Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports book by John T. Lysaker

Brian Eno's Ambient 1 - Music For Airports by John T Lysaker 06-30-19

When I learned that Oxford University Press had just published a volume of its Keynotes series wholly dedicated to examining Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, I raced to secure a copy.

The keynote was written by John Lysaker, the William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department. Researchgate.net reports Lysaker’s project goal with the book was to provide “a 30,000 word study of Eno’s seminal album. This short study will explore the nature of ambient music, situate the album in 20th century avant garde music practice, and consider multiple forms of listening.”

Lysaker outlines the origins of this exploration in the Acknowledgements:

I test-drove some early thoughts at a meeting of the American Philosophies Forum. This was a great prod in the right direction, and comments from other participants proved useful as the project developed, as did the opportunity to concretize those remarks in an article, “Turning Listening Inside Out” which appeared in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy.

(He also acknowledges) the writings of Geeta Dayal, David Sheppard, Cecilia Sun, Eric Tamm, and David Toop (and included) the titles of their books alongside others in the section called Additional Sources for Reading and Listening. (He also thanks) the tireless laborers that maintain two websites: MORE DARK THAN SHARK and EnoWeb. Each has gathered numerous interviews that are resources for scholars and fans alike.

The Introduction quickly frames the tasks undertaken by the book:

This short study is for listeners who want to think and reflect on what Eno’s LP has to offer, and in a way that deepens future listening rather than replaces it with scholarly prose.

Five chapters and an afterward follow. They blend musical and historical analysis with occasional philosophical reflections on what “music” means in a context as provocative as the one convened by MFA.

Chapter 2: Music for Airports and the Avant-Garde touches upon a number of pivotal composers and works which paved the way for MFA. David Toop’s Ocean of Sound is discussed, as are Debussy, Ives, Schoenberg, Luigi Russolo, Pierre Schaeffer, Edgar Varèse’s Poème électronique, Michael Nyman, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting In A Room, David Tudor, Cage, and Riley’s In C. Lysaker demonstrates how each of these predecessors provided an environment for Eno’s composition and he concludes the chapter by succinctly identifying the properties and musical concepts embraced by Music for Airports:

…in a short book, one is forced to make choices, and I elect to provide what I consider MFA‘s most immediate context… …Rather, I’ve been marking conceptual, technological, and sonic shifts that helped make a record like MFA possible, and we’ve encountered several.

  • Music can be built around something other than a motif, or basic musical phrase.
  • Microtones and the dissonances they introduce can be musical.
  • Traditional harmony (and even harmony altogether) neither exhausts nor is required for a musically legitimate arrangement of sounds.
  • Any sound is suitable material for a musical composition.
  • New technologies for the generation and reproduction of sound are not only welcome but necessary.
  • The presence of unintended sounds, i.e. noise, is an acceptable (and inevitable) part of a musical work.
  • Musical works can productively interact with the sonic environment in which they are produced.
  • Single tones and chords are musically complex and interesting, particularly when sustained for lengthy periods of time or subjected to extended repetition.

Chapter 4: Ambience explores the nature and function of the general umbrella of various ambient musics. Satie’s musique d’ameublement (“furniture music”) is examined, as is divertimenti music of the eighteenth century. Lysaker goes on to contextualize Cage, La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening album, Moby, Aphex Twin, Thomas Köner, Wolfgang Voigt, Robert Scott Thompson, Max Richter’s Sleep, William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, and FSOL, as well as a brief history of Muzak and the 1950s Capital Records “Moods in Music” series.

Lysaker quotes Eno’s description of MFA‘s movement “away from narrative and toward landscape” and says that “MFA‘s somewhat amorphous and discontinuous sonic material seems to suspend its listeners somewhere in the space between hearing and listening.”

He describes the state of reverie induced by MFA, and suggests that it “enters life differently – obliquely, gently, but nevertheless, at least on occasion, transformatively.”

The final Chapter 5: Between Hearing and Listening – Music for Airports as Conceptual Art effectively summarizes the conceptual nature of MFA:

At one extreme, futurists like Russolo tried to humanize those sounds, creating compositions that strove to translate the sounds of the world into an expanded but nevertheless fully realized musical idiom. At the other extreme, Cage sought to let sounds be sounds through compositions that removed as thoroughly as possible his taste, judgment, and skill as a composer.

When interpreted conceptually, the approaches of Russolo and Cage create an opposition: either (a) art absorbs nature in the self-enlarging process, versus (b) art exposes nature in a self-effacing one. The former offers us culture over nature, whereas the latter labors to displace human activity from an emerging culture-or field-of sounds. MFA eludes this opposition, seeking neither a denatured culture nor an ascetically cleansed field of sounds. Instead, it enacts itself as one aspect of the world operating on another. By working with its world, and by clarifying itself with theories that naturalize the human desire to make art, it presents itself as nature unfolding, taking nature, cybernetically, as a dynamic system of interactions that includes its (and our) own efforts.

