Ambient 1:Music For Airports

Brian Eno

EG/Polydor, 1978

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


When Brian Eno recorded Ambient 1: Music For Airports, he wanted an album that could put people at ease in tense places like airports. It was made to be looped. Call it passionate elevator music. However, if you’re expecting the type of album that would be sold next to scented candles at a New Age store, prepare to be floored. While Music For Airports can easily suffice for background music, it’s far from pedestrian.

Divided into four parts, Music For Airports can double as one helluva disc to listen to when you’re studying, reading, or just want to have something on in the background. At the same time, if you listen to it carefully, especially with headphones, it has an absolutely hypnotic power.

If there’s any track that demonstrates this, it’s the leadoff track, simply titled “1/1.” By using a simple melodic line, played by a piano, followed by another piano playing a slightly different line that occasionally intersects, Eno loops this sound for almost 17 minutes. That results in more false endings than the last my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Lord Of The Rings movie.  It’s also makes a convincing argument that certain chords seem to be able to strike a key emotion in people.

With “1/1,” an almost unbearably morose, intimate tone is established and never lets up for its quarter-plus hour. With its sparse arrangement, you get the feeling like you’re walking into a house long after the people have died, but left their belongings unscathed. A tad morbid, yes, but Eno is able to evoke a strong connection with an extremely limited array of sound.

Things don’t quite match the peak of the first song with “2/1” and “1/2.” Partly because the music isn’t as effective, partly because you are listening to tracks that still clock in at around ten minutes. “2/1” is more of a traditional foray into ambient music. It’s around this time where Music For Airports really starts to sound more like great background music than tracks off an album meant to keep your attention.

The final track, “2/2,” more than brings the listener back into the fold. Using only a synthesizer, Eno creates a sound that would bear a striking resemblance to the soundtrack of Blade Runner, composed by Vangelis. Thirty years later, the track sounds utterly futuristic, but still sounds like it’s been touched by human hands.

It’s a small marvel that at the same time this album came out, two major forms of music – punk and disco – were captivating people’s attention. Both punk and disco seemed to pack as much as they could (be it aggression or decadence) into three or four minutes. As this was happening, Eno was unafraid to go almost a half minute without so much as a single chord to achieve the right effect. As attention spans started to get drastically shorter, Eno showed just how effective the virtues of patience could be.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B


Brian's fascination with sound didn't end with the lexicon of popular music. On Music for Airports and subsequent Ambient releases, Eno demonstrates that he can bend even the simplest of noises with production tricks and effects to evoke a strong mood.

Ambient 1 isn't really meant for listening in the traditional sense, which might seem odd. Think of it as a mood piece. Try putting this on when you're going to bed; let the waves of soothing carry you to a night of sweet dreams.

© 2009 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EG/Polydor, and is used for informational purposes only.