AIRPORT SYMPHONY - REVIEWS
Eat your heart out Brian Eno. Room40 has compiled the modern day equivalent to Music for Airports, a project commissioned by the Queensland Music Festival and Brisbane Airport
Corporation. The result? Three discs worth of electronic bliss, two of which come packaged in a nice metal case, and the third available for free download. Based on a series of
field recordings from Lawrence English, there's no one more suitable to spearheaded a project of this sort.
Aside from the outstanding clarity which the compilation accomplishes its goal, the most fascinating and potentially rewarding aspect of the effort is that it is a who's who of contemporary experimental music. There's so much talent packed in under four hours that it's a wonder how they made time for all thirty artists. More is better on Airport Symphony, and by the conclusion of the third disc, the listener will feel like he has just experienced the best layover of his life. For those looking for an introduction into the world of soundscape artistry, there's no better choice than Airport Symphony
- Jordan Volz, The Silent Ballet -
Not 'Music for Airports' but 'Music of Airports', this compilation was jointly commissioned by the Queensland Music Festival and Brisbane Airport
Corporation, asking eighteen sound artists to create a piece utilizing source recordings 'made in and around Brisbane Airport between March and June 2007'.
Admittedly, when it comes to corporate commissions, suspicions are raised. From the evidence on the two discs here, however, there's no indication that compromises were made.
Indeed, one can easily imagine that most have whiled away many an airport hours considering the sounds in which they find themselves immersed. Many of the invited musicians
tend to the atmospheric in their regular output anyway hence it's not surprising to hear that general trend in this set, but there are also contributions like that of Toshiya Tsunoda
which, trust me, wouldn't sit well in any corporate boardroom.
Given that, my first impression was one of a slight blandness. Some of the pieces melted into one another without much in the way of distinguishing characteristics. Usually the airport nature of the source was discernible though not always. Closer listening revealed a good amount of detail missed the first time around, though. If nothing really stands out for this listener as exceptional, there is a pretty solid level of decent quality music here, one that fans of Fennesz, Kahn and many of the Australian artists represented here will enjoy.
David Grubbs kicks things off with a satisfying, soft but grimy mélange of plane engine noise, effectively segueing into Richard Chartier's 'Retrieval Path', a shade less grainy, an inch in the direction of the ambient, though still of interest. Francisco Lopez begins, not unexpectedly, with a bang but then subsides into a hollow, fairly quiet area for a good while before another brief roaring. The thing is, the approaches of these first three tracks, while individually all right, begin to pall a bit when heard adjacently so when Camilla Hannan's ensuing piece walks similar ground, interest begins to flag. Consequently, the listener keeps a sharp ear out for the cuts that buck this trend. Several are different enough but, like Christopher Charles' 'Airport Symphony: A Brief Life', stray too close for comfort in the vicinity of the overtly Eno-esque. The conclusion to Disc One, Tsunoda's 'Peak to Peak', therefore comes as that much more of a surprise, a vicious (seriously, you may want to lower the volume on your system lest you suffer speaker damage) assault of ultra-intense crackles amidst lengthy near-silences. Where in the airport they were sourced is anyone's guess, though Security should probably get over there right away.
The second disc (there's over 140 minutes of music here, by the way) continues in much the same vein. The main offender, as far as excessive gaseous meandering, is Stephan Mathieu in his 24-minute 'Lux-SCN'. Not bad of its kind - lush, spacey drones - but insubstantial when set alongside the better works here. Fennesz' all too brief 'Verona' is a fine one, fitting in comfortably with his music from 'Venice', the ringing, metallic edge he imparts performing excellent service as sonic palate cleanser. Burkhard Beins makes purer use of his field recordings (with editing and layering, I imagine), including caught snatches of conversation and it comes as a refreshing tonic to the dronage as does, in a different manner, Jason Kahn's mix of engine purrs and bird chirps. The final two cuts end the collection intriguingly. Christopher Willits' 'Plane', as near as I can determine, consists solely of the cabin attendant's pre-flight safety instructions heard over the general background hubbub followed by the noise of take-off. It's subtly unnerving in its tepidness, the hum providing something of a threatening undertow. If Joel Stern's 'Terminal Dreamer' is anything to go by, Brisbane Airport is a rather more exotic venue than, say, Newark. A menagerie of animal sounds - birds, definitely, but possibly monkeys? - alongside echoing chatter and, most prominently, a trumpet and mbira (?) player, calmly evoking Southeast Asian patterns á la Jon Hassell. It's a lovely, yes dreamy, piece.
In sum, while there's more meat here than was apparent to me on first blush, there's also a good bit that's ephemeral. Listeners who find soft-edged ambience conducive will enjoy it a great deal more than those who prefer a certain amount of real-world grit. I would have culled the stronger tracks and presented one solid disc.
- Brian Olewnick, Bagatellen -
As a near universal element of the modern world, air travel and the passage through airports are experiences that make up part of who we are.
