Ambient music


Ambient music
Ambient music
Stylistic origins Electronic art music
Minimalist music
Drone music[1]
Psychedelic rock
Krautrock
Space rock
Frippertronics
Cultural origins Early 1970s, United Kingdom
Typical instruments Electronic musical instruments, electroacoustic music instruments, and any other instruments or sounds (including world instruments) with electronic processing
Mainstream popularity Low
Derivative forms Ambient house – Ambient techno – ChilloutDowntempoTranceIntelligent dance
Subgenres
Dark ambientDrone music[1]Lowercase – Black ambient – Detroit techno – Shoegaze
(complete list)
Fusion genres
Ambient dub – IllbientPsybientAmbient industrialAmbient houseSpace musicPost-rock
Other topics
Ambient music artistsList of electronic music genresFurniture music

Ambient music is a musical genre that focuses largely on the timbral characteristics of sounds, often organized or performed to evoke an "atmospheric",[2] "visual"[3] or "unobtrusive" quality.

Contents

History

John Cage (right) with David Tudor at Shiraz Arts Festival 1971

The roots of ambient music go back to the early 20th century. In particular, the period just before and after the first world war gave rise to two significant art movements that encouraged experimentation with various musical (and non musical) forms, while rejecting more conventional, tradition-bound styles of expression. These art movements were called Futurism and Dadaism. Aside from being known for their painters and writers, these movements also attracted experimental and 'anti-music' musicians such as Francesco Balilla Pratella of the pre-war Futurism movement and Kurt Schwitters and Erwin Schulhoff of the post-war Dadaist movement. The latter movement played an influential role in the musical development of Erik Satie.[citation needed]

As an early 20th century French composer, Erik Satie used such Dadaist-inspired explorations to create an early form of ambient / background music that he labeled "furniture music" (Musique d'ameublement). This he described as being the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere for that activity, rather than serving as the focus of attention.[4] From this greater historical perspective, Satie is the link between these early Art movements and the work of Brian Eno, who as an art school trained musician, had an appreciation of both the music and art worlds.[citation needed]

Alongside these early developments, more conventional forms of music began to take note of such experimentation and in turn gave rise to future influence of ambient in the work of modernist composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman as well as minimalist composers such as La Monte Young,[5][6] Terry Riley,[6] Philip Glass,[6] and Steve Reich.[6] Douglas Leedy's Entropical Paradise, released as a three LP set by Seraphim in 1971, consisting of six, side-long, compositions of "environmental music", in which single modular synthesizer settings were allowed to play out without further intervention.

Brian Eno is generally credited with coining the term "Ambient Music" in the mid-1970s to refer to music that, as he stated, can be either "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener", and that exists on the "cusp between melody and texture".[4] Eno, who describes himself as a "non-musician", termed his experiments in sound as "treatments" rather than as traditional performances. Eno used the word "ambient" to describe music that creates an atmosphere that puts the listener into a different state of mind; having chosen the word based on the Latin term "ambire", "to surround".[7]

The album notes accompanying Eno's 1978 release Ambient 1: Music for Airports include a manifesto describing the philosophy behind his ambient music: "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."[8]

Eno has acknowledged the influence of Erik Satie and John Cage. In particular, Eno was aware of Cage's use of chance such as throwing the I Ching to directly affect the creation of a musical composition. Eno then utilised a similar method of weaving randomness into his compositional structures. This approach was manifested in Eno's creation of Oblique Strategies, where he used a set of specially designed cards to create various sound dilemmas that in turn, were resolved by exploring various open ended paths, until a resolution to the musical composition revealed itself. Eno also acknowledged influences of the drone music of La Monte Young (of whom he said, "La Monte Young is the daddy of us all"[5]) and of the mood music of Miles Davis and Teo Macero, especially their 1974 epic piece, "He Loved Him Madly", about which Eno wrote, "that piece seemed to have the 'spacious' quality that I was after...it became a touchstone to which I returned frequently."[7]

Beyond the major influence of Brian Eno, other musicians and bands added to the growing nucleus of music that evolved around the development of "Ambient Music". While not an exhaustive list, one cannot ignore the parallel influences of Wendy Carlos, who produced the original music piece called "Timesteps" which was then used as the filmscore to Clockwork Orange, as well as her later work Sonic Seasonings. Other significant artists such as Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis have all added to or directly influenced the evolution of ambient music. Adding to these individual artists, works by groups such as Pink Floyd, through their albums Ummagumma, Meddle and Obscured by Clouds. Other groups including Yes with their album Tales from Topographic Oceans, the Hafler Trio, Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, Can, and Kraftwerk have all added distinctive aspects to the growing and diversified genre of ambient music.[citation needed]

1990s: Developments

By the early 1990s artists such as The Orb, Aphex Twin, Seefeel, the Irresistible Force, Geir Jenssen's Biosphere, and the Higher Intelligence Agency were being referred to by the popular music press as ambient house, ambient techno, IDM or simply "ambient" according to the liner notes of Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports:

Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.

