Ambient 1: Music for Airports

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Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Music for Airports.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 1978
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 March 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."[1] Although it is not the earliest entry in the genre, it was the first album ever to be explicitly created under the label "ambient music".

Background and concept[edit]

By the mid 1970s, Eno had begun to move beyond pop and glam rock stylings towards more quiet and unobtrusive music, as seen on the 1975 releases Evening Star (a collaboration with guitarist Robert Fripp) and Discreet Music. In the following year, Eno produced The Pavilion of Dreams by minimalist composer Harold Budd which also explored the genre.[2]

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".[3][4] 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."[1] 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."[1]

Music for Airports is the first instalment of Eno's Ambient series of albums of ambient music, 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."[1]


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:

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.[5]

"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 how the vocal-only piece was made:

There are sung notes, sung by three women and myself. One of the notes repeats every 23 1/2 seconds. It is in fact a long loop running around a series of tubular aluminum chairs in Conny Plank's studio. The next lowest loop repeats every 25 7/8 seconds or something like that. The third one every 29 15/16 seconds or something. What I mean is they all repeat in cycles that are called incommensurable — they are not likely to come back into sync again. So this is the piece moving along in time. Your experience of the piece of course is a moment in time, there. So as the piece progresses, what you hear are the various clusterings and configurations of these six basic elements. The basic elements in that particular piece never change. They stay the same. But the piece does appear to have quite a lot of variety.[6]

"2/2" was performed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer, slowed down and placed through three echo units. 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.[7]


Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[8]
Christgau's Record GuideB[9]
Mojo4/5 stars[10]
Record Collector4/5 stars[12]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[14]
Slant Magazine4/5 stars[15]
Spin Alternative Record Guide4/10[16]

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."[18] 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."[19] 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.[20]

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".[21] 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."[8] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine described the effect of the compositions as "sheer weightlessness."[15] Q described it as "soothing and sublime, a useful album when you're feeling particularly delicate."[22] 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."[11]

Ambient 1 was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[23] Chuck Eddy from Spin later named it the fourth most essential ambient album,[24] 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.[25] In September 2016, Pitchfork named the record the best ambient album of all time.[26]

In a 2001 interview, Eno claimed that the album had sold 250,000 copies in its first 20 years.[27]


The album was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York's LaGuardia Airport in mid-1980.[28][29]

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.


  • 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)[30] 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.[31] This title was later included with his Thursday Afternoon video on the Rykodisc DVD compilation 14 Video Paintings.[32]
  • Music from the album has been covered by:
    • Bang on a Can, both on Music For Airports (1998) and Music For Airports (Live) (2008)[33]
    • Makyo — "2/1 (Night Flight Mix)", on the double compilation CD Minimalism: More Or Less, 1998, Law & Auder (LA05CD) [34][35]
  • 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[36]
  • The first track is used in the PBS special The Creation of the Universe.[37] 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.[38]
  • "1/1" features prominently in the opening scene of the 2009 motion picture The Lovely Bones.[39]
  • 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.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Eno, Brian (1978). Ambient 1: Music for Airports (liner notes). Brian Eno. PVC Records. PVC 7908 (AMB 001). Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  2. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Brian Eno". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  3. ^ O'Brien, Glenn (June 1978). "Eno at the Edge of Rock". Interview. Vol. 8 no. 6. Retrieved 24 December 2019 – via Rock's Backpages.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Eno, Brian (July 1983). "Pro Session: The Studio as Compositional Tool". DownBeat. Vol. 50 no. 7. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  6. ^ Eno, Brian (7 July 1996). "Generative Music". In Motion. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  7. ^ Aikin, Jim. "Brian Eno: Keyboard Wizards, Winter 1985".
  8. ^ a b Kohanov, Linda. "Ambient 1: Music for Airports – Brian Eno". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  9. ^ Christgau 1981.
  10. ^ Barnes, Mike (October 2004). "Brian Eno: Discreet Music / Music for Airports / On Land / The Plateaux of Mirror". Mojo. No. 131. p. 127.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Rathbone, Oregano (January 2019). "Brian Eno: Music for Airports". Record Collector. No. 488. p. 98.
  13. ^ Caramanica, Jon (25 November 2004). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Rolling Stone. No. 962. p. 94.
  14. ^ Considine 2004, p. 278.
  15. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (2 November 2002). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  16. ^ Powers 1995, p. 129.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Bloom, Michael (26 July 1979). "Ambient 1: Music for Airports". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (2 July 1979). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  20. ^ Bangs, Lester (November 1979). "Lester Bangs Interviews Eno". Musician. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
  21. ^ Davidson, John (20 December 2004). "Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports [reissue]". PopMatters. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Best Chill-Out Albums of All Time". Q. No. 154. July 1999. p. 151.
  23. ^ Dimery 2006.
  24. ^ Eddy, Chuck (August 2011). "Essentials". Spin. Vol. 27 no. 7. p. 78. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  25. ^ Considine 2004, p. 279.
  26. ^ "The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time". Pitchfork. 26 September 2016. p. 5. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  27. ^ Morley, Paul (August 2001). "Eno: The Man Who". Uncut. No. 51. Retrieved 22 April 2020 – via Rock's Backpages.
  28. ^ Weiner, Matthew (27 September 2004). "Brian Eno and the Ambient Series". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 May 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  29. ^ Miller, Gregory (November 1980). "Brian Eno". Omni. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  30. ^ "British album certifications – Brian Eno – Ambient 1 - Music for Airports". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  31. ^ IMDB link
  32. ^ Ryko link Archived 15 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^
  34. ^ Various – Minimalism: More Or Less (CD) at Discogs
  35. ^ Makyo Discography at Discogs
  36. ^ Music For Airports / In The Ocean, 2008
  37. ^ IMDB link
  38. ^ IMDB link
  39. ^ IMDB link
  40. ^ "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]