This double cd compilation from the Room40 label presents a collection of artists tackling the challenge of composing a piece on modern travel, with the organizing
principle being the use of field recordings made by Lawrence English in and around the Brisbane Airport in Queensland, Australia. As one might imagine from the title,
'Airport Symphony', these pieces are meant to hang together and conceptually and sonically for the listener. English refers to the collection as 'Audio diary entries
cataloguing the epic possibilities of flight, aero-passage, and human bodies in motion and even at rest'. This is no small task, and certainly not one devoid of ambition
or pretension. The liners quote both Alain De Botton and Socrates, so it should be clear that we're dealing with a highly serious artistic endeavor here.
The degree to which this challenge is successfully met will vary from listener to listener, and may depend on your tolerance for slow, patient, evolving, and often ambient music. Eighteen participants are on board, including David Grubbs, Marc Behrens, Francisco Lopez, Richard Chartier, Tim Hecker, Fennesz, Stephan Mathieu, and Toshiya Tsunoda. Yet although there's a wide range of musicians involved, the range of styles put forth is surprisingly narrow. Silence is abundant, billowing drones are plentiful, and the gentle roar of airplane engines punctuates many of these tracks. Several pass by unremarkably, even on multiple close listens. Perhaps that's the intended effect though, mimicking the subtle and often unnoticed passage of both travelers and time through busy airports. English's field recordings are well chosen and executed, contributing to the overall continuity of the collection. That said, there were more than a few moments when I would have preferred listening to his recordings unadorned.
There's no doubt that these are highly skilled artists capable of producing works of profound beauty. Yet the results from commissioned challenges often lack the compelling qualities of works stemming from original inspiration. Luckily, several clear highlights emerge, and these correspond with those musicians willing to take risks and move beyond the expected. A melancholic strain runs through Taylor Duepree's track, making it stand out among its predecessors on the first disc, which stick closely to the formula of quiet ambient drones, ominous undertones, and passing jet engines. Also on the first disc, Marc Behrens' '3Winged Zones' provides an alien yet rich landscape of sounds that never falls victim to cliché.
Disc 2 brings a more externalized focus, with Tim Hecker's opener followed by the collection's longest track, Stehpan Mathieu's 'Lux-Scn'. Both are ambient soundscapes that avoid using the sound sources of English's field recordings in recognizable and expected ways. The bulk of tracks on t he second disc, including those from Christian Fennesz, Burkhard Beins, and Christopher Willits use the sounds of human voices, whether random snippets of terminal murmurings or the preflight instructions from flight attendants. Keiichi Sugimoto adeptly provides this disc's counterpart to Duepree, with the requisite nod to melody and consonance. And finally, things close with Joel Stern's 'Terminal Dreamer', which combines nature sounds, presumably recorded on the airport grounds, with a plaintive yet muted trumpet melody. It's a fitting and effective end to the compilation, drawing us away from the false atmosphere and stifled air of the crowded terminal and back to the organicity of the real world.
Overall, this collection brings to mind an audio installation for a gallery show with abstract images of airports and air travel. Walking around such an installation, with the sounds of these pieces might be a more effective way to experience these recordings. The more imaginative listener may be able to lie back at home, listen to this set and be carried away to the atmospheric geography of flight. Others may simply find this a quiet collection of pieces that fail to fully engage. I find myself somewhere in the middle ground, occasionally hoping that someone would break the mold completely and shock us out of complacency. But ultimately, air travel and passage through airports are about compliance and conformity to routines, so perhaps the consistency of approach here makes a certain sense. In the end, I'm impressed by the singularity of focus on display. Although it doubles as a critique, this collection rarely feels like a compilation, and on that basis alone, it's a success. Coupled with its ability to stimulate thought and discussion, this is a trip worth taking.
- Eric Hardiman, Foxy Digitalis -
'If God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings', but instead we invented airplanes, that highly uncomfortable method of transportation.
No place to move, dirty food, bad for your ears and airports, with it's never ending day where time is entirely lost. Where else are people
drinking beer at seven in the morning, because for them it's ten at night? I can look at that with amazement and disgust. Luckily I don't fly that much.
The people on the double CD 'Airport Symphony' are frequent flyers, they travel about to play the globe - well, perhaps it seems so. But some
of these have seen more airports than most of us, and probably each of them has found their own way of dealing with the wait at airports.
The Queensland Music Festival and the Brisbane Airport Corporation who commissioned this work gave the people source recordings from
in and around the Brisbane Airport to work with. I am glad that I got a press text with the tracklisting in correct order, because what
Room40 printed on the card that comes with this is barely readable. Even with glasses and a strong lamp. The music is an ambient
trip with known and unknown sounds connected to airports and flying, which is nice, but it's a bit interchangeable. There is certain gentleness
throughout all of these pieces wether or not they are raw and uncut or heavily processed such as the piece by Stephan Mathieu. Not one shows
a real different perspective on the subject, but perhaps that wasn't part of the assignment. Throw away that unreadable card, sit back and enjoy
this flight. However don't put this on your ipod while flying, as you will not always hear something. The stewards are David Grubbs, Richard Chartier,
Francisco Lopez, Camilla Hannan, Taylor Deupree, Christophe Charles, Dale Lloyd, Marc Behrens, Toshiya Tsunoda, Tim Hecker, Stephan Mathieu,
Fennesz, Burkhard Beins, Jason Kahn, Ulrich Krieger, Keiichi Sugimoto, Christopher Wilits and Joel Stern. Smoking on this airplane is allowed.
- Frans De Waard, Vital Weekly -