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Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Sunday February 4th 2007


Brian Eno's ambient classic Music For Airports gets a rare outing at Symphony Hall next month, performed by the Bang On A Can All-Stars - a US outfit described as "part rock band, part chamber orchestra. Steve Beauchampe assesses Eno's contribution...

Brian Eno's departure from Roxy Music enabled one of the 1970s rock scene's most innovative and deep-thinking players to expand his musical palette in a way which would have been impossible in the confines of what was to become Brian Ferry's increasingly self-indulgent, ultra-smooth pose vehicle.

Following the critical acclaim of early solo albums Taking Tiger Mountain By Storm and Here Come The Warm Jets, and his seminal work with Berlin-era Bowie, in 1978 Eno turned his attention to the development of a new genre, Ambient Music.

Derived from Musak, the bland, canned, lightweight versions of popular song pioneered by the Musak Inc. company of America in the 1950s and piped to such places as shopping malls, hospital waiting rooms and over telephone queueing systems, supposedly to induce a soporific calm into an ever more frenzied urban landscape, Ambient Music aimed to create an atmosphere of contemplation, a music which heightened the listeners sense of place, space and attendant movement.

The first fruits of this sonic gradation, Music for Airports, was indeed a landmark recording, utilising soft musical textures to enhance the acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies of airports - environments that for many could be a fraught, time consuming and souless experience.

Intended to be played as a continous loop, the piece found its natural home as a sound installation at the Marine Air Terminal of New York's LaGuardia Airport in the late 1970s. Since when, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, an offshoot of America's innovative Bang on a Can ensemble (and attendant music festival), have arranged the piece for live performance, additionally recording their own interpretation as Point Music in 1997.

Arguably an influence on the work of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich (whose Electric Counterpoint the ensemble will also be performing) and Philip Glass, Music for Airports - which Eno followed with a second ambient album Music for Films - will be accompanied at Symphony Hall by specially commissioned visuals from YeastCulture.

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