DME to channel Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’

Monday, October 21, 2019 - 8:54am

Ryan Cox

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Mozart’s “Requiem.” Mahler’s “5th Symphony.” Glass’s “Glassworks.” Davis’s “Kind of Blue.” All of these pieces of music have proved to be seminal works that have proved to influence the shape of music yet to come. It’s common to see them performed live by different symphonies, chamber groups or jazz combos. However, despite being the spark that began the ambient movement of music, Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports is rarely heard outside of a prerecorded context. The Digital Music Ensemble hopes to change that. 

Stephen Rush, the director of the the University of Michigan’s Digital Music Ensemble (DME), compares Eno’s Music For Airports to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. “It’s not that hard to see live,” Rush said of the Symphony in an interview with The Daily. “But has anyone seen Music for Airports done? This is a piece of music that founded a genre. And we have not seen it live? That’s crazy!”

Although it wasn’t his first dive into ambient music, Music for Airports is certainly Eno’s most popular and influential work. In the winter of 1975, right after he released his critically-acclaimed art rock album, Another Green World, Eno took a sharp turn in the opposite direction with his first ambient album, Discreet Music. This album proved to be a teaser for what was to come three years later with Ambient 1: Music for Airports.

After waiting for a delayed flight in a European airport, Eno was inspired by the soundscape he heard. 

“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting,” Eno said. Eno accomplished this through a series of tape loops — tape that has been spliced together to create a seemingly infinite loop that continuously repeats itself. Eno originally recorded the piece by phasing in and out tape loops of different lengths, using a variety of sounds from instruments like piano, voice and even synthesizer.

Just like the original piece, the Digital Music Ensemble plans on recreating the album through tape. Although Rush wrote that the group plans on recreating the piece as closely as possible, he also chose to make the piece more of their own. 

“I asked all of the students to write their own loops to place or play over the original music,” Rush wrote. “People that love the original may be disappointed because they will hear it (the original piece), but they will also hear what our students have placed over the top. The main thing that is different, of course, is that this is a physical installation … not an LP record.”

The official title of the group’s performance is “Pond Music XVII: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.” In the past, the ensemble has done a variety of performances on the pond by the Earl V. Moore School of Music, each serving as more of an installation than a performance. While the pond doesn’t directly play a role in making the music, Rush says that it plays an integral role in the installation. 

“The pond provides a beautiful natural landscape. It is also a neutral gathering space for music. No one has any expectations of what music would come from a pond space,” Rush wrote. “It also messes with the audiences notion of time. When is the piece over? When does it start? Most of it really doesn’t matter with 40 hours of installation time. Just sit and listen, or walk by and notice.” The group spent time installing airplane propellers on the pond in order, spinning and mimicking the tape loops in order to visually accompany the music. 

The Digital Music Ensemble will present four performances of “Pond Music XVII: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports” on Oct. 24 through 27, starting at noon on the Pond near the Earl V. Moore School of Music. Admission is free, and the public is welcome to come and go as they please.