By John Zech
On today’s date in 1980, a week-long festival entitled “New Music America” came to a close in Minneapolis with a concert at that city’s Guthrie Theater. The program included the premiere of a piece entitled “High Life for Strings,” composed by David Byrne, a musician best known for his work with a rock band called The Talking Heads.
Byrne later recalled, “When I participated in the New Music America festival in Minneapolis, minimalism and New-Age noodling were making big in-roads into a scene that had been, for better or worse, more insular and academic. My piece, for a dozen strings and me as a timekeeper, was on a program with Philip Glass.” Byrne says he was fascinated by the intricate rhythms of West African pop music at the time, and that also influenced his “High Life for Strings.”
Brian Eno was another rock musician represented during the Festival in Minneapolis. Some years earlier, Eno had been so irritated by the inane, chirpy music he heard while traveling that he composed a soothing ambient synthesizer score he called “Music for Airports.” Appropriately enough, during the eight days of the Festival, Eno’s score was broadcast 24 hours a day throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Decades after its composition, composer Michael Gordon arranged Brian Eno’s synthesizer score for acoustic instruments, and recorded this arrangement of “Music for Airports” with the “Bang on a Can All-Stars.”