The Black Dog – Music for Real Airports (Soma)

Paying homage to Brian Eno‘s ambient masterpiece, Music for Airports (Polydor, 1978), which Eno created for the whole purpose of being played in actual airports, to convey calmness and reassurance to the passengers about to set off on an airborne journey, The Black Dog set out to create their own version, designed for real airports. But, unlike Eno’s version, this album is “not a utilitarian accompaniment to airports, in the sense of reinforcing the false utopia and fake idealism of air travel“. The album is a pristine selection of beautiful tracks, with an overlay of field recordings collected through the three years of the group’s tour travels. And instead of conceptual and abstract, The Black Dog delivers a cinematic and very personal album, that will captivate you in any surrounding.

To further elaborate on the contrast between the two works, here’s a Brian Eno quote from a TV interview:

“One day I was sitting in this beautiful airport, Cologne airport. It was a Sunday morning and the sun was streaming in. It was the most beautiful piece of architecture… And the most idiotically stupid pop music playing… You put all this attention into the architecture and the ambience in every respect except the music. What is the music? It’s what some person’s brought in that morning and stuck in a cassette player… So I started constructing in my mind what would be the right music for the airport.”

In general terms, Eno’s view was that the music should communicate a feeling rather than a narrative, and that it should be soothing. It should help people feel comfortable and resign themselves to the inconvenience and ultimately disconcerting nature of air travel.

The Black Dog take a different approach. Based on over 200 hours of field recordings at airports, Music for Real Airports is not a record “to be used by airport authorities to lull their customers.” Rather, it embraces the underlying fear and anxiety and revels in it. “Wait Behind This Line”, for example, is a gloomy death march, a bottomless pit of despair and hopelessness. In other places, the album swings the other way and captures the excitement and sense of adventure that airports can also evoke. On the whole, it’s an engaging album.

I’ll save my breath in covering the history of the group. I trust you can point your clickers to their Wikipedia entry for all the details. But in case you didn’t know, the group was originally founded by Ken Downie, Ed Handley and Andy Turner, and were one of the founding figures of IDM as a genre. Handley and Turner set off to create and focus on Plaid back in 1995, while Downie was joined by Martin and Richard Dust to continue the legacy, that, in my opinion, is only blossoming…

If you missed the group’s earlier releases, pick up Radio Scarecrow (Soma, 2008) and Further Vexations (Soma, 2009). In contrast to Music for Real Airports the above mentioned are more beat oriented albums, falling into the techno genre, as defined by The Black Dog’s original style. Be sure to also check out the mixes that The Black Dog regularly make available on their website. The latest – Drifting Ambient Mix May 2010 – is a doozie.

Recommended if you loved the ambiance of Lusine ICL’s Language Barrier (Hymen, 2007), Arovane‘s Lilies (City Centre Offices, 2004), and Autechre‘s Amber (Warp, 1994). As I’m writing this review, I’m on my fifth listen of the album, becoming more and more convinced that it will go down in history as one of my absolute favorites.

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Review prepared by Tigon and HC | |

3 thoughts on “The Black Dog – Music for Real Airports (Soma)

  1. For some reason, I commented on this post, and it looks like it has been removed. Not sure why, but I’ll go ahead an comment once again.

    Yes, this is one that’s on my “to purchase” before year’s end list. This is interesting, because when Eno released “Airports”, it was an entirely different time period. I can relate completely with his frustration with terrible sounds (in the form of horrible pop music) accompanying an otherwise great visual environment. I recall, nearly fifteen years ago when I’d go to the local airport for fun, to watch the people and planes take off and land. I was just getting into ambient music at the time, and was imagining music that was ideal for this setting. At the time, not so long ago, the airport was actually somewhat a tranquil place, and I imagined tracks like Autechre’s “Autriche”, Aphex Twin’s “Tha” and ironically, “Merck” by Black Dog Productions as backdrop music to the airport setting. Go forward about five years, and the world has drastically changed since 911. It’s a paranoid world, and it’s reflected in the way airports are run, and further reflected in TBD’s new sonic commentary. Was Eno wrong for romanticising the Airport in his day? Absolutely not. Is the Black Dog being too cynical on “Music for Real Airports”? Most likely not.

    By the way, you forgot to mention “Silenced” by the Black Dog, released around 2005. It’s just as good as their latest material but harder to find and a bit pricey.

    In the meantime, it’s interesting to see the relative silence from Plaid lately, while Downey and crew are cranking out a slew of new material. Earlier in the decade, it seemed to be the other way around. I can’t help to compare and contrast the two groups these days.

    1. Hey Steve, sorry for the confusion. I didn’t actually remove your previous post – I never got a chance to moderate and approve it in the first place. So I’m publishing both here. There was nothing wrong with your comments :)

  2. Yes, this one’s on my “to purchase” list before year’s end. I totally get what Eno was saying (and doing), with regards to Music for Airports. It was a different day, and time when he experienced these feelings. I can relate, going to places – beautiful places, only marred by an obscene, man-made soundtrack (usually in the form of really awful, ugly pop music). A friend and I used to actually go to the Pittsburgh airport for “fun”, to hang out, watch the planes take off and land. That was over fifteen years ago, and I was just getting into ambient music, imagining planes taking off and people walking to and from with the sounds of Autechre’s “Autriche”, Aphex Twin’s “Tha”, B12’s “Phett” and ironically, The Black Dog Productions “Merck” as an audio backdrop. Fast forward a decade later and it’s a whole new and far more pessimistic world. So, was Eno wrong for romanticizing the airport and expressing his vision? Absolutely not. In fact, it can still apply today, but perhaps not quite as smoothly.

    I do think The Black Dog are indeed only beginning to blossom and I can’t help comparing them with Plaid – their sound, their output. It’s interesting to see how much the Black Dog have produced and released in only a few years, yet Plaid have been relatively dormant (if you don’t quite count their soundtracks). Anyhow, i also highly recommend the “Silenced” CD, which The Black Dog put out earlier in the decade, though it’s become harder to find and quite pricey.

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