Brian Eno’s Thoughts On Ambient Music

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In a Trouser Press interview from 1982, Brian Eno shared his thoughts on ambient music:

Brian Eno On Ambient Music

I like it as an ambiguous term. It gives me a certain latitude.

It has two major meanings. One is the idea of music that allows you any listening position in relation to it. This has widely been misinterpreted by the press (in their infinite unsubtlety) as background music. I mean music that can be background or foreground or anywhere, which is rather a different idea.

Most music chooses its own position in terms of your listening to it. Muzak wants to be back there. Punk wants to be up front. Classical wants to be another place. I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on. I can’t read with a pop record playing, or with most classical records. They’re not intended to leave that part of the mind free – my mind, anyway. Ambient music allows many different types of attention.

The other meaning is more pronounced on On Land: creating an ambience, a sense of place that complements and alters your environment. Both meanings are contained in the word ambient.

Critics don’t like these records, but people do. The response has been really encouraging.

People are doing the most interesting things with the records. I got a letter from a woman in Cleveland who works with autistic children. She had one child who never spoke; he had never made a single vocal noise in his life. Another one wouldn’t sleep; he was ultra-nervous, in a wretched state. She put Discreet Music on one day, and the kid who had never slept just lay down on a concrete floor and went to sleep. So she went to the group where this other kid was, and she kept playing Discreet Music. And this little child – not only because of the record, I’m sure, though the other one was – started talking. I’m not claiming Discreet Music can make the dumb talk, but it’s nice to know it can be used as part of an atmosphere that produces physiological change in people, or seems to.

When Music For Airports came out and sold fairly well, I thought people assumed it was going to be another Before And After Science. It takes a long while to learn whether you’re selling on the momentum of your successes. I don’t think that’s so anymore. I’ve almost shifted audiences. I meet people who never knew I made a record of songs.

Critics can’t stand these records, by and large, because in their search for eternal adolescence they still want it all to be spunky and manic and witty. They come back to rock music again and again, expecting to feel like kids. That isn’t what I want from music anymore – not in quite that way.

I’m interested in the idea of feeling like a very young child, but I’m not interested in feeling like a teenager.

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