“Is it possible to play Music for Airports on the piano?”
American pianist, Bruce Brubaker, asked himself this question when thinking about his new album, Eno Piano, a remarkable reinterpretation of Brian Eno’s ambient masterpiece Music for Airports (the album which defined “ambient music”), together with three of Brubaker’s own works.
“Brian Eno’s original studio recording contains a lot of piano sounds, but they are manipulated, redistributed, dehumanized, or rehumanized. And then there are long, long sustained tones. The gorgeous defining long notes! (Some of them are vocals.) How to do that with a piano? Acoustic piano sounds decay, immediately, unstoppably. The piano is a big decrescendo machine.” (Bruce Brubaker)
Brubaker overcame the limitations of the piano by fitting an adapted eBow or electro-magnetic bow (a device used on the electric guitar to vibrate a string, producing a long, sustained tone) inside the piano. This allowed Brubaker to create the long sounds and drones which make Music for Airports so distinctive and to add greater resonance, overtones, and colours to the piano sound. In addition to the right pedal, the piano’s “secret weapon”, the eBow allows sounds to bloom and grow, linger and fade. The result is not only a convincing conversion of the tonalities of Eno’s original but also those magical spaces between the notes, the mood, and the atmosphere of this music.
Bruce Brubaker – Music for Airports
In addition to the adapted Steinway piano, Brubaker also channelled some of Eno’s studio methods, turning to Eno’s Oblique Strategies when faced with a challenge.
Eno originally conceived Music for Airports as a response to the busy, noisy, anxiety-inducing atmosphere of an international airport. The music aims to defuse and calm, and has actually been used in airports, as well as in clinics and hospitals to calm patients. It’s interior music, music for indoors – whether a room infused with low lighting or the departure lounge of a busy airport. Brubaker’s own pieces on the album take the listener outside. The Chill Air (track 3), for example, is a crystalline miniature, its wintry droplets of sound evoking the crispness of a frosty winter morning.
The album took seven years to complete, including the hiatus caused by the pandemic, and the result is both a marvellous homage to Brian Eno and ambient music but also a celebration of the capabilities of the modern piano and the vision and imagination of the pianist. Brubaker retains the soul of Eno’s music but also brings his own skill and artistic personality to it. His exquisite touch, timbre and pacing create a compelling intimacy, intensity and spaciousness. This is extraordinarily calming, beautiful music which invites attentive listening.
Listen on headphones or a really good sound system to enjoy the full effect.
ENO PIANO is released on the InFiné label
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