Lysaker presents and describes various forms of listening, including background listening, foreground or performance listening, aesthetic listening, adequate listening, and regressive or narcissistic listening. He then offers a metaphor for the reader to consider the type of listening warranted by MFA through a different “lens” of prismatic or immersive listening.

He goes on to observe the subtle differences between listening to MFA across different media formats, from compact disc to vinyl, and then explores the vastly different texture, spaciality, and sonic palette offered by the instrumental realization of the album by Bang on a Can which displaces the monochromatic character of “2/2,” effectively enlivening and humanizing the track.

The book concludes with an Afterward framing the enduring influence of MFA, and the author closes with a brief list of further reading and listening materials. Additionally, Oxford University Press created a website to accompany the book that features audio clips of many musical passages discussed over the course of its chapters.

The short text was a delightful and engaging read, and the philosophy explored by the author is never lost to overly-academic pomp. The book is a thoughtful and knowledgeable reflection on a critically influential work of music which continues to influence and inspire musicians and listeners alike over forty years after its release.

A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind

After being blown away upon first-listen to Future Sound of London’s experimental ambient epic, Lifeforms from 1994, I did a bit of digging to find more exciting sounds from the artist. I quickly discovered that the same gents from FSOL also perform under the moniker, Amorphous Androgynous with quite an expansive catalog for the project. But the real shocker was the realization that FSOL was in fact the other half of the brilliant psychedelic EP I’d ordered from DJ Food earlier this year!

The Amorphous Androgynous

The Amorphous Androgynous

DJ Food & The Amorphous Androgynous collaborated on The Illectrik Hoax EP in 2012 producing a fantastic electro-psych-rock-leftfield mix that really gets inside your skull.

It sounds as good as it looks.

DJ Food & The Amorphous Androgynous - The Illectrik Hoax EP

label 1

label 2

I wasted no time in picking up an archive of both FSOL / Amorphous Androgynous’ extended discographies as well as a complete archive of their radio broadcasts, live mixes and anthologies, anxious to learn more about the psychedelic side project.

For those who own copies of FSOL’s primary albums, there is a treasure trove of other material in the presently-circulating lossless discographic archive and its accompanying radio broadcast collection.  The content is organized chronologically into a series of categorical subfolders thusly:

The Future Sound of London Studio Discography
The Future Sound of London – Complete Radio Broadcasts
BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes
The Collected Electric Brain Storms
The Collected ISDN Live Transmissions
The Collected Kiss FM Transmissions
The Collected Monstrous Psychedelic Broadcasts
The Amorphous Androgynous Discography

The Future Sound of London Studio Discography:
Albums
Anthologies
EPs & Singles

Albums:
(1991) Accelerator
(1994) Lifeforms
(1995) ISDN
(1996) Dead Cities
Environments Series
From the Archives Series

Environments Series:
(2008) Environments
(2008) Environments 2
(2010) Environments 3
(2012) Environments 4

From the Archives Series:
(2007) From the Archives Vol. 1
(2007) From the Archives Vol. 2
(2007) From the Archives Vol. 3
(2007) From the Archives Vol. 4
(2008) From the Archives Vol. 5
(2010) From the Archives Vol. 6
(2012) From the Archives Vol. 7

Anthologies:
(1992) Earthbeat
(2006) Teachings From The Electronic Brain (The Best of FSOL)
(2008) By Any Other Name
(2008) FSOL Digital Mix
(2013) The FSOL Remix Anthology
(2013) The Papua New Guinea Anthology

EPs & Singles
(1993) Cascade
(1994) Expander
(1994) Lifeforms EP
(1994) Promo 500
(1995) Far-Out Son of Lung and the Ramblings of a Madman
(1996) My Kingdom
(1997) We Have Explosive
(2007) A Gigantic Globular Burst of Antistatic
(2008) The Pulse EPs

The Future Sound of London – Complete Radio Broadcasts:
BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes
The Collected Electric Brain Storms
The Collected ISDN Live Transmissions
The Collected Kiss FM Transmissions
The Collected Monstrous Psychedelic Broadcasts

BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes:
(1993) BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix 1
(1995) BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix 2

The Collected Electric Brain Storms:
01 Vol. 1 (2008)
02 Vol. 2 (2008)
03 Vol. 3 (2008)
04.1 Vol. 4A (2009)
04.2 Vol. 4B (2009)
0.5 Vol. 0.5 (2006)
05 Vol. 5 (2009)
06.1 Vol. 6A (2010)
06.2 Vol. 6B (2010)
07 Vol. 7 (2011)

