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“Music for Airports” and “In the Ocean” are two films on one
DVD, both of which are directed by Frank Scheffer. They were
released on the Medici Arts label during 2008. The length of
each film is slightly more than 50 minutes. Scheffer has previously
filmed other composer documentaries for this label, as part
of the “Juxtapositions” series. These include films about Elliott
Carter (1908 – ) and Philip Glass (1937 – ), both of which I’ve
seen.

Director Frank Scheffer is known for his exploration of
the relationships between sounds and images. “Music for
Airports” is an ideal subject, because it is an instrumental
performance of Brian Eno’s (1948 – ) composition of the
same name from 1978. However, it consisted of taped loops
of prerecorded music. According to Eno, his original intention
was of ” . . . defusing the irritating atmosphere of an airport
terminal.” With this work, as well as with other similar pieces,
“Ambient” music” was born.

The featured performers on this disc, instrumentalist
group, Bang on a Can, was formed in 1987 by composers
Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang. During 1998,
they performed a live version of “Music for Airports.” The
following year, Scheffer accompanied a recording of the piece
with footage of live images, shot in Amsterdam’s Schiphol
Airport. These images were purposely filmed while “out of focus.”
According to Scheffer, this was done to create an “ambient movie.”

Although there are four different sections in this film, each
encompassing four different arrangements by four different
composers, there is a certain “mind-numbing” sameness to the
whole film, bordering on tedium. Yes, the music is soothing, but
the entire project just doesn’t work for me. I realize that it
was an experiment of sorts and it received Brian Eno’s
endorsement, but this is definitely not an experience that I’d
ever care to repeat.

The second film, “In the Ocean,” was considerably more
interesting. This documentary chronicles the current music
scene in America as of the year 2000, against a backdrop of
the prior 30 years. It showcases the differences and
divergences of American compositional trends, versus
those in Europe. In essence, it is the story of Bang on a Can,
and the band members/composers are interviewed throughout
the film. Some of the composers that influenced this group are
interviewed as well, including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Elliott
Carter, and Louis Andriessen. Excerpts of compositions from
these composers formed the ground plan for this documentary,
and were combined with the interviews and narratives,
resulting in a satisfying film.

Did I actually like most of the music featured here?  Not really,
but I found the film to be extremely stimulating, from a
musicological standpoint. This is often the case with my
“explorations.” It’s not whether I “like” what I hear; it’s
whether or not the presentation of the subject is
authoritative and does justice to the topic. In that regard,
this film is a spectacular success. Even when taking the
tedium of Scheffer’s “Music for Airports” into consideration,
this DVD still earns an “A.”

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