Album: THE BLACK DOG – Music for Real Airports (Soma 2010)

Ken Downie has been in the press a lot voicing his dissatisfaction with Brian Eno’s 1978 ambient classic Music for Airports. He says, rightly, that it is totally inappropriate to the modern airport experience. In Eno’s defence, the world of 1978 was a very different one. Even in the nineties when I did a fair bit of flying, there was nothing particularly stressful about airports (unless you suffered from a fear of flying). They were bland, modern, soulless, but mostly boring places that you had to hang around in for an hour or so. No different to giant bus or railway stations in that respect. Aside from being strip searched in Manchester on my way back from Belfast, I never had any particularly bad experiences. And airports varied in character enormously from the gigantic bustle of Heathrow to the glorified bus shelter of Heimay in Iceland whose one concession to commerce and catering was a vending machine. The most surreal experience I ever had was at Tromso in Norway, waiting for a connecting flight to Oslo at about six in the morning in a huge hall whose only other occupant was a cleaner. Things have changed, of course, and the new Black Dog album seeks to reflect these changes.

As you’d expect, there’s not a whole lot of fun going on in the real airport experience. It’s a sombre, claustrophobic work. Ambient music is supposed to complement the space and atmosphere of a place. To be part of the environment. Music for Real Airports differs in that it reflects the interaction between the environment and the human mind. It is an interpretation, a hyperreal confrontation between the space and the semi-conscious. Although there are sampled sounds of fellow travellers, they are displaced. There is no interaction with them. This is head music where the frustration and sleep deprivation play tricks, and everything becomes sinister and threatening. A hermetically sealed bad trip, in other words.

Like other recent Black Dog records, the album flows as a continuous suite. It arcs from stuff that is little more than coloured field recordings into a warped nightmare world. The first beats of any kind appear on track three. The first hint of dread on track four, the airless Passport Control. Wait Behind the Line exudes a quiet melancholy, but that gives way to darker, more beat laden pieces. Strip Light Hate echoes the electric fizz and subtle strobing of the infernal things, like the bad acid has kicked in and the ticking beat of Future Delay Thinking accentuates matters.

The two Sleep Deprivation pieces have the same sort of dark ambient feel as the Heavy lids disc of Techno Animal’s classic Re-Entry album, slipping into the drip-drip-drip paranoia of He Knows. The album ends on a high note with the beauty and sense of release of Business Car Park 9. Never has a car park been treated with quite that sense of wonder and relief!

Eno’s Music for Airports was of its time. Muzak for boring spaces. It remains a great record, but is probably more suited to shopping malls than airports. Black Dog have made a record that accurately reflects the loneliness, frustration, desperation and paranoia that is the 21st century airport. With terror alerts, awkward volcanos and cabin crew strikes, it’ll strike a chord with many travellers. I’ve not been to an airport for three years. And I don’t miss them.

Tracks
1 M1 5:12
2 Terminal EMA 5:40
3 DISinformation Desk 5:19
4 Passport Control 3:49
5 Wait Behind This Line 4:10
6 Empty Seat Calculations 3:26
7 Strip Light Hate 3:25
8 Future Delay Thinking 4:21
9 Lounge 0:57
10 Delay 9 4:20
11 Sleep Deprivation 1 4:53
12 Sleep Deprivation 2 6:26
13 He Knows 1:43
14 Business Car Park 9 5:09

Websites
www.musicforrealairports.com
www.theblackdogma.com
somarecords.com

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