Ambient 1: Music for Airports

Albums of Our Lives: Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports




I offer to sleep on the floor. “Be not silly!” Emily says. Her bed is stark white. So is everything else in her room except a mostly blue painting of a Romanesque woman that she had done.

It is summer, I am in graduate school, I am home for the summer. I am staying with my parents. Sometimes this does not go so well. The previous night, I got so angry that I shouted obscenities at some deer. I ask Emily if I can spend the night with her. She agrees, and when it’s time to sleep, she sets four or five alarms with the disclaimer that they are all necessary. Then she goes to her stereo. “When I fall asleep, I listen to Music for Airports,” she explains.

I had never heard the album and I thought I wouldn’t sleep. I drifted off and dreamed that Emily and I donned riding hoods and ran through the forest to escape from wolves.



It isn’t until I move to Boston a year later that I acquire the album, which I put on my work computer. I do trademark research at a tiny cubicle south of the city with the Dorchester Bay out the window. The windows are all too far for me to really look out, so I settle for a mural of the bay in the office across from me. I hate my job.

Sometimes I hate my job so much that my hands shake when I reach the office and push the elevator buttons. My hands shake so much that my hands clank all over the keyboard. In my line of work, where a typo could literally cost the company millions of dollars, this is not a good thing. I call my impossibly sexy Dominican doctor and ask for more drugs, for something to stop the shaking, but nothing ever does.

I put on Music for Airports. The opening track, “1/1,” is over seventeen minutes long and features a repeating piano riff, something delicate yet fiercely supportive. There are these moments when the riff is about to repeat, and those silences become longer throughout the song. It forces you to take a deep breath, to have that slight sense of panic you feel when the landing gear clicks down and it feels like the plane is going so fast it will crash into something on the ground. But the music comes back. It always does.

I start listening to the album every morning at work.

It saves me.



So does Adam.

I meet Adam online in the trenches of my anxiety. I had been looking for someone who could teach me more about contemporary classical music, and Adam was a composer. Because I’ve had a terrible time making friends in Boston, hearing from Adam every night is the only sense of normal conversation I have.

Right now I am making lots of visits to the psychiatric ER in Cambridge during panic attacks that last for days. I am there one night in the waiting room where a Man vs. Wild marathon is blaring from the television, and I am checking my email on my tiny phone, and Adam has written me to tell me how a friend of his used to bike to a college music library and copy his favorite sheet music by hand. I feel steadier, calmer.

Adam and I met in person at an Indian restaurant one Friday night. We talk about synesthesia and Sesame Street and John Singer Sargent. We fall in love, or at least I do.

I tell Adam about my love of Music for Airports. He tells me that he read an interview with Brian Eno where Eno basically said it was music that would make you think, “we’re all going to die and that’s okay.” Which is pretty much how I need to feel about Adam. Which is pretty much how I need to feel about everything.



Ambient 1: Music for AirportsIt’s been six years since I saw Adam. I have heard his voice when I’ve sought out his music online, and the intimacy of hearing it always makes me stop and close the browser window really fast.

It has also been five years since I left Boston.

And it’s been three years since the severe insomnia started. All of a sudden, it became common for me to go to bed around midnight and then to lie awake for ten hours or so. I thought this might be a self-correcting phase, but even after prescriptions and every non-pharmaceutical remedy out there, sometimes I am still wide awake.

For the ten hours I spend awake, I go through a lot of different moods. I can now predict when I will be cranky, when I will be exhausted, when I will be childlike. A lot of music soothes me, but nothing soothes me like Music for Airports.

Music for Airports was made using tape loops. Brian Eno has said that one of the loops was seventy-nine feet long and the other was eighty-three feet. There is a kind of peaceful sterility to the album that makes me forget it was created by a person, but thinking about tape loops reminds me of people. Because tape doesn’t just pick up sounds. It also picks up shaky hands and falling in love and dreaming of wolves and the moment when the airplane safely touches down and you finally fall asleep.

Erin Lyndal Martin is a creative writer, music journalist, and artist. Her work has recently appeared in Salon, No Depression, Gigantic Sequins, and Yalobusha Review. More from this author →