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The Black Dog - Music for Real Airports



The ennui caused by modern transit hubs in our age of high speed travel is a peculiarly western affliction. Whilst rather sterile and devoid of any real feeling of architectural glory, airports are pleasant enough places. However, the onset of budget priced airline travel, rising fuel costs and the prevalence of security post 9-11 has seen them transformed into processing centres that resemble anthills. It is amongst this dehumanizing atmosphere that The Black Dog have decided to release an album that is their reinterpretation of Brian Eno’s famous piece commissioned in 1977.

Since their re-emergence as a fully-fledged trio in the latter half of the last decade The Black Dog have worked hard to establish a new identity. In the wake of Ed Handley and Andy Turner’s departure to form Plaid in the mid-90’s, Martin and Richard Dust have joined original member Ken Downie. Given the seminal nature of their early albums this new trio have struggled somewhat to establish themselves against the backdrop of such an impressive back catalogue. However the Sheffield roots of Martin and Richard has given proceedings something of a social commentary texture in recent releases. The inability of electronic artists to tackle or at least provide points of view on social issues is a peculiar one and credit to them for giving it a go. Their approach on this particular subject is suitably dogmatic.

The music for the clumsily titled album does reflect its surroundings. Sleek, minimal and crisp, the production is sharp and crunchy with long drone sequences. A distinct feel of narrative throughout is punctuated with the odd piece of contemplative piano and strings. 200 hours worth of field recordings were collected for this piece yet it was hard to discern them. Beyond the intro and outro, without a trained ear it was hard to hear anything that sounded like an airport apart from a general “hubbub” crowd noise. It’s here that the faults of the album are exposed because the link between the sounds and the recordings seems very tenuous at times. If the album was titled differently, it would be hard to discern whether this was a piece about airports.

Falling between many different facets of techno is what I feel that this trio have not managed to escape - a sort of everyman that has yet to establish a proper unique identity. There’s the moody, downbeat atmospheres that sound like Monolake, the nod to Detroit minimalists such as Robert Hood and even the flicker of dubstep in the appropriately titled “Strip Light Hate”. Throw in the modern classical refrains in “Delay 9” and “Business Car Park 9” with their nod to composers such as Max Richter and the like and it’s hard to get away from the fact that there seems to be too much in the way of referencing styles over individual identity.

The album does have its highlights though. Early tracks “Terminal EMA”, Passport Control” and “Disinformation Desk” play with ambiguous sound design and some interesting rhythmic ideas whilst “Sleep Deprivation 2” contains a simple yet wonderfully effective drone line.

Deep down however, I found that ennui was often an emotion that figured perhaps a bit too much during listening.  Given that this accompanies a multimedia installation, some sort of visual stimulus such as a film would help this idea enormously and fully realize its potential. Without it and the peculiar lack of airport-orientated field recordings that one might expect from a project of this nature, it was hard to engage with this commentary.

Toby Frith

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