Friday, January 16, 2009

Music for airports Report by Martha Hawley

This month, we've invited Dutch based writer Martha Hawley to contribute a special report on Music used in Airports (inspired, no doubt, by Brian Eno). In a new feature on the blog, you can now listen and purchase the music mentioned in this article on using Amazon Mp3. Enjoy..

An early morning train ride between Barcelona and its airport (so early that I can’t remember whether I was arriving or departing) offered a tender tableau: male passengers, who were possibly factory workers (the dress was not corporate), leaning against the wall of the train or onto a nearby shoulder, fast asleep. No conversation accented the setting, no metallic traces of sound seeped out of earbuds - there was only a soft blanket of classical music floating out of the loudspeakers. The train chugged along past concrete blocks stacked in supply yards, rubble in bleak empty lots and junk heaps. Inside, we dozed on in dignity.

Across the ocean, another scene with sleeping passengers, but now: in a transit lounge at a Colombian regional airport. The waiting area was spacious and clean, but how anyone managed to sleep in the rows of hard plastic chairs has me stymied to this day. Not because of the chairs, but because raw meringues blasted in video clips from the many overhead TV monitors. My first thought was: how hyped up can these people be, if over-amplified rapid-fire Caribbean dance music works as a lullaby? Either that or the stuff of dreams. When a sweeter ballad, Estrellitas y Duendes by Juan Luis Guerra, took over the air waves, a few people stirred and began to yawn. Go figure.

Speaking of airports: Brian Eno’s album Music for Airports (helping travellers to ‘check their emotional baggage,’ see Chris Richards in the Washington Post) may have inspired more musicians than airport sound system planners when it was released nearly thirty years ago. Have airports reciprocated with support for musicians? It does happen.

The concept of “audio enrichment” is changing ideas about ambient sound at Bristol Airport in the UK, where local musicians are being hired for live performances inside the terminals, to promote development of local arts and to advertise regional diversity! Concerts are held at the Wellington, New Zealand Airport, where the slogan is ‘Wild at heart.’ Wellington even released a compilation CD featuring artists who had performed there. At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas, in the USA, before post-9/11 security measures set in, non-passengers would go to the airport and elbow past security to hear the live performances at a stage inside the terminal.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport sporadically schedules special live music programs to promote an opening at a major Dutch museum, for example, but other than that, live music is heard twice a week only for one hour in the morning, when a pianist plays light classics for an audience of strollers in transit. The pianist picked up where a Friday jazz ensemble left off, at some point in the past. That’s it. Wat niet is kan nog komen, which means: it’s not happening, but it could. Let’s do it.

Other airports highlight heritage and name the whole operation after revered national figures. Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim, better known as Tom, who gave the world The Girl from Ipanema, was posthumously honored by Brazil when the name of Rio de Janeiro’s airport was doubled in size to “International Airport Galeão - Antonio Carlos Jobim.”

Liverpool has its “John Lennon Airport”, and Hurricane Katrina did not break Louisiana’s “Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.” In 2001, Warsaw renamed its airport in honor of Frederic Chopin, arguably Poland’s most famous musician on a worldwide scale. Some Poles compare his stature within European cultural history to Poland’s recent entrance into the European Union. For others, the symbolism is less important than the fact that Chopin’s name is easy for non-Poles to pronounce. Definitely something to keep in mind when Dutch transport hubs decide to hone their musical potential.


Emily said...

Cool column! Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Music for Helicopter pilot's is a bit side-tracked here but inspiring music for everyone who dreads flying.. [or waiting at airports]..

E said...

I haven't ever been in an airport for a live concert, and I am jealous! But after spending 17 years in China with few breaks, I went home for my first Christmas with family a few years ago. There was a grand piano at the airport in Providence, RI, and someone who was waiting for a guest to arrive sat down and played Christmas carols. I cried. Not just a tear rolling down my cheek either. People may have thought I was crazy, but music has the power to sum up so much more than words can say, and to give this kind of gift to travellers is a real blessing.
Thanks for this great article!

Anonymous said...

"Music tames the savage beast," and airports usually make me feel like a savage beast so this wonderful blog gives me courage to temper my usual discomfort.

lsm said...

My only experience with live music in the airport was the jangling of hari krishna devotees chanting and busking-- not the desired effect this article would inspire. So let's form a movement! The artists need the revenue, and our souls (and heels) need cooling.
Thanks for the inspiration!

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