Music from Music for Airports (MP3)

Last Friday, the Bang on a Can All-Stars performed the group’s transcriptions of Brian Eno‘s Music for Airports with the Kronos Quartet. The show was part of a marathon of concerts, which was part of the ongoing 150th-anniversary celebration of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the event was staged. In advance of the show, Bang on a Can bassist Robert Black submitted to an interview (MP3) on the radio show Here & Now, during which he was asked by the host, “How does that work, when this was something that was technology initially?”

[audio:|titles=”Interview About Music for Airports”|artists=Robert Black of Bang on a Can]

The question’s a good one. The Bang on a Can exercise takes music that’s an early example of studio-as-instrument, a process that blurs the roles of recording, composing, and performing, and retroactively assigns the resulting music to a traditional musical score. Black doesn’t fully answer the question, but he does set up what the Eno was up to, and how the composers divided up the task: “Music for Airports was a piece that was really sort of a seminal listening experience for most of the people in Bang on a Can. So, the four sections of that — each composer that founded Bang on a Can, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Evan Ziproryn, they each took one of those sections and then it was up to them to orchestrate it for the All Stars.”

The interview is about 10 minutes long, and while it may not be fully satisfying in explaining how the transcriptions function, it does provide helpful background, and side-by-side examples of the original music and the Bang on a Can rendition. Interview originally posted at

2 thoughts on “Music from Music for Airports (MP3)

  1. That question – what IS Music for Airports (i.e., the recording itself, the process behind it, a transcription after the fact – is an interesting one, of course with no one answer. (Particularly as it turns out Eno has multiple versions of the second movement, including one that’s 90 minutes long!) We at Bang on a Can chose one approach not because it was THE approach but because we felt it best represented what the piece was to us, and how we could best engage with it. It’d be quite possible and legitimate to do it other ways (one group in Australia has done it with live tape loops, for example).

  2. Thanks for having weighed in, Evan, and for making that point clear: This isn’t “the” way to do, it was “a” way to do it.

    Like you say, the transcription approach to Eno’s recording represents who Bang on a Can are, and the traditions and literature from which you draw. ((My experience of BoaC goes back to attending the early-1990s marathons at the Society of Ethical Culture. I sat behind John Cage one night.) You could have ventured into performing with studio techniques, like the live tape loops you mention, but it would have introduced, potentially, a juncture, separating the work from the extensive adventurous music that BoaC has accomplished on “traditional” instrumentation.

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