With a touch of irony, Brian Eno tells a story about waiting in Cologne airport where awful piped music provoked him to compose Music for Airports. Prompting reflections on mortality, the forcefully happy melodies he heard in the departure lounge and aeroplane comprised music designed to inoculate against panic. “I thought it was much better to have music that said, ‘Well, if you die it doesn’t really matter’ … I wanted to create a different feeling that you were sort of suspended in the universe and your life or death wasn’t so important”.
By playing and discussing vinyl records that attempt the instrumentation of airborne death I will treat Music for Airports as Eno intended—as music to die to. These are examples of ‘bad music’, records whose motivations and sometimes tasteless musical ideas can be hard to fathom. D.O.A. (1972), is Bloodrock’s, first-person narration of dying after crashing. Jupiter Prophet’s 35,000 Feet: Challenger’s Theme (1986), a Terry Rileyesque synth memorial to the Space Shuttle disaster, blithely croons “a candle in the sky … no stopping to let them cry”. On his LP ‘In Search’, Chance Martin features two flight songs, Too High to Land and High Test, singing “747 started to twirl / Out of control / Look out the window at your own dead ready world”. Merrill Womach’s LP ‘I Believe in Miracles’ gives holy thanks for surviving his own plane crash, while the bizarre Flight F-I-N-A-L…a dramatic comparison to death, enacts a trip to heaven on hymn-filled Inter-World Airlines.
The most compelling film about aeroplane death may be Johan Grimonprez’s pre-9/11 D.I.A.L. H.I.S.T.O.R.Y. showing the timeline of hijacking using documentary footage, extracts from Don DeLillo’s novels, and a soundtrack including ambient music and Do the Hustle, played over terrifying footage of crashes. In the wake of 9/11 and the non-negotiability of hijacking, how has our fear of in-flight death changed and to what extent is Eno’s ambient early-warning solace superseded by desperation to alleviate current insecurities about terrorism? What kind of music is needed to address these new anxieties? Steve Reich’s 2010 WTC 9/11 anyone?