So-called 'Chillout' began as a term deriving from British ecstasy culture which was originally applied in relaxed downtempo 'chillout rooms' outside of the main dance floor where ambient, dub and downtempo beats were played to ease the tripping mind.[9][10]

The London scene artists, such as Aphex Twin (specifically: Selected Ambient Works Volume II, 1994), Global Communication (76:14, 1994), FSOL The Future Sound of London (Lifeforms, ISDN), The Black Dog (Temple of Transparent Balls, 1993), Autechre (Incunabula, 1993, Amber), Boards of Canada, and The KLF's seminal Chill Out, 1990, all took a part in popularising and diversifying ambient music where it was used as a calming respite from the intensity of the hardcore and techno popular at that time.[9]

Later in the period much experimental electronica (particularly sound artists such as Pole, Mika Vainio, Ryoji Ikeda, Christian Fennesz, Aphex Twin (drukQs, 2001) and Autechre expanded the themes of 'ambient' along the lines of earlier 1970s ambient music & dub but with increasingly abstracted sample-based textures and digital electronics that ultimately began to converge with minimalist compositions and music concrete.[citation needed]

Digital era musicians and sound artists, including Brian Eno [11] are notable in their attempts to create 'sonic sculptures' which interact with the physical architecture of the listening space using advanced electronic installations.[citation needed]

Literally 'ambient' field recordings are a specialism of the Touch Music label. Forerunner of this species in Poland is Brunette Models (since 1995). The electroacoustic influence can be heard in the contemporary work of Polish artist Jacaszek (since 2008).[citation needed]

Glitch music is a major subset of this work produced by (mainly German) labels such Mille Plateaux (Clicks & Cuts Series, 2000).[citation needed]

Some dubstep producers, notably Burial and Kites (Bristol ambient dubstep) have nostalgically referenced the sonic 'post-rave' ambience of the nineties era.[citation needed]

Soundtracks

Ambient music has been used in many motion pictures, television shows and video games, and is notable for contributing to their atmosphere, or soundscapes. Vangelis wrote the scores for the for the British film Chariots of Fire, and for for Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner, as well as many other score albums. David Lynch's 1984 film Dune, for example, forgoes the epic sci-fi adventure style theme music popularized by Star Wars in favor of a more atmospheric music score by Toto and Brian Eno. Throughout the 1980s Tangerine Dream composed scores for more than twenty films, most notably the soundtracks for Flashpoint and Heartbreakers, both released in 1984, and Legend, directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1985.

Electronic musician Paddy Kingsland is noted for the music style he brought to several serials of the television series Doctor Who which had until then relied mostly on stock music cues or minimal music for much of its history. The video game trilogy Fallout and its spinoffs use ambient music that sometimes contains gentle rumblings to portray the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic world which the games are set in. Relic Entertainment's 1999 game Homeworld uses such music to highlight the vast emptiness of the areas of deep space the Mothership often finds itself in. Another game series that uses ambient music is the Oddworld games, notably Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. That music was composed by Michael Bross. The games featured in Valve's Half-Life series, including spinoffs such as Portal, feature ambient music soundtracks by composers Kelly Bailey and Mike Morasky. The EA Game Mirror's Edge also used ambient music, composed and produced by Magnus Birgersson under his guise Solar Fields, to give a futuristic feel or puzzling atmosphere to sections of the game. The Sci-Fi horror game Doom 3 uses an ambient soundtrack made by former drummer Chris Vrenna of the band Nine Inch Nails, instead of having a song, mainly a MIDI file, looped through the entire map.

Related and derivative genres

Organic ambient music

Organic ambient music is characterised by integration of electronic, electric, and acoustic musical instruments. Aside from the usual electronic music influences, organic ambient tends to incorporate influences from world music, especially drone instruments and hand percussion. Organic ambient is intended to be more harmonious with nature than with the disco. Some of the artists in this sub-genre include Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, O Yuki Conjugate, Voice of Eye, Vir Unis, James Johnson, Loren Nerell, Atomic Skunk, Tuu and Robert Scott Thompson.

