critical thinking, an example

I am starting my Saturday morning off in a mellow way, listening to Brian Eno’s amazing 1978 album “Music for Airports / Ambient 1” and I happened to glance at the liner notes for the first time in a long time. I thought they were worth sharing,


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 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 have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in any 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 basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, 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 stimulus 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 accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.


September 1978

I think we could use a lot more of this kind of thinking about the way our everyday world is and how to make small adjustments in our ordinary environment to reinforce a more calm and thoughtful way of daily living. Roman Mars rightly mentions in his excellent podcast about design and technology “99% Invisible,” apropos of a show about airport design, just how much better airports would be if they just played “Music for Airports” in them. It’s true. Everyone in Chicago knows that the most hypnotic and soothing part of being in O’Hare is going through the United tunnel to C where they are playing their own sort of Eno-esque new age-y music and the bizzare echoed/delayed repitition of “the moving walkway is not ending, please look down.” Even when I’m running through there and flipping out about some late connection, it’s a little bit better by the time I get through there. More like that please….everywhere.

Here’s another very practical example of people working in this manner, thinking of simple ways to improve the everyday environment. Please consider joining this group. If you don’t think you are missing much, just remember to look up the next time you happen to be in a dark place (an increasingly difficult condition to satisfy).

The International Dark Sky Association


About theunlikelyeconomist

theunlikelyeconomist is in the midst of the long slog to attain a PhD in economics.
This entry was posted in the built environment, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to critical thinking, an example

  1. MD says:

    the liner notes for discrete music area as compelling. check ’em if you got ’em. the better record in my opinion, but i am a sucker for so many things like this period

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