet Music saw Brian Eno release what many critics describe as his first ambient albums. Previous albums were hybrids, while Discreet Music was purely an ambient album. Brian drew inspiration from Erik Satie and recorded an album of what was described as “furniture music.”

This meant the music was designed to blend into the ambient atmosphere of room. You didn’t need to concentrate or focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Side one, which features the title-track, was a thirty-minute movement designed for Robert Fripp to play against in concerts. On the second side, were Three Variations on the Canon in D Minor, by Johann Pachelbel. Brian gave the Cockpit Ensemble parts of the score and asked them to repeat these parts several times. Brian also gave them the freedom to alter the tempo and improvise. This was truly groundbreaking.

Cultural commentators and critics realised this, and plaudits came Brian’s way. His ambient debut Discreet Music was released in 1975, but failed to chart. Following the disappointing sales of Discreet Music, Brian decided to change direction again.

Just over two years later, in December 1977, Brian Eno released his fifth album, Before and After Science. It saw Brian make a brief and final return to rock music. With an all-star cast, including members of Fairport Convention, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Free, Can and Cluster, ten songs were recorded in Berlin and London.

Having taken two years to make and with Bhrett Davies co-producing Before and After Science, great things were expected of the album. Especially when critics referred to the album as one of Brian’s finest albums. Sadly, that didn’t translate to album sales. Before and After Science failed to chart in the UK and reached just number 171 in the US Billboard 200. Brian’s return to rock music hadn’t worked. So his next album Ambient 1/Music For Airports was a return to ambient music.

Ambient 1/Music For Airports would prove to be the first in a quartet of the “Ambient” series. Brian came up with the Ambient term to differentiate his music from what many people referred to as “canned music.” Originally, Brian perceived the music on  Ambient 1/Music For Airports as being played continually at airport to calm people down and defuse tension. This idea came to Brian when he was waiting for a plane at Bonn airport in the mid-seventies. Brian found the lack of a soundtrack uninspiring. Music like that on  Ambient 1/Music For Airports was the answer. So, he recorded what he’d have liked to hear in Bonn airport.

For Ambient 1/Music For Airports four tracks were penned. Co-producer Rhett Davies, Robert Fripp and Brian wrote the opening track 1/1. Brian wrote 1/2, 2/1 and 2/2. These four tracks were recorded by a small band in London and Cologne. Robert Wyatt played acoustic piano and Brian played synths and electric piano. Vocalists included Christe Fast, Christine Gomez and Inge Zeininger. Engineers included Dave Hutchins, Conny Plank and Rhett Davies, who co-produced Ambient 1/Music For Airports with Brian Eno. Once Ambient 1/Music For Airports was completed, it was released in 1978.

When critics heard Ambient 1/Music For Airports they realised that Brian Eno had just recorded one of the best albums of his career. Some described Ambient 1/Music For Airports as a classic. They described it as innovative due to its use of tape loops and its ambient quality. Despite the reception Ambient 1/Music For Airports received, it wasn’t a commercial success. Indeed, it failed to chart. However, since then, Ambient 1/Music For Airports is seen as a classic album which deserves to be in any self-respecting record collection. I’ll tell you why, once I’ve told you about Ambient 1/Music For Airports.

Ambient 1/Music For Airports opens with 1/2. Just a slow, spacious and pensive piano are played deliberately. Synths drone in the background, as if posing a question. This piano melody is constantly repeated. as instruments fade in and out. Chimes, synths and acoustic piano played by Robert Wyatt. Ethereal, dreamy, becalming and thoughtful, the music washes over you. It’s like a balm that massages your very soul. There’s a hypnotic and mesmeric quality to the music. You’re drawn to the music, become part of it, focusing on its hidden secrets and subtleties. Sometimes, there’s a zen like quality to the music as ambient, avant garde and experimental music combine to create a soundtrack to calm any travellers weary soul.

A celestial choir opens 1/2, their voices cascading above the arrangement. Accompanying what sounds like a choir of angels are washes of synths. They too have an elegant, ethereal sound as the arrangement unfolds in waves. Again, it washes over. It’s akin to waves washing up on a deserted beach. Both have the same relaxing and becalming quality and are nine of the best minutes of minimalist music Brian Eno ever recorded. This track is also proof that sometimes, less is more.

Just a thoughtful, pensive piano opens 2/1. Soon, ethereal harmonies descend. They’re celestial and tender, drifting in and out of the arrangement. Accompanying them are a lone piano and occasional plucked bass. It’s played slowly, deliberately and as if every note has been considered with care. Space is left within the arrangement, as if mindful of Miles Davis’ comment about the space between two notes being as important as the notes them-self. The space only heightens the anticipation of the swathes of harmonies that swoop in. Tender, beautiful and otherworldly, they’re the perfect accompaniment to Brian’s piano. Ying and yang describes them as they play their part in this ethereal celestial symphony.  

2/2  closes Ambient 1/Music For Airports. This ten minute track is quite different from the previous tracks. It has a cinematic sci-fi sound. A synth creates a droning, atmospheric sound. Squelchy, spacious, dubby synths prove an atmospheric, evocative and dramatic soundscape. It brings to mind a spacecraft sailing towards a distant galaxy, going where no man has gone before. Whilst the music is still minimalist, it lacks the ethereal quality. That’s no bad thing. It offers variety, and demonstrates Brian Eno’s versatility and ability to paint pictures with music.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Brian Eno’s  Ambient 1/Music For Airports, his sixth solo album, is an ambient classic. I’d go further and say that Ambient 1/Music For Airports is a classic album. Minimalist, understated, spacious, ethereal, haunting and becalming, it was an ambient Magnus Opus. That’s quite fitting. Back in 1975, Brian drew inspiration from Erik Satie for his fourth album Another Green World. On Ambient 1/Music For Airports Brian took this concept further. Much further. 

Rather than record what Erik described as “furniture music,” Brian Eno expanded this concept. He recorded an album that could and would provide the soundtrack to everyday life. He envisaged this providing the backdrop at airports, becalming the weary traveller and diffusing tension. In some ways, Brian music is utilitarian. Brian also envisaged the music as providing a constant backdrop to art installations. So, Ambient 1/Music For Airports could be all things to all people. Ambient 1/Music For Airports also marked the blossoming of Brian Eno’s creativity.

A lifelong musical pioneer, Ambient 1/Music For Airports was the start of the most creative period of Brian Eno’s long career. He released another three albums in the “Ambient” series. From 1978s Music For Films, which is another classic album, Brian embarked upon a string of innovative albums. This includes 1982s Ambient 4: On Land, 1983s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks and then 1983s More Music For Films. These albums, plus Another Green World, Discreet Music and of course, Ambient 1/Music For Airports feature the Godfather of ambient music at his creative zenith. Since then, Brian Eno has continued to release ambitious, challenging, groundbreaking and innovative music. However, one of the finest albums of Brian Eno’s solo career has to be Ambient 1/Music For Airports, a truly groundbreaking classic album.

BRIAN ENO-AMBIENT 1/MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS.

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