Some works by ambient pioneers such as Brian Eno, Laraaji or Popol Vuh who use a combination of traditional instruments (such as piano or hammered dulcimer or hand percussion, though usually processed through tape loops or other devices) and electronic instruments, would[who?] be considered New Age / organic ambient music in this sense. In the 1970s and 1980s, Klaus Schulze often recorded string ensembles and performances by solo cellists to go along with his extended Moog synthesizer workouts.

Nature-inspired ambient music

The music is composed from samples and recordings of naturally occurring sounds. Sometimes these samples can be treated to make them more instrument-like. The samples may be arranged in repetitive ways to form a conventional musical structure or may be random and unfocused. Sometimes the sound is mixed with urban or "found" sounds. Examples include much of Biosphere's Substrata, Mira Calix's insect music and Chris Watson's Weather Report. Some overlap occurs between organic ambient and nature-inspired New Age. One of the first albums in the genre, Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings, combines sampled and synthesized nature sounds with ambient melodies and drones for a particularly relaxing effect. Transformation by Suzanne Doucet and Christian Buehner and the album Second Nature by Bill Laswell, Tetsu Inoue, and Atom Heart are ambient album that use processed nature sounds, with reverb and echo to create a hypnotic environment.

Dark ambient

Dark ambient is a general term for any kind of ambient music with a "dark" or dissonant feel, but often involves extensive use of digital reverb to create vast sonic spaces for frightening, bottom-heavy sounds such as deep drones, gloomy male chorus, echoing thunder, and distant artillery. It has an eerie feel; the term "isolationist ambient" could be used interchangeably with it according to the listener or artists perspective. Some artists and releases that epitomize the style could include Bass Communion's Ghosts on Magnetic Tape and Vajrayana, Lull's Cold Summer, Controlled Bleeding's The Poisoner, and the Robert Rich/Lustmord collaboration album Stalker. Related styles include ambient industrial and isolationist ambient.

Ambient house

Ambient house is a musical category founded in the late 1980s that is used to describe acid house featuring ambient music elements and atmospheres. Tracks in the ambient house genre typically feature four-on-the-floor beats, synth pads, and vocal samples integrated in an atmospheric style.[12] Ambient house tracks generally lack a diatonic center and feature much atonality along with synthesized chords. Illbient is another form of ambient house music.

Ambient industrial

Ambient industrial is a hybrid genre of ambient and industrial music; the term industrial being used in the original experimental sense, rather than in the sense of industrial metal or EBM. A "typical" ambient industrial work (if there is such a thing) might consist of evolving dissonant harmonies of metallic drones and resonances, extreme low frequency rumbles and machine noises, perhaps supplemented by gongs, percussive rhythms, bullroarers, distorted voices or anything else the artist might care to sample (often processed to the point where the original sample is no longer recognizable). Entire works may be based on radio telescope recordings, the babbling of newborn babies, or sounds recorded through contact microphones on telegraph wires.

Among the many artists who work in this area are Coil, CTI, Lustmord, Nine Inch Nails, Susumu Yokota, Hafler Trio, Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France, Scorn, PGR, Thomas Köner, Heimkveld Kunst, Controlled Bleeding, and Deutsch Nepal. However many of these artists are very eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside of ambient industrial per se.

Space music

Space music, also spelled spacemusic, includes music from the ambient genre as well as a broad range of other genres with certain characteristics in common to create the experience of contemplative spaciousness.[13][14][15] Space music ranges from simple to complex sonic textures sometimes lacking conventional melodic, rhythmic, or vocal components,[16][17] generally evoking a sense of "continuum of spatial imagery and emotion",[18] beneficial introspection, deep listening[19] and sensations of floating, cruising or flying.[20][21]

Space music is used by individuals for both background enhancement and foreground listening, often with headphones, to stimulate relaxation, contemplation, inspiration and generally peaceful expansive moods[22] and soundscapes. Space music is also a component of many film soundtracks and is commonly used in planetariums, as a relaxation aid and for meditation.[23]

Hearts of Space is a well-known radio show and affiliated record label, specializing in space music since 1984, having released over 150 albums devoted to the music style. Notable artists who have brought elements of ambient music to space music include Michael Stearns, Constance Demby, Jean Ven Robert Hal, Enigma, Jean Michel Jarre, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Numina, Dweller at the Threshold, Paul Ellis, Deepspace, Telomere, Max Corbacho, Jonn Serrie, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream (as well as the group's founder Edgar Froese), and Vangelis.

