Reverb Machine Deconstructs Eno's Music For Airports

Clicked on my saved bookmark for Reverb Machine this morning and found this great piece on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” . It’s a good quick explanation of Eno’s general techniques for using tape machines to create ambient music including photos, charts, and downloadable sound samples.

In 1978, Brian Eno released Ambient 1: Music for Airports, a landmark album in ambient and electronic music. Although it wasn’t the first ambient album by any means, it was the first album explicitly released as an ‘ambient music album’. The album was essentially a continuation of Eno’s experimentation with the tape machine as a compositional tool, as well as his exploration of generative music, music created by systems. In this article I’ll discuss how Music for Airports was created, I’ll break down and recreate the tracks 2/1 and 1/2, and hopefully give you some ideas about how to adopt this approach yourself.
— Dan Carr / Reverb Machine

And he ends with some practical advice -

  • The best way to get into this style of composition is to start using tape. If you can’t commit to getting big reel-to-reel machines, you can always start with cheaper cassette players. Some great online resources for this cassette tape loops are Amulets, Hainbach, and Gemini Horror.

  • If you want to work with this style in your DAW, turn off the grid and start creating loops in seconds/milliseconds instead of bars/beats. In Ableton Live you can press + 4 (Ctrl-4 on Windows) to turn off the grid, allowing you to create unquantized loops that work in a similar way to the tape technique. Create several clips of different lengths, set them all to loop simultaneously, and record the results.

  • To dig deeper into this style of tape loop ambient music, check out William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops. Basinski used the same concept as Eno, only the tapes he used rapidly deteriorated upon playback, causing the musical material to degrade over the recordings length.


Check it out.

And if you haven’t heard “Music for Airports” it is on YouTube, of course. but you can also find the record if you search long enough at local record shops. D has managed to find Ambient 1, 2 and 4 all used for our collection.

- J