Ambient 1: Music for Airports

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Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Music for Airports.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 1978[1]
StudioLondon and Cologne
ProducerBrian Eno
Brian Eno chronology
Before and After Science
Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Music for Films

Ambient 1: Music for Airports is the sixth studio album by English musician Brian Eno, released in 1978 by Polydor Records. 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" that would "induce calm and a space to think".[2][3] Although it is not the earliest entry in the genre, it was the first album to be created under the label "ambient music".

Background and concept[edit]

Eno's interest in ambience began in 1975, although his preceding output following Roxy Music, such as Another Green World and Discreet Music, is not too dissimilar to Music for Airports.[4][5][6] Judy Nylon met Eno in a hospital and played him an album; the sound was low and in tandem with the rain outside the room—according to Nylon, somewhat by design, thus to her "neither of us invented ambient music". She left and Eno, unable to adjust the volume, allowed the music to create an ambience aligned with his fluctuating attention.[4]

After spending several hours waiting for a flight at Germany's Cologne Bonn Airport and becoming annoyed by its uninspired atmosphere, Eno conceived of an album of music "designed for airports"—although he intended for the album to still function within various other situations.[7][8][9] The "Borgesian idea" of a self-generated "world in reverse" which is centered around music from its creator and the Ray Conniff Singers were also inspirations.[10][11]

Ambient music was a then-"relatively modest field"," more a concept than a genre", and mostly created within the context of muzak.[5][12][13] Eno's envisionment of the genre was distinct from muzak and was to be used as a means on inducing deep thought.[14]

Recording and composition[edit]

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 makes use of spliced tape loops.[15] Recalling its creation, Eno said it was "conceived as deliberately austere and unemotional" and "was essentially made by machines".[10][16] He has stated a connection to death. Not wanting it to be "all bright and cheerful", Eno, a self-proclaimed "nervous flyer", considered the feelings that arise from being at an airport, including the supposed mortality salience and hoped the album would bring solace: "Really, it’s music to resign you to the possibility of death".[17][18] John L. Waters described the album as a "logical progression from the work of the experimental and systems-based 'serious' musicians (John White, Gavin Bryars, Christopher Hobbs, Michael Parsons, Michael Nyman) that Eno recorded and championed for his label Obscure".[19] David Stubbs noted similarities to the work of Erik Satie.[20]

"1/1", features a mixture of piano and synthesizer, in an arrhythmic manner – piano being the dominant instrument throughout the album.[4][21] Various motifs, played in a fitful manner, are featured in the song.[22] John Lysaker of Emory University, while discussing the album's general sense of aimless direction, noted that "1/1" "holds together no better (and no worse) than a cloud".[4] The music throughout is down-tempo, without "distinct melodic or harmonic development[;] no highs or lows".[9]

Talking about the first piece, Eno has said:

I had four musicians in the studio, and we were doing some improvising exercises that I'd suggested. I couldn't hear the musicians very well at the time, and I'm sure they couldn't hear each other, but listening back, later, I found this very short section of tape where two pianos, unbeknownst to each other, played melodic lines that interlocked in an interesting way. To make a piece of music out of it, I cut that part out, made a stereo loop on the 24-track, then I discovered I liked it best at half speed, so the instruments sounded very soft, and the whole movement was very slow.[23]

"2/1" and "1/2" make use of vocal loops; the former designed to have them fluctuate in synchrony.[24] The disparate lengths of "2/1" were the result of the each singers' differing capabilities. He modified the tape recordings offhandedly to loops, desiring "a silence at least twice as long as the sound" and "complicated rather than simple relationships". "And then I started all the loops running, and let them configure in the way they chose to configure".[25]

"2/2" was performed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer. Brian Eno described how this piece was recorded:

the second piece on the second side of Music for Airports was done with an ARP 2600. It's a beautiful sound, I think, and one that I couldn't have got from any other synthesizer that I know of. The thing that makes it so luscious is that it's slowed down, and it has three kinds of echo on it.[26]


Critical reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideB[28]
Record Collector[31]
Rolling Stone (2004)[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[32]
Slant Magazine[33]
Spin Alternative Record Guide4/10[34]

