INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Irish Times NOVEMBER 16, 2012 - by Brian Boyd
ENO'S STILL THE MAIN MAN FOR A HEALTHY MUSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Don't talk to Brian Eno about airports. He was never a great flyer and found himself on tour with Roxy Music a lot. On one occasion he was driven demented by the Muzak at JFK airport and noted that what was designed to be a calming sound was so trite and banal, it had the exact opposite effect.
A few months later, Eno found himself in the rather excellent Cologne-Bonn airport. Uncharacteristically, he felt himself very calmed and chilled, which he later put this down to how the architect, Paul Schneider, designed the space as a modern cathedral - all big spaces and soft echoes.
With his already consuming interest in "pragmatic, environmental music" enhanced by his airport experiences, Eno set about recording the genre-establishing Music For Airports (1978). This was purely functional music that doubled up as a supreme sonic experience, and it's the one "ambient" album you really need to own. Eno wanted music that would evoke the same response that he got from the architecture at Cologne-Bonn airport.
Not to get too egg-heady about it, but what Eno accomplished on that pivotal release was to remove the foreground from music and highlight the background - a beat-less mood backing that is only supposed to "tint" the surrounding atmosphere. Music for a specific time and place.
"Functional music" has been Eno's trademark ever since. In 1995, an ad appeared in the trade press looking for "a piece of music that was inspiring, universal, futuristic, sentimental and emotional" - all in just three-and-a- quarter seconds. Eno provided the winning entry and his start-up sound music for Microsoft Windows is now the most listened to piece of music ever composed. (Irony alert, but don't tell Bill Gates: the Microsoft theme was composed on Eno's Mac.)
In addition to shaping and scoring U2 and Coldplay albums (never mind his work with Talking Heads, Devo and on Bowie's Berlin trilogy), Eno's own output means he remains arguably the most interesting man in music today.
Although commissioned for a show at the Great Gallery in Turin's Palace of Venaria - the music was to be used in a corridor that connects two palaces and attracts millions of visitors a year - it was found that Lux worked perfectly for airport terminals and to this end was previewed (before release) in Tokyo's Haneda airport.
Although picking up a bunch of early superlative reviews, Lux suffers from the dreaded "ambient" label, a term that has been distorted out of all meaning since Eno defined the genre in the 1970s. This is not "chill out" music; there are no rainforest sounds, no harps and no Enya-style witterings.
As Eno himself put it recently: "People do dismiss ambient music. They call it 'easy listening'. That's a very twentieth century art-work kind of idea: that art is only really valid if it takes you by the lapels and attempts to wake you up from your useless bourgeois existence. I find it questionable that art has to somehow be disruptive."
Listen to Lux. It's the most elegant music you'll hear all year.