Isolationist ambient music

Isolationist ambient music, also known as isolationism, can be differentiated from other forms of ambient music in its use of repetition, dissonance, microtonality, and unresolved harmonies to create a sense of unresolved unease and desolation.[24] The term was popularized in the mid-1990s by the British magazine The Wire and the Ambient 4: Isolationism compilation from Virgin, this began as more or less a synonym for ambient industrial, but also inclusive of certain post-metal streams of ambient, such as Final, Lull, Main, or post-techno artists such as Autechre and Aphex Twin. It may be less appropriate to call isolationist ambient a genre than using it to describe the style or "feel" of particular works by an artist working in an ambient mode. This is because many artists better known for other styles of work can occasionally create pieces that "sound" isolationist. (For example, Labradford, Seefeel, Kyle Bobby Dunn, Techno Animal, Voice of Eye, KK Null, etc.)[25] There are many labels releasing work that could be termed isolationist ambient, among these are Malignant Records, Cold Spring, Manifold Records, Soleilmoon, and The Sombient label with the "drones" compilation series. Some of the artists known for this style of ambient music include Lull, Final, Bass Communion, Deutsch Nepal, Inanna, Negru Voda, Thomas Köner, Robert Fripp, Steven Wilson, and Chuck Hammer (Guitarchitecture).

Of late there has been an influx of progressive metal artists who have clear ambient influences. Bands such as Cult of Luna, Isis, Devil Sold His Soul, Porcupine Tree, and Between the Screams have pioneered the genre and are largely credited with popularizing the sound. These bands are largely known as post-metal.

Ambient dub

Ambient dub is a phrase first coined by the now defunct Beyond Records from early 1990s in Birmingham, England.[citation needed] Their defining series of albums Ambient Dub 1, 2, through to 4 inspired many, including sound engineer and producer Bill Laswell, who used the same phrase in his music project Divination, where he collaborates with different musicians on each album (though sometimes the same ones are on more than one of the albums such as Tetsu Inoue and others). Laswell also presented ambient dub and ambient house music on albums by his collaboration project Axiom Dub, featuring recording artists The Orb, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit, Scorn and DJ Spooky.

Ambient dub involves the genre melding of dub styles made famous by King Tubby and other Jamaican sound artists with DJ inspired ambient electronica, complete with all the inherent drop-outs, echo, equalization and psychedelic electronic effects. As writer and performer David Toop explains in an early Beyond Records newsletter, "Dub music is like a long echo delay, looping through time...turning the rational order of musical sequences into an ocean of sensation."

