Ambient 1: Music for Airports

Ambient 1: Music for Airports
Studio album by Brian Eno
Released 1978
Recorded 1978 in London, England and Cologne, Germany
Genre Ambient
Length 48:32
Producer Brian 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 Brian Eno. It was released by Polydor Records in 1978. The album consists of four compositions created by layering tape loops of differing lengths. It was the first of four albums released in Eno's "Ambient" series, a term which he coined to differentiate his experimental and minimalistic approach to composition from "the products of the various purveyors of canned music".[1]

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. To achieve this, Eno sought to create music "as ignorable as it is interesting."[1] Though it is not the earliest entry in the genre, it was the first album ever to be explicitly created under the label "ambient music."


Eno had previously created similarly quiet, unobtrusive music on albums such as Another Green World, Evening Star, Discreet Music, and Harold Budd's The Pavilion of Dreams (which he produced), but this was the first album to give it precedence as a cohesive concept.

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. To achieve this, Eno sought to create music "as ignorable as it is interesting."[1] Rather than brightening the atmosphere as typical background music does, Music for Airports is "intended to induce calm and a space to think."[1] Eno conceived this idea while spending several hours waiting at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany in the mid-1970s and being annoyed by the uninspired sound atmosphere.[2]

It was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York's LaGuardia Airport for a brief period during the 1980s.[3] Resident air cargo journalist and aviation historian Geoffrey Arend, who was responsible for restoring and preserving the WPA-era James Brooks mural at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, chose to play the album in the lobby of the MAT. It was one of the first albums to be featured on Apple Music's Beats 1 Radio streaming service.


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.[4]

"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 of the vocal-only piece:

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.[5]

"2/2" was performed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer.

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[7]
Rolling Stone[8]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[10]
Slant Magazine[11]
Spin Alternative Record Guide4/10[12]
The Village VoiceB+[14]

In a contemporary 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."[15] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau recommended its four minimalist pieces as charmingly calming background music, although not for any occasion: "I must also report that they've fared unevenly against specific backgrounds: sex (neutral to arid), baseball (pleasant, otiose), dinner at my parents' (conversation piece), abstract writing (useful but less analgesic than Discreet Music or my David Behrman record)."[14]

PopMatters journalist John Davidson was more 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".[16] Chuck Eddy from Spin later named it the fourth most essential ambient album,[17] 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.[10] Ambient 1 was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[18]

Track listing

Side one
No. TitleWriter(s) Length
1. "1/1" (Acoustic and electric piano; synthesizer.)Brian Eno, Rhett Davies, Robert Wyatt 16:30
2. "2/1" (Vocals; synthesizer.)Eno 8:20
Side two
No. TitleWriter(s) Length
3. "1/2" (Vocals; acoustic piano.)Eno 11:30
4. "2/2" (Synthesizer only. Lasts 9:38 in the "Working Backwards" box edition (1983) and on the CD.)Eno 6:00

The track labelling references 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.


Recording Location

Release history

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


See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Brian Eno, September 1978, from the liner notes of Music for Airports
  2. Harriet Baskas, Better branding through music: Original airport theme songs, USA Today, 12-March-2008
  3. Weiner, Matthew. "Brian Eno and the Ambient Series". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  4. Downbeat — PRO SESSION — The Studio As Compositional Tool
  7. Larkin, Colin (2011). "Brian Eno". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0857125958.
  8. 1 2 "Brian Eno - Ambient 1 Music for Airports CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  9. Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports
  10. 1 2 The new Rolling Stone album guide – Google Books
  12. Weisbard & Marks, 1995. p.129
  13. Andrew H. (2005). "Ambient 1: Music For Airports". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  14. 1 2 Christgau, Robert (2 July 1979). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  15. Bloom, Michael (1979). "Ambient 1: Music for Airports Album Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  16. Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports [reissue] < PopMatters
  17. Eddy, Chuck (2011). "Ambient". Spin (August): 78. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  18. Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (7 February 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  19. IMDB link
  20. Ryko link
  22. Various – Minimalism: More Or Less (CD) at Discogs
  23. Makyo Discography at Discogs
  24. Music For Airports / In The Ocean, 2008
  25. IMDB link
  26. IMDB link
  27. IMDB link


External links

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