Notes & Lines discusses the
intersection of math, science, and technology with performing and visual arts.
Topics include bizarre instruments, technically-minded musicians, and cross-pollination of science and art.
Brian Eno has worn many hats over the course of his 64-year
life: glam rocker, experimental composer,
influential producer (for no less than David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo, U2,
and Coldplay), artist,
and political activist. As of late, the English musician has brought his
unique talents to the completely different arena of healthcare.
Independent recently reported that Eno had installed two "ambient sound
installations" - for the purpose of creating a serene environment for patrons -
at the newly-renovated Montefiore Hospital in Hove, East Sussex, England. One
of the installations is generative
- created to constantly evolve and never repeat using complex algorithms -
while the other is a predetermined soundtrack album accompanied by ambient
lighting and art. (The image at right shows Eno with one the art installations
at Montefiore.) Public music installations are not unfamiliar to Eno: his
well-known 1978 album Ambient 1: Music
for Airports was devised to calm nervous fliers in airport terminals.
As an electronic music pioneer, Eno was instrumental in the
conception and development of both ambient and "discreet" (a term of his own
invention) music. Ambient music is defined as that which focuses more on sonic
textures than the more traditional cornerstones of rhythm and melody. Most of
Eno's ambient music is very slow and sprawling, with gradual musical changes.
(Eno himself has confessed that he typically plays and records his ambient
pieces at a normal pace, then slows down the tape.) Discreet music is a type
of ambient music - based on the eccentric "furniture music"
derived by early-20th century French impressionists - designed not
to be explicitly heard but to blend in with an environment and its surroundings
and be perceived like a piece of furniture. This probably explains why the
hospital was so eager to contract with Eno to enhance their "three-dimensional,
all-embracing means of treating patients" - the idea is for the patient or
visitor to be comforted and soothed without explicit awareness of what is
Just as Eno is no stranger to ambient music, the medical
profession is well-acquainted with the benefits of music therapy. Decades of
research has shown that music improves patients afflicted with mood disorders,
schizophrenia, aftereffects of stroke, Alzheimer's, dementia, and heart
disease, as well as children with developmental disabilities. If Eno's ambient
installations prove successful at Montefiore, I would hope other medical
centers follow their lead and proactively work to comfort those likely to be
experiencing stress or trauma.