Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports

ISBN : 9780190497293

John T. Lysaker
192 Pages
140 x 216 mm
Pub date
Dec 2018
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  • More than other studies, it situates Music for Airports in the context of 20th century avant-garde music
  • Demonstrates that the album offers a sonic image of the ecological roots of meaning and human creativity
  • Introduces prismatic listening, a new concept of listening

Brian Eno's seminal album Ambient 1: Music for Airports continues to fascinate and charm audiences, not only as a masterpiece of ambient music, but as a powerful and transformative work of art. Author John T. Lysaker situates this album in the context of twentieth-century art music, where its ambitions and contributions to avant garde music practice become even more apparent.
To appreciate the album's multifaceted character, Lysaker advocates for "prismatic listening," an attentiveness that continually shifts registers in the knowledge that no single approach can grasp the work as a whole. Exploring each of the album's four tracks and their unique sonic arrangements, Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports argues that the album must be approached from at least three angles: as an ambient contribution to lived environments that draws upon cybernetics and the experiments of Erik Satie, as an exploration of what John Cage has termed the "activity of sounds," and as a work of conceptual art that asks us to think freshly about artistic creativity, listening, and the broad ecology of interactions that not only make art possible, but the full range of human meaning. 
If one listens in this way, Music for Airports becomes a sonic image that blurs the nature-culture distinction and rescues the most interesting concerns of avant-garde music from the social isolation of concert halls and performance spaces.

"Lysaker empowers listeners and gives a deep lesson on the musical, cultural, and philosophical intersections they hear in Music For Airports. And beyond Eno, this book's ideas are valuable to the concerns and functions of ambient music at large. The focus here on coexisting levels of attentive depth is a welcome addition to our understanding of this, a music that proves itself more relevant every day." - S. Alexander Reed, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Ithaca College and author of Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music

"MFA quietly and resolutely challenges many received ideas about music; John Lysaker's new book provides a wonderfully wide-ranging, non-technical guide to the record in all its aspects, musical, social and philosophical. A mindful, multi-faceted examination of a mindful, multi-faceted masterpiece." - Evan Ziporyn, Distinguished Professor and Director of Center for Art, Science & Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Producer/Arranger, Bang on a Can Music for Airports


About the Companion Website
Introduction: White Noise, Seminal Sounds
Chapter One: A First Listen, or Through a Glass Lightly
Chapter Two: Music for Airports and the Avant-Garde: The Activity of Sounds
Chapter Three: Eno's Journey from Art School to the Studio: Becoming a Non-Musician
Chapter Four: Ambience
Chapter Five: Between Hearing and Listening: Music for Airports as Conceptual Art
Crossroads: An Afterword
Sources for Further Reading and Listening

About the author: 

John T. Lysaker, William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy, Department Chair, Emory University
John T. Lysaker is currently William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. He works in the philosophy of art and literature, philosophical psychology, and 19th and 20th century American and Continental Philosophy. His books include You Must Change Your Life: Philosophy, Poetry, and the Birth of Sense, After Emerson, and Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought. Current work includes a general theory of art and an extended inquiry into the nature of friendship.

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