VA: Airport Symphony

Airport Symphony is such a brilliant concept, one wonders why no one thought to do it sooner. After all, many of us share a fascination with the relatively strange universe associated with air travel—not just the deafening sounds the planes themselves produce but the reverberant potpourri that echoes throughout the terminals: the bustle of the check-in counter, the cacophonous babble at arrivals, the muffled announcements that echo throughout the spacious corridors. Add to that the wealth of harried activity that constitutes the daily airport experience (excitement and anticipation, yes, but anxiety—for some, debilitating—and disorientation too) and you've got the ingredients for a potentially transfixing listening experience.

ROOM40 manager Lawrence English compiled source recordings made in and around Brisbane Airport between March and June 2007, and then handed them off to an A-list of sound artists—Richard Chartier, Tim Hecker, Francisco López, Stephan Mathieu, Taylor Deupree, Fennesz, and others—for their unique treatments of the material. Interestingly, many pieces (Deupree's “Fear of Flying” and Dale Lloyd's “Airs For Beacons / Signals For Ports,” for instance) opt for restrained quietude, with the omnipresent possibility of violence and death treated more as an undercurrent, if present at all. The planes assume a rather industrial character in Camilla Hannan's “Double Glazed” and Ulrich Krieger's “Noise-Pollination,” and soar over blurry gleam in Tim Hecker's dronescape “Blue Ember Breeze.” It's not all easy listening. In David Grubbs' “The Chimney Swifts,” distant plane noises first recede into silence and then re-appear, at every moment threatening to advance, and planes fly so closely overhead during Francisco López's “Untitled # 203,” one almost feels as if one is being strafed. The coup de grace is Stephan Mathieu's “Lux-Scan,” twenty-four minutes of celestial tonal drift whose every moment exudes that inimitable Mathieu touch (amazingly, the first conventional plane sound arrives twenty minutes into the piece).

There are some disappointing moments—I had hoped for more from Fennesz (whose “Verona” adopts a collage approach which emphasizes field samples more than his signature textures) and Christopher Willits (whose “Plane” is primarily in-flight announcements followed by engine noises)—but such lapses don't prevent Airport Symphony from succeeding as a fascinating idea executed with variety and imagination.

December 2007