The Black Dog: Music for Real Airports

Soma Quality Recordings, 2010

Music for Real Airports cover

Don’t call it a come-back. After The Black Dog’s Music For Adverts (And Short Films) in 1996, Ken Downie took a well-deserved break from the music industry. Nowadays, he collaborates with Martin and Richard Dust. These ambient tracks, already out on limited-edition vinyl and scheduled for CD release next month, are part of a multimedia project with Human, but they stand well on their own.

While the album’s title obviously refers to Brian Eno’s 1978 album, The Black Dog take a different approach. This is music about a space rather than for it. Many of the compositions were created while waiting in airports, which makes for some uneasy listening. Field recordings guide listeners on a journey from roadway to curb-side to terminal.

On “M1,” traffic noise mixes with long, cool drones. “Terminal EMA” is tense. Minor lower-register chords shift and voices babble. “DISinformation Desk” introduces beats. They are quick and distorted—a rising tide of dread in a traveler’s head. “Passport Control,” on the other hand, is an exercise in breath control with a sigh of relief at the end.

“Wait Behind This Line” provides a welcome respite, with a slow bass heartbeat and beautiful strings. “Empty Seat Calculations” and “Strip Light Hate” both bring beats and heavy bass. Clattering vibrations on the former evoke excitement more than loathing. “Delay 9” is a calming presence. Piano and strings play a delicate melody. The beginning and end are studies in background noise—the echoes of countless people.

Fittingly, “Sleep Deprivation,” divided into two parts, is the album’s deepest section. Part one is brooding dub techno that seems to stretch longer than its five minutes. Part two is beatless with a bass drone and treble repetition. It evokes late night well (even if I listen to it at noon).

The final track, “Business Car Park 9,” guides us back to the real world. Synths sing over a slow beat. Mid-morning feels like dawn as our eyes adjust to the light. For a concept album, this music has wonderful depth. Maybe air travel isn’t so bad, with The Black Dog’s accompaniment.

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