Neil O’Connor – Diffusing the Norm – Eno’s Music For Airports


Location, for a traveller, is transitory and so is the improvised elements of a musical piece; one they are created, they vanish. These elements can swarm in and out of sync, allowing a listener to build ‘situations’, much like how the ambience of any given environment can alter depending on its sonic occurrences occurring within.

Brian Eno’s Music For Airports presents to us the destruction the familiar, the removal of expectations. The album attempted to avoid the classification of Muzak and brought to us another world completely. Background music often adds a stimulus that has a polarising effect. Its often assumed that, once forgotten, the music should merely exist as ambience; the quality or character given to a sound recording by the space in which it occurs. The opposing effect is that it offers to us a dislocation or diffusion of the norm; in that it allows to be transported to a place where the mundane is bypassed and replaced by something that’s meditative and completive.

This paper attempts to address such issues while examining the albums role in establishing a forum for the use of ambient music in public spaces. It examines the role of the environment and what musical stimulus can provide within this space. What Eno attempted was to created was an opportunity for background music to become functional, to have a role, to fit a purpose. Its levels of success are debatable; its set up in Marine Air Terminal at New Yorks La Guardia’s airport in the 1980’s had some staff members complain about its playback; in that it provided more of an annoyance than an aid. Works are, indeed, not transitory commuters. What is evident is that Eno helped create an aesthetic and philosophical breakdown of the role of music in environments, helping diffusing the norm, allowing us to question and reconsider music and its role.


Composer and Producer Neil O Connor has been involved in multi-media, experimental, electronic and electro-acoustic music for the past 20 years and has toured extensively in Ireland, Europe, Australia, Asia and the US. His work was been shown/performed at Resonances Festival @ IRCAM Paris, Kunsthalle, Berlin, Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art, Institute of Contemporary Art, London and has held residencies at the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art, USA and EMS – Swedish Institute of Electro-Acoustic Music, Stockholm, Sweden.