The first album of ambient music to become popular – and later recognised as the "first deliberately 'ambient' recording" – it was initially dismissed by critics and audiences alike, bewildering some of the former; it only became more favoured by the 1990s, having "entered the modern musical canon".[9][36][19][37][38] 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."[39]

In another contemporary review for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau wrote that "these four swatches of modestly 'ambient' minimalism have real charms as general-purpose calmatives. But I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds."[40] Writing for The Globe and Mail, around the time of its release, Alan Niester noted the album as alien, calling it "background grunge" that was best suited for "dish-doing [and] bed-making".[41]

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 somewhat mesmerising even as you half-listen to it," and recounted a personal experience in which the album induced him into a dream state featuring Charles Mingus.[42]

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".[43] AllMusic reviewer Linda Kohanov 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."[27] Sasha Frere-Jones wrote that, by strength of its compostions, Music for Airports fails to facilitate an easily disregarded listening experience: "the album is too beautiful to ignore".[44]

Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine described the effect of the compositions as "sheer weightlessness."[33] Q described it as "soothing and sublime, a useful album when you're feeling particularly delicate."[45] In a positive review, Pitchfork's Liam Singer wrote that the album "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."[30]

Ambient 1 was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[46] Chuck Eddy from Spin later named it the fourth most essential ambient album,[47] 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.[48] Chris Richards of The Washington Post wrote that it "taught an entire generation of musicians to consider music as a texture".[49] Paul Roquet, in a 2009 article about the "aesthetics of calm", called Music for Airports, "the most well-known ambient album to this day".[50] In September 2016, Pitchfork named the record the best ambient album of all time.[51]

Lysaker deemed it a "seminal album in the history of electronic music"; Eno's description of ambient music as a genre which provides relaxation and is "as interesting as it is ignorable" would prove to be influential.[4][17] Reflecting on the album, Jon Caramanica called it the best of Eno's work which shortly followed Roxy Music.[12] Due in part to Music for Airports, perception of Eno's career shifted and he became aligned with highly influential minimalist composers: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young.[52] Artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Riley and Harold Budd would expand on Eno's style of ambient music, which would feature prominently on his following albums.[53][54]

In a 2001 interview, Eno reported that the album had sold 250,000 copies in its first 20 years.[55]

Installation and covers[edit]

The album was installed at the New York's LaGuardia Airport in 1981 for a month.[49] The album's usage at Pittsburgh Airport in 1982 brought on a barrage of complaints from passengers who said its uncertain tones made them feel uneasy and demanded that the previous background music be restored.[56] The album has been installed and performed in other airports.[4] In 1998, Bang on a Can performed the album live. Discussing their performance, Eno described it as the ensemble "trying to act like machines, but they don't sound like machines at all, they sound like people and it's quite touching when that appears".[16] He felt the rendition's emotive quality was the result of the supposed human element; it moved him to tears, he said, and others he knew – such as Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson – had similar reactions.[10]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."1/1" (Acoustic and electric piano; synthesizer.)Brian Eno, Rhett Davies, Robert Wyatt16:30
2."2/1" (Vocals; synthesizer.)Eno8:20
Total length:24:50
Side two
3."1/2" (Vocals; acoustic piano.)Eno11:30
4."2/2" (Synthesizer only. Lasts 9:38 in the "Working Backwards" box edition (1983) and on the CD.)Eno6:00
Total length:17:30

The track labelling refers to 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, representing their structure and instrumentation.[4][57]


  • 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")
Recording Location
  • London ("1/1", "1/2", "2/1")
  • Plank's Studio, Cologne ("2/2")

Release history[edit]

Country Label Cat. No. Media Release Date
US Polydor AMB 001 LP 1978
France Polydor 2310 647 LP 1978
Canada GRT 9167–9835 LP 1978
Italy Polydor 2310 647 LP 1978
US Editions EG EGS 201 LP 1981
UK Editions EG EGED 17 LP 1983
UK Editions EG, Virgin EEGCD 17 CD Aug 1990
US Editions EG EEGCD 17 CD Aug 1990
UK Virgin Records ENOCD 6,
7243 8 66495 2 2
CD 2004