Notable films incorporating ambient music or sound design

Notable ambient-music shows on radio and via satellite

  • Echoes, is a daily two-hour music radio program hosted by John Diliberto featuring a soundscape of ambient, spacemusic, electronica, new acoustic and new music directions – founded in 1989 and syndicated on 130 radio stations in the USA.
  • Hearts of Space, a program hosted by Stephen Hill and broadcast on NPR in the US since 1973.[26][27]
  • Musical Starstreams, a US-based commercial radio station and internet program produced, programmed and hosted by Forest since 1981.
  • Star's End a radio show on 88.5 WXPN, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1976, it is the second longest-running ambient music radio show in the world.[28]
  • Ultima Thule Ambient Music, a weekly 90-minute show broadcast since 1989 on community radio across Australia.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Though drone is now classified as a subgenre of ambient, early drone music influenced the origin of ambient: see the other note from Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music (Cook & Pople 2004, p. 502), and the note from Four Musical Minimalists (Potter 2002, p. 91).
  2. ^ "Ambient Music Definition". Deepintense.com. http://www.deepintense.com/definition.php?id=2. 
  3. ^ Prendergast, M. The Ambient Century. 2001. Bloomsbury, USA
  4. ^ a b Jarrett, Michael (1998). Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC, Volumes 1–3. Temple University Press. p. 1973. ISBN 978-1-56639-641-7. 
  5. ^ a b Potter, Keith (2002). Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass (rev. pbk from 2000 hbk ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 91. ISBN 978-0-521-01501-1.  (Quoting Brian Eno saying "La Monte Young is the daddy of us all" with endnote 113 p. 349 referencing it as "Quoted in Palmer, A Father Figure for the Avant-Garde, p. 49".)
  6. ^ a b c d Cook, Nicholas; Anthony Pople (2004). The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music. Cambridge University Press. pp. 502. ISBN 978-0-521-66256-7. "Semi-audible music had been consistently prefigured in the music of left-field composers from Erik Satie onwards. ‘Ambient music’ emerged as a category when in the 1980s, influenced by the minimalism of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, Brian Eno started to make music for deliberately sub-audible presentation, [...]" 
  7. ^ a b Tingen, Paul (2001). Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967–1991. Watson-Guptill. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-8230-8346-6. 
  8. ^ Brian Eno, Music for Airports liner notes, September 1978
  9. ^ a b Altered State: The Story of Ecstacy Culture and Acid House, Matthew Collin, 1997, Serpent's Tail ISBN 1-85242-377-3
  10. ^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds (2002). "Ambient music". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. p. 22. 
  11. ^ Brian Eno's Video and Audio Installations
  12. ^ "Ambient House", Allmusic . Retrieved October 4, 2006.
  13. ^ "... Originally a 1970s reference to the conjunction of ambient electronics and our expanding visions of cosmic space ... In fact, almost any music with a slow pace and space-creating sound images could be called spacemusic." Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, What is spacemusic?
  14. ^ "Any music with a generally slow, relaxing pace and space-creating imagery or atmospherics may be considered Space Music, without conventional rhythmic elements, while drawing from any number of traditional, ethnic, or modern styles." Lloyde Barde, July/August 2004, Making Sense of the Last 20 Years in New Music
  15. ^ "When you listen to space and ambient music you are connecting with a tradition of contemplative sound experience whose roots are ancient and diverse. The genre spans historical, ethnic, and contemporary styles. In fact, almost any music with a slow pace and space-creating sound images could be called spacemusic." Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, What is spacemusic?
  16. ^ "A timeless experience...as ancient as the echoes of a simple bamboo flute or as contemporary as the latest ambient electronica. Any music with a generally slow pace and space-creating sound image can be called spacemusic. Generally quiet, consonant, ethereal, often without conventional rhythmic and dynamic contrasts, spacemusic is found within many historical, ethnic, and contemporary genres."Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, sidebar "What is Spacemusic?" in essay Contemplative Music, Broadly Defined
  17. ^ "The early innovators in electronic "space music" were mostly located around Berlin. The term has come to refer to music in the style of the early and mid 1970s works of Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and others in that scene. The music is characterized by long compositions, looping sequencer patterns, and improvised lead melody lines." – John Dilaberto, Berlin School, Echoes Radio on-line music glossary
  18. ^ "This music is experienced primarily as a continuum of spatial imagery and emotion, rather than as thematic musical relationships, compositional ideas, or performance values." Essay by Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, New Age Music Made Simple
  19. ^ "Innerspace, Meditative, and Transcendental... This music promotes a psychological movement inward." Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, essay titled New Age Music Made Simple
  20. ^ "...Spacemusic ... conjures up either outer "space" or "inner space" " – Lloyd Barde, founder of Backroads Music Notes on Ambient Music, Hyperreal Music Archive
  21. ^ "Space And Travel Music: Celestial, Cosmic, and Terrestrial... This New Age sub-category has the effect of outward psychological expansion. Celestial or cosmic music removes listeners from their ordinary acoustical surroundings by creating stereo sound images of vast, virtually dimensionless spatial environments. In a word — spacey. Rhythmic or tonal movements animate the experience of flying, floating, cruising, gliding, or hovering within the auditory space."Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, in an essay titled New Age Music Made Simple
  22. ^ " Restorative powers are often claimed for it, and at its best it can create an effective environment to balance some of the stress, noise, and complexity of everyday life." – Stephen Hill, Founder, Music from the Hearts of Space What is Spacemusic?
  23. ^ "This was the soundtrack for countless planetarium shows, on massage tables, and as soundtracks to many videos and movies."- Lloyd Barde Notes on Ambient Music, Hyperreal Music Archive
  24. ^ Reynolds, Simon; Chill: the new ambient, ArtForum, Jan, 1995
  25. ^ Epsilon: Isolationism Thread from Ambient Music Mailing List
  26. ^ "The program has defined its own niche — a mix of ambient, electronic, world, New Age, classical and experimental music....Slow-paced, space-creating music from many cultures — ancient bell meditations, classical adagios, creative space jazz, and the latest electronic and acoustic ambient music are woven into a seamless sequence unified by sound, emotion, and spatial imagery." Stephen Hill, co-founder, Hearts of Space, essay titled Contemplative Music, Broadly Defined
  27. ^ "Hill's Hearts of Space Web site provides streaming access to an archive of hundreds of hours of spacemusic artfully blended into one-hour programs combining ambient, electronic, world, New Age and classical music." Steve Sande, The Sky's the Limit with Ambient Music, SF Chronicle, Sunday, January 11, 2004
  28. ^ "Star's End" is (with the exception of "Music from the Hearts of Space") the longest running radio program of ambient music in the world. Since 1976, Star's End has been providing the Philadelphia broadcast area with music to sleep and dream to." "Star's End" website background information page[dead link]

External links


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