Ambient 1: Music for Airports is the sixth studio album by Brian Eno, released by Polydor Records in 1978. The album consists of four compositions created by layering tape loops of differing lengths, and was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent of defusing the tense, anxious atmosphere of an airport terminal.
Music for Airports was the first of four albums released in Eno's "Ambient" series, a term which he coined to describe music "as ignorable as it is interesting" in distinction to "the products of various purveyors of canned music." Though it is not the earliest entry in the genre, it was the first album ever to be explicitly created under the label "ambient music."
Eno conceived of the idea for Ambient 1 while spending several hours waiting at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany in the mid-1970s and being annoyed by the uninspired sound atmosphere. The music was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent of defusing the tense, anxious atmosphere of an airport terminal by avoiding the derivative and familiar elements of typical "canned music". To achieve this, Eno sought to create music that would "accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting." Rather than brightening and regularizing the atmosphere of an environment as typical background music does, Music for Airports is "intended to induce calm and a space to think."
The album marked the beginning of Eno's "Ambient" series of albums, conceived with the intent to "produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres." Eno had previously created similarly quiet, unobtrusive music on albums such as Evening Star, Discreet Music, and Harold Budd's The Pavilion of Dreams (which he produced), but this was the first album to give it precedence as a cohesive concept.
All tracks were composed by Eno except "1/1", which was co-composed by Eno with former Soft Machine drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt and with producer Rhett Davies.
Music for Airports employs the phasing of tape loops of different lengths. For example, in "1/1", a single piano melody is repeated and at different times other instruments will fade in and out to create a complex, evolving pattern as the sounds fall in and out of sync with each other.
Talking about the first piece, Eno has said:
"2/1" and "1/2" each contain four tracks of wordless vocals which loop back on themselves and constantly interact with each other in new ways. Subtle changes in timing occur, adding to the timbre of the pieces. Eno explains of the vocal-only piece:
"2/2" was performed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer.
In a 1979 review for Rolling Stone, Michael Bloom found Ambient 1 self-indulgent and lacking focus. "There's a good deal of high craftsmanship here", Bloom said. "But to find it, you've got to thwart the music's intent by concentrating." In another contemporary review for the Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau recommended its four minimalist pieces as charmingly calming background music, but also stated that "they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds: sex (neutral to arid), baseball (pleasant, otiose), dinner at my parents' (conversation piece), abstract writing (useful but less analgesic than Discreet Music or my David Behrman record)." In a 1979 interview with Eno for Musician, critic Lester Bangs described Ambient 1 as having "a crystalline, sun-light-through-windowpane quality that makes it even as you half-listen to it," and recounted an experience in which the album induced him into a dream state.
PopMatters journalist John Davidson was enthusiastic in a retrospective review, deeming Ambient 1 a masterpiece whose value "can only be appreciated by listening to it in a variety of moods and settings. Then you are likely struck by how the music allows your mind the space to breathe", Davidson wrote, "and in doing so, adapts itself to your mood". AllMusic stated that "like a fine painting, these evolving soundscapes don't require constant involvement on the part of the listener [...] yet the music also rewards close attention with a sonic richness absent in standard types of background or easy listening music." Slant Magazine described the effect of the compositions as "sheer weightlessness." Q described it as "soothing and sublime, a useful album when you're feeling particulary delicate." In a positive review, Pitchfork Media wrote that the album as "gives the listener nothing to hold onto, remaining as transitory as its location, and added that it "realizes music's capacity to unify contrasting conceptions of time."
Ambient 1 was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Chuck Eddy from Spin later named it the fourth most essential ambient album, and J. D. Considine wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide that the record defined the ambient aesthetic while providing a name for the genre.
The album was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York's LaGuardia Airport for a brief period during the 1980s. Resident air cargo journalist and aviation historian Geoffrey Arend, who was responsible for restoring and preserving the WPA-era James Brooks mural at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, chose to play the album in the lobby of the MAT.
The track labelling references the album's first release (1978) as an LP, and so the first track means "first track, first side", and so on. The CD pressing adds 30 seconds of silence after every song, including "2/2".
The album's back cover features four abstract graphic notation images, one for each track.Brian Eno – synthesizer, electric piano, vocals
Christa Fast – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
Christine Gomez – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
Inge Zeininger – vocals ("2/1", "1/2")
Robert Wyatt – acoustic piano ("1/1", "1/2")
Brian Eno – producer, engineer
Dave Hutchins – engineer ("2/1", "1/2")
Conny Plank – engineer ("2/2"),
Rhett Davies – engineer ("1/1")
Brian Eno – cover art
London ("1/1", "1/2", "2/1")
Plank's Studio, Cologne ("2/2")
Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan is a 1981, 47-minute ambient video created by Eno which uses music from both the albums Ambient 4: On Land and this album. This title was later included with his Thursday Afternoon video on the Rykodisc DVD compilation 14 Video Paintings.
Music from the album has been covered by:
Bang on a Can, on the album Music For Airports (Live)
Makyo — "2/1 (Night Flight Mix)", on the double compilation CD Minimalism: More Or Less, 1998, Law & Auder (LA05CD)
Arrangements of the album performed by the Bang On A Can All-Stars were made into a video filmed and edited by Frank Scheffer, entitled Music For Airports / In The Ocean
The first track is used in the PBS special The Creation of the Universe. Eno is the sole music credit, and he also wrote original music for the documentary.
"1/1" is frequently used as background music on the US public radio program This American Life.
"1/1" is used as background music in the 1986 film 9½ Weeks.
"1/1" features prominently in the opening scene of the 2009 motion picture The Lovely Bones.
Excerpts of Ambient 1 appear in Robert Hughes' documentary on Modern Art The Shock of the New, episode 4 Trouble in Utopia.