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[58] Silver 60,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  • 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.[59] This title was later included with his Thursday Afternoon video on the Rykodisc DVD compilation 14 Video Paintings.[60]
  • Music from the album has been covered by:
    • Makyo — "2/1 (Night Flight Mix)", on the double compilation CD Minimalism: More Or Less, 1998, Law & Auder (LA05CD) [61][62]
    • nalptenalp, "Re: 1/1" (2020), which is a reconstruction of "1/1".
  • 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[63]
  • The first track is used in the PBS special The Creation of the Universe.[64] 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.[65]
  • "1/1" features prominently in the opening scene of the 2009 motion picture The Lovely Bones.[66]
  • Excerpts of Ambient 1 appear in Robert Hughes' documentary on Modern Art The Shock of the New, episode 4 Trouble in Utopia.
  • Prior to the first hosted live broadcast of Apple's Beats 1 internet radio station, music from the album was played on the service's audio stream.[67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Eno, Brian (1978). Ambient 1: Music for Airports (liner notes). Brian Eno. PVC Records. PVC 7908 (AMB 001). Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  3. ^ LeBlanc, Larry (2018). "In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Brian Eno, musician, artist, producer, thinker". Celebrity Access.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Lysaker, John (2017). "Turning Listening Inside Out: Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports". The Journal of Speculative Philosophy. 31 (1): 155–176. doi:10.5325/jspecphil.31.1.0155. JSTOR 10.5325/jspecphil.31.1.0155. S2CID 152129690.
  5. ^ a b "Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Mixmag. June 2013.
  6. ^ Eddy, Chuck (August 2011). "Essentials – Spurning Melody, Rhythm, and Lyrics, Ambient Is Music's Quiet Revolution". Spin. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  7. ^ O'Brien, Glenn (June 1978). "Eno at the Edge of Rock". Interview. Vol. 8 no. 6. Retrieved 24 December 2019 – via Rock's Backpages.
  8. ^ Baskas, Harriet (12 March 2008). "Better branding through music: Original airport theme songs". USA Today. Archived from the original on 16 March 2008. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Achtermann, Mark Edward (2016). "Yes, but is it music? Brian Eno and the definition of ambient music". Oblique Music. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 98–99. ISBN 9781441155344.
  10. ^ a b c Gill, Andy (June 1998). "Brian Eno: To Infinity and Beyond". Mojo.
  11. ^ Gill, Andy (November 1993). "Brian Eno: Towards An Understanding of Pop Past and Present". Q.
  12. ^ a b c Caramanica, Jon (25 November 2004). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Rolling Stone. No. 962. p. 94.
  13. ^ Johnson, Phil (26 April 1998). "Ambient: Now that's what I call music for airports". The Independent.
  14. ^ H. Lisius, Peter (March 2010). "Music for Airports". Notes. 66 (3).
  15. ^ Perry, Richard (27 September 1998). "Lunar Serenade". The Ottawa Citizen.
  16. ^ a b Barnes, Mike (March 2009). "Brian Eno". Mojo.
  17. ^ a b Roquet, Paul (1 February 2016). Ambient Media. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 4, 55. doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816692446.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-8166-9244-6.
  18. ^ Rose, Cynthia (1979). "Oblique Strategies". Harper's Bazaar.
  19. ^ a b L. Walters, John (30 April 1998). "Music: Flying Away on Muzak". The Independent. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  20. ^ Stubbs, David (12 March 1994). "Aphex Twin: 'Phex And Drugs And Rock'N'Roll". Melody Maker.
  21. ^ Sullivan, Jim (11 June 1979). "Brian Eno pulls coup with background music". Bangor Daily News.
  22. ^ Pareles, Jon (29 April 2020). "Brian Eno's 15 Essential Ambient Works". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  23. ^ Eno, Brian (July 1983). "Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool". DownBeat. Vol. 50 no. 7. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  24. ^ Eno, Brian (1996). "Generative Music". Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  25. ^ Tannenbaum, Rob (1985). "John Cage & Brian Eno: A Meeting of Sound Minds". Musician.
  26. ^ Aikin, Jim. "Brian Eno: Keyboard Wizards, Winter 1985".
  27. ^ a b Kohanov, Linda. "Ambient 1: Music for Airports – Brian Eno". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  28. ^ Christgau 1981.