The Collected ISDN Live Transmissions:
01 Transmission 1- (1994) ISDN Tour
02 Transmission 2- New York, 11th May 1994
03 Transmission 3- Edinburgh, 28th October, 1996
04 Transmission 4- Netherlands, 9th September 1994
05 Transmission 5- Rome, 16th May 1994
06 Transmission 6- France, 17th May 1997
07 Transmission 7- Manchester, 6th November 1996
08 Transmission 8- Los Angeles, 22nd January 1996
09 Transmission 9- London, 25th March 1997
11 Transmission 11- Berlin, 12th June 1996
14.1 Transmission 14a- Barcelona 1995 – Preshow
14.2 Transmission 14b- Barcelona 1995 – Art Future Festival
16 Transmission 16- France, 1997
[1997] ISDN Show

The Collected Kiss FM Transmissions:
Test Transmission (Pts 1-6)
Test Transmission 2 (Pts 1-6)
Transmission 1 (Pts 1-6)
Transmission 2 (Pts 1-5)
Transmission 3 (Pts 1-2)
Transmission 4 (Pts 1-6)
Transmission 5 (Pts 1-6)
Transmission 6 (Pt 1-6)

The Collected Monstrous Psychedelic Broadcasts:
A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Exploding In Your Mind: 13-Episode 8 Volume Library

01 AMPBEIYM Vol. 1 (Part 1)
02 AMPBEIYM Vol. 1 (Part 2)
03 AMPBEIYM Vol. 2 (Part 1 – Paul Thomas Mix)
04 AMPBEIYM Vol. 2 (Part 2 – Annie Nightingale Mix)
05 AMPBEIYM Vol. 3
06 AMPBEIYM Vol. 4
07 AMPBEIYM Vol. 5
08 AMPBEIYM Vol. 6
09 AMPBEIYM Vol. 7 (Part 1)
10 AMPBEIYM Vol. 7 (Part 2)
11 AMPBEIYM Vol. 7 (Part 3)
12 AMPBEIYM Vol. 7 (Part 4)
13 AMPBEIYM Vol. 8

Amorphous Androgynous Discography:
1993 – Tales Of Ephidrina
2004 – The Isness & The Otherness – Disc 1 – The Isness
2004 – The Isness & The Otherness – Disc 2 – The Otherness
2005 – Alice in Ultraland
2008 – The Mello Hippo Disco Show
2008 – The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds of Superconsciousness
2014 – The Cartel Remixes
2015 – A Monstrous Psychededlic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind – The Wizards of Oz – Disc 1
2015 – A Monstrous Psychededlic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind – The Wizards of Oz – Disc 2

Similarly, DJ Food has generously made a multitude of his mixes available at djfood.org for your listening pleasure.  And NinjaTune has 37 of DJ Food’s Solid Steel mixes uncut on their Soundcloud page.

This latest musical discovery has really pushed these two libraries to the front of the line.  In the weeks ahead I’ll be further-exploring the IDM / trip-hop / dub / psychedelic / and ambient wonders of DJ Food and Amorphous Androgynous.  When I emerge from the funky depths, I’ll go on to explore FSOL’s thirty other aliases –

  • Aircut
  • Amorphous Androgynous
  • Art Science Technology
  • Candese
  • Deep Field
  • Dope Module
  • EMS:Piano
  • Heads Of Agreement
  • Homeboy
  • Humanoid
  • Indo Tribe
  • Intelligent Communication
  • Mental Cube
  • Metropolis
  • Part-Sub-Merged
  • Polemical
  • Q
  • Sand Sound Folly
  • Semtex
  • Semi Real
  • Six Oscillators in Remittance
  • Smart Systems
  • Suburban Domestic
  • T.Rec
  • The Far-out Son Of Lung
  • The Jazz Mags
  • The Orgone Accumulator
  • Unit 2449
  • Yage
  • Yunie
  • Zeebox

…I’ve got some work ahead of me.

UPDATE: Before the end of the evening I was able to acquire the remaining stray albums and DJ sets missing from the above catalog.  Now I’ve added:

1993 – Amorphous Androgynous – Tales Of Ephidrina
1994 – Future Sound of London –  ISDN (Black Edition)
2005 – Amorphous Androgynous – Alice in Ultraland
2008 – Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show
2008 – The Amorphous Androgynous – The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds of Superconsciousness
2013 – Amorphous Androgynous – The Cartel Vol. 1
2013 – Amorphous Androgynous – The Cartel Vol. 2
2014 – Amorphous Androgynous – The Cartel Remixes
2015 – Amorphous Androgynous – A Monstrous Psychededlic Bubble Exploding in Your Mind – The Wizards of Oz (2CD)