Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ambient Thoughts

I've been listening to Brian Eno's "Ambient 1: Music for Airports" in my car the last couple of days. Great stuff.

If you're not familiar with Eno's ambient work (Music for Airports and Discreet Music are the ones I've heard -- there's also Day of Radiance and On Land, as well as a lot of other work which is heavily ambient even if it is not expressly so), try giving it a listen sometime -- fascinating stuff, and light years away from what is considered "ambient" music nowadays. Most of what passes for ambient now is the stuff that gets played in lounges or restaurants that want to seem hip -- but it's often just standard pop songs without a rhythm track. So if you listen you can still hear the basic 4/4 time signature, the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus approach to writing/churning out a song. It's not really written to be a unique type of music, but rather is created as a by-product of regular dance music that is easier to dance to when stoned and harder to tap your foot to when sober. Not bad really, just mostly uninteresting.

Now, what Eno was working toward with his ambient stuff was the aural equivalent of paintings: Music that could comfortably exist as a "background" experience, but that could also offer a rewarding experience when carefully listened to and scrutinized. The structures of a "song" are sort of there, but not in the usual expected ways. Instead of the rigid v/c/v/c/b/c structure you get lots of independent sound motifs (a pretty little piano run, a chorus of synthesized oooo's, a lovely descending synth line, some very light percussive doodles, etc.) that sort of ... I don't know ... float and bounce around, interacting in different ways at different times over the course of 10-15 minutes. Almost random, but very much not at all random. Fascinating stuff.

Which leads me to the discussion I had with my daughter this morning. Now, every morning I drive Miranda to school. It's not a long drive -- 10 minutes in the car, tops. But it's cool. We get a few minutes that's just for us, and since it's early it's a really good time to throw some music on and just see what she has to say about it.

Now, I listen to pretty much EVERYTHING. Literally. In a given week I can, depending on my moods, swing from Britney Spears to Slayer to Bizet to Duran Duran to Blue Oyster Cult to Ella Fitzgerald to Tool to ABBA, with stops just about anywhere in-between any of those. And I LOVE exposing my kids to lots of kinds of music, just to get their take on it. Miranda, in particular, seems to have my ear for music, in that she describes music in terms that are evocative instead of just "I like this!" For example, recently I played her some Dead Can Dance and within 30 seconds she was telling me how the music sounded like it was from a long ago, ancient place, and that it made her think of Egypt, and it made her want to dance like a snake, which she promptly did. Needless to say, I joined in.

So anyway, I put Music for Airports on and asked her what she thought. And she listened for a minute and then said "It's pretty." So I prompted her a bit, asked her what it made her think of, and she went all quiet. So, I prompted her a bit more, telling her it was named "Music for Airports," and she said "what do you mean, this is music that airports like to listen to? That's silly: Airports don't have ears."

I nearly drove off the road I laughed so hard.

But it got me to thinking: If airports had ears, is this the sort of music they'd listen to? Maybe. Now when I listen to some of Music for Airports, and I hear all those sighing electronic voices, it sounds like some sort of cybernetic angel choir. I imagine enormous, graceful shining metallic angels, singing as they soar through the skies, their wings extended and gleaming in the sun. The voices of things that are sorta like airplanes, but much, much better. Like angels are supposed to be when compared with us. Perfect, without blemish. Sexless and smooth.

And incredibly aerodynamic.

Mood: Kinda floaty
Now Playing: Adrian Belew, "Mr. Music Head"

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