It’s a common myth that Brian Eno ‘invented’ ambient music – he didn’t, but he has certainly popularised the genre and pioneered lots of its principles. I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to a lot of Eno’s huge discography, but listening to his Ambient series has been a wonderful introduction for me to both the genre and his music. I’ve already heard his influences in his work with David Bowie, Talking Heads, Coldplay and how he inspires sonic, instrumental and stylistic variety.
Ambient 1: Music for Airports wwas released in 1979, and was the first album to have been created under the explicit label of ‘ambient music’ (which Brian Eno coined himself). I love this record. Its textures and melodies are simple, and its subtle developments keep the listener engaged – if they want to be. This is a go-to record for me if I can’t sleep or want to quickly relax, because it’s the epitome of ambient music as Eno described it: music that is “…ignorable as it is interesting” that “…induce[s] calm and a space to think”. I’m usually asleep before the end of the first track, which is a seventeen-minute long series of overlapping, slowly developing piano and soft synths. It’s a great stress buster.
The second track is very indicative of the album’s time. It uses a blend of vocal synths that sound dated for sure, but come together very nicely like a little digital chamber choir. It follows the overlapping and slowly developing nature of the first track, but has more harmony and dynamic variation. It’s great at reducing stress, and if I’m not asleep by the end of the first track, I’m always asleep by the end of this one.
I’m not as well acquainted with side two as I am with the first, because by the time I’ve got to it the album has already fulfilled its purpose and I’m fast asleep. However, I still love this half. Track three is twelve minutes of improvised piano melodies accompanied by a reduced texture of synth vocals. The harmony is unpredictable, and helps to keep the piece progressing. It’s another track that I can choose to either listen to, or let it wash over me.
The fourth and last track uses a synth sound that isn’t heard in the rest of the album. It’s very warm and mellow sounding, and seems inspired by the synths heard throughout Kraftwerk’s Autobahn and in a lot of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra. The track layers a series of these sounds that imitate and answer each other throughout its duration. It ends with a short fade out; ending the record on a light, refreshing note.
Overall, Ambient 1 is very pleasant and refreshing to listen to, and I recommend it to anyone who’s had a bad day and needs to settle down and relax – regardless of their existing preferences in music.
The genre has been very interesting to study – especially with how its ideas and textures can be so light yet so engaging. I will be writing more about the Ambient series and Brian Eno’s other works as time goes on.