Ambient: A term coined by Brian Eno to describe a compositional and listening practise that strives to tint the acoustic environment rather than to dominate it.
In 1978 the first record was released that was described as Ambient Music. A name that Brian Eno had invented to associate with his new emerging style. This record was named Music for Airports.
During the early 1970s Brian Eno had recognised that people were changing the way they were listening to Music. He noticed that friends of his were searching for music for it’s stillness, a lack of surprise and lack of variety. At that particular time record making was under the assumption that people had short attention spans and they wanted loads of action in songs, clear rhythms and song structures. Brian Eno wanted a shift away from this type of thinking in relation to music.
There were many signs that things were beginning to change in the world of recording music. Traditional recording was a basic process: Put a microphone in front of an instrument in a basic environment and record the result. In Popular music you started to hear musicians like Elvis and Buddy Holly sing with strange repeat patterns in their vocals, this was not heard before. Phil Spector and Joe Meek created their own sound by using various techniques such as overdubbing, home-made echo units, resonant spaces like huge staircases and lift shafts and changing tape speeds that created many different textures of sound. Phil Spector was responsible for a string of hit records throughout the 1960s and 1970s while Joe Meek is best remembered for writing and producing the song ‘telestar’ by the Tornados which got to number one in the US chart hot 100 in 1962, this was the first record by a british group to reach number one in the USA . It featured a clavioline, an electronic keyboard instrument. See video below:
Brian Eno realised that the 1970s was the decade for action. He thought the process to making music was becoming similar to the process of creating a painting. Recording technology was developing which opened a whole new door to compositional possibilities. New sonic worlds were on the brink of exposure: music to swim in, music to float in and music to get lost in.
This all became very clear to Brian Eno in 1975 as he was confined to his bed because of an accident. A moment occurred, maybe the one he was waiting for? This is what he said:
“My friend Judy Nylon had visited, and brought with her a record of 17th-century harp music. I asked her to put it on as she left, which she did, but it wasn’t until she’d gone that i realised that the hi-fi was much too quiet and one of the speakers had given up anyway. It was raining hard outside, and i could hardly hear the music above the rain – just the loudest notes, like little crystals, sonic icebergs rising out of the storm. I couldn’t get up and change it, so i just lay there waiting for my next visitor to come and sort it out, and gradually i was seduced by this listening experience. I realised that this was what i wanted music to be – a place, a feeling, an all-around tint to my sonic environment”
This experience gave Brian Eno the idea of how he wanted to expand the music. He wanted to create space within the music so it had no edges, to get lost in and to create a plato in the process. That year he created the record ‘Discreet Music‘ which was a 31 minute piece. Eno states that this probably was his first ambient record. Apparently this record was not warmly received and Eno admits he may have not released the record if it had of not been for the encouragement of his good friend and artist Peter Schmidt.
In late 1977 on a sunny clear morning Brian Eno was waiting for a plane in Cologne airport. The airport was near empty and the space of the airport seemed very attractive to him. Brian Eno started to wonder what Music would sound good in an airport. He has said he wanted to make music that has something to do with where you are and what your there for – flying, floating and secretly flirting with death.
He thought “i want to make a kind of music that prepares you for dying – that doesn’t get all bright and cheerful and pretend your not a little apprehensive, but makes you say to yourself ‘Actually, it’s no big deal if i die’
In march 1978 Brian Eno released ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports‘ under the newly found genre known as Ambient. This was the first Ambient record.
The lnner sleeve reads Brian Eno’s Manifesto:
The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. In the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces - familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led the most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention. Over the past three years, i have become interested in the use of music as ambience, and i have become to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in a way compromised. To create a distinction between my own experiments in this area and the products of the various purveyors of canned music, i have begun using the term Ambient Music. An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres. Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basics of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the Music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to 'brighten' the environment by adding stimulas to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.
BRIAN ENO September 1978