Arts Desk

Eno’s “Music For Airports” Live: Transcendant

I'll have more thoughts on yesterday's Bang on a Can Marathon at the University of Maryland later, but the highlight of the day came early for me. Watching the Bang on a Can All-Stars perform a beautifully arranged version of Brian Eno's Music For Airports was a real treat. This is not how Eno envisioned the music would be heard: it was not meant for live instrumentation, and was not meant to be listened to in a concert setting, with an audience sitting and watching the performers intently.

But the space in which the performers played made all the difference. The airy, modernist lobby of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center was ideal for the music, and even passably close to an airport concourse on a quiet day, with its cavernously high ceilings and skylights. While a couple hundred people gathered to actually watch the performance, CSPAC is an active campus building and as such there was a constant hum of people coming and going, catching earfuls of music and then continuing on their way. The music functioned as soothing background music for these people, yet also stood up to close listening for those of us who chose to focus out attention. So even if the circumstances were quite different from what Eno might have imagined, the end result was exactly what he intended. (Except for the standing ovation at the end: that part might have taken him aback!)

For myself, I've always been partial to Eno's Ambient 4: On Land, but the piano melody of "1/1" from Music For Airports is so deeply ingrained in my head that it was all I could do not to grin foolishly when I walked into the CSPAC lobby a little late and heard the performance just starting up. Maybe the only way this could have been better is if it had been performed at sunset.

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