  29. ^ Barnes, Mike (October 2004). "Brian Eno: Discreet Music / Music for Airports / On Land / The Plateaux of Mirror". Mojo. No. 131. p. 127.
  30. ^ a b Singer, Liam (7 October 2004). "Brian Eno / Harold Budd: Discreet Music / Ambient 1: Music for Airports / Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror / Ambient 4: On Land". Pitchfork. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  31. ^ Rathbone, Oregano (January 2019). "Brian Eno: Music for Airports". Record Collector. No. 488. p. 98.
  32. ^ Considine 2004, p. 278.
  33. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (2 November 2002). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  34. ^ Powers 1995, p. 129.
  35. ^ Pinnock, Tom (January 2019). "Brian Eno: Discreet Music / Ambient 1: Music for Airports / Music for Films / Ambient 4: On Land". Uncut. No. 260. p. 38.
  36. ^ Beta, Andy (1 September 2021). "Things Fall Apart: How William Basinski's life prepared him to make a beloved musical memorial to 9/11". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  37. ^ Mitchell, Nick (5 January 2017). "How Brian Eno proved the potential of ambient music". I. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  38. ^ Kosman, Joshua (10 May 1998). "'Airports' lands on the stage / ensemble arranges eno's seminal album for instruments". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  39. ^ Bloom, Michael (26 July 1979). "Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  40. ^ Christgau, Robert (2 July 1979). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  41. ^ Niester, Alan (26 May 1979). "Ambient 1 - music for airports brian eno". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  42. ^ Bangs, Lester (November 1979). "Lester Bangs Interviews Eno". Musician. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  43. ^ Davidson, John (20 December 2004). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports [reissue]". PopMatters. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  44. ^ Frere-Jones, Sasha (30 June 2014). "Ambient Genius". The New Yorker. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  45. ^ "Best Chill-Out Albums of All Time". Q. No. 154. July 1999. p. 151.
  46. ^ Dimery 2006.
  47. ^ Eddy, Chuck (August 2011). "Essentials". Spin. Vol. 27 no. 7. p. 78. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  48. ^ Considine 2004, p. 279.
  49. ^ a b Richards, Chris (2 September 2007). "How Brian Eno Helped Travelers Check Their Emotional Baggage". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  50. ^ Roquet, Paul (2009). "Ambient Literature and the Aesthetics of Calm: Mood Regulation in Contemporary Japanese Fiction". The Journal of Japanese Studies. 35 (1): 87–111. ISSN 0095-6848. JSTOR 27756619.
  51. ^ "The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time". Pitchfork. 26 September 2016. p. 5. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  52. ^ Cateforis, Theo (2011). Are We Not New Wave? Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s. University of Michigan Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-472-02759-0.
  53. ^ King, Jason (2007). Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. Duke University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-8223-9055-8. JSTOR j.ctv11sn0sw.
  54. ^ Sinker, Mark (October 1992). "Taking Modern Culture By Strategy: Brian Eno". The Wire.
  55. ^ Morley, Paul (August 2001). "Eno: The Man Who". Uncut. No. 51. Retrieved 22 April 2020 – via Rock's Backpages.
  56. ^ Stump, Paul (1997). The Music's All that Matters: A History of Progressive Rock. Quartet Books Limited. p. 328. ISBN 0 7043 8036 6.
  57. ^ Fink, Robert (2005). Repeating Ourselves. University of California Press. p. 144. doi:10.1525/9780520938946. ISBN 978-0-520-93894-6.
  58. ^ "British album certifications – Brian Eno – Ambient 1 - Music for Airports". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  59. ^ "Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan" – via IMDb.
  60. ^ "Ryko link". Archived from the original on 15 March 2007.
  61. ^ "Minimalism: More Or Less (1998, CD)" – via
  62. ^ "Makyo". Discogs.
  63. ^ Music For Airports / In The Ocean, 2008
  64. ^ "Creation of the Universe" – via IMDb.
  65. ^ "Nine 1/2 Weeks". 21 February 1986 – via IMDb.
  66. ^ "The Lovely Bones". 15 January 2010 – via IMDb.
  67. ^ "The first music played on Beats 1 is Music For Airports". FACT Magazine: Transmissions from the underground. 30 June 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2019.


External links[edit]