INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
New York Times AUGUST 12, 1979 - by Ken Emerson
BRIAN ENO SLIPS INTO 'TRANCE MUSIC'
Avant-garde Muzak? Actually, the concept is not as queer as it seems at first thought, since it dates back at least as far as the turn of the century and the French composer Erik Satie. Still, it's odd for a musician known primarily for his work in rock-and-roll to aspire to make a record that whispers subliminally in your ear, that is "as ignorable as it is interesting." But that's precisely what Brian Eno, a founding father of Roxy Music, the producer of Talking Heads, and doyen of the New Wave, says he is up to in the liner notes to his seventh solo album, Ambient 1: Music For Airports.
The last record Mr. Eno produced, an anthology of New York "No Wave" rock bands such as The Contortions, was so aggressive and abrasive that it was barely listenable. Music For Airports is barely listenable, too, but for the opposite reason. Instead of setting your teeth on edge, the album nearly sets one asleep with its still, small voice of calm. In both instances, Mr. Eno is testing and toying with the limits of music, seeing how far he can push them and himself.
Music For Airports is a leap of faith into the hushed void of so-called "trance music," an album very much under the influence of avant-garde composers associated with SoHo, where Mr. Eno has been hanging out of late. But one man's nirvana is another man's nap. Although Mr. Eno's notes explain that this music is meant "to induce calm and a space to think," it may provide the unwary listener with space to snooze. Pianist Robert Wyatt, whose halting fragments of childlike melodies the main attraction of piece that stretches on for sixteen-and-one-half minutes, wryly recognizes this by repeatedly sounding the notes from Frere Jacques to which schoolchildren sing, "Dormez-vous?"
Mr. Eno describes the ambience he is seeking on this album as a "tint," and his hues are as faint as the flavor of one of those Japanese teas that's so delicate you're never quite sure you aren't simply sipping hot water. By draining it almost entirely of incident, Mr. Eno has created music so uneventful and unruffled that it sounds inhuman and heavenly. The three soprano voices featured on half of the album's tracks are so characterless that it's difficult to discern where their angelic "aahs" leave off and Mr. Eno's mellotron begins. On another number, Mr. Eno's synthesizer chords blur in and out of aural locus with the placid stateliness of slowly wheeling stars.