|Cultural origins||1960s-1970s, United Kingdom, Jamaica (dub music) and Japan|
Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of instrumental music, it may lack net composition, beat, or structured melody.It uses textural layers of sound which can reward both passive and active listening and encourage a sense of calm or contemplation. The genre is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. Nature soundscapes may be included, and the sounds of acoustic instruments such as the piano, strings and flute may be emulated through a synthesizer.
The genre originated in the 1960s and 1970s, when new musical instruments were being introduced to a wider market, such as the synthesizer.It was presaged by Erik Satie's furniture music and styles such as musique concrète, minimal music, Jamaican dub music and German electronic music, but was prominently named and popularized by British musician Brian Eno in 1978 with his album Ambient 1: Music for Airports ; Eno opined that ambient music "must be as ignorable as it is interesting." It saw a revival towards the late 1980s with the prominence of house and techno music, growing a cult following by the 1990s. Ambient music may have elements of new-age music and drone music, as some works may use sustained or repeated notes.
Ambient music did not achieve large commercial success, being criticized as everything from "dolled-up new age, [..] to boring and irrelevant technical noodling".Nevertheless, it has attained a certain degree of acclaim throughout the years, especially in the Internet age. Due to its relatively open style, ambient music often takes influences from many other genres, ranging from classical, avant-garde music, folk, jazz, and world music, amongst others.
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.
In his own words, Satie sought to create "a music...which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks at dinner, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometime fall between friends dining together. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. To make such music would be to respond to a need."
In 1948, French composer & engineer, Pierre Schaeffer coined the term musique concrète. This experimental style of music used recordings of natural sounds that were then modified, manipulated or effected to create a composition.Shaeffer's techniques of using tape loops and splicing are considered to be the precursor to modern day sampling.
In 1952 John Cage released his famous three-movement composition4'33 which is a performance of complete silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The piece is intended to capture the ambient sounds of the venue/location of the performance and have that be the music played. Cage has been cited by seminal artists such as Brian Eno as influence.
In the 1960s, many music groups experimented with unusual methods, with some of them creating what would later be called ambient music.
In the summer of 1962, composers Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick founded The San Francisco Tape Music Center which functioned both as an electronic music studio and concert venue.Other composers working with tape recorders became members and collaborators including Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Their compositions, among others, contributed to the development of minimal music (also called minimalism), which shares many similar concepts to ambient music such as repetitive patterns or pulses, steady drones, and consonant harmony.
Many records were released in Europe and the United States of America between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s that established the conventions of the ambient genre in the anglophone popular music market.Some 1960s records with ambient elements include Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys and Music for Zen Meditation by Tony Scott, Soothing Sounds for Baby by Raymond Scott, and the first record of the Environments (album series) by Irv Teibel.
In the late 60s, French composer Éliane Radigue composed several pieces by processing tape loops from the feedback between two tape recorders and a microphone.In the 70s, she then went on to compose similar music almost exclusively with an ARP 2500 synthesiser, and her long, slow compositions have often been compared to drone music. In 1969, the group COUM Transmissions were performing sonic experiments in British art schools.
Developing in the 1970s, ambient music stemmed from the experimental and synthesizer-oriented styles of the period.
Between 1974 and 1976, American composer Laurie Spiegel created her seminal work The Expanding Universe, created on a computer-analog hybrid system called GROOVE.In 1977, her composition, Music of the Spheres was included on Voyager 1 and 2's Golden Record.
In April 1975, Suzanne Ciani gave two performances on her Buchla synthesizer - one at the WBAI Free music store and one at Phil Niblock's loft.These performances were released on an archival album in 2016 entitled Buchla Concerts 1975. According to the record label, these concerts were part live presentation, part grant application and part educational demonstration.
However, it wasn't until Brian Eno coined the term in the mid-70s that ambient music was defined as a genre. Eno went on to record 1975's Discreet Music with this in mind, suggesting that it be listened to at "comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility",referring to Satie's quote about his musique d'ameublement.
Other contemporaneous musicians creating ambient-style music at the time included Jamaican dub musicians such as King Tubby,Japanese electronic music composers such as Isao Tomita and Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as the psychoacoustic soundscapes of Irv Teibel's Environments series, and German bands such as Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream.
The impact the rise of the synthesizer in modern music had on ambient as a genre cannot be overstated; as Ralf Hutter of early electronic pioneers Kraftwerk said in a 1977 Billboard interview: "Electronics is beyond nations and colors...with electronics everything is possible. The only limit is with the composer".The Yellow Magic Orchestra developed a distinct style of ambient electronic music that would later be developed into ambient house music.
The English producer Brian Eno is credited with coining the term "ambient music" in the mid-1970s. He said other artists had been creating similar music, but that "I just gave it a name. Which is exactly what it needed ... By naming something you create a difference. You say that this is now real. Names are very important."He used the term to describe music that is different from forms of canned music like Muzak.
In the liner notes for his 1978 album Ambient 1:Music for Airports, Eno wrote:
Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to "brighten" the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and leveling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. 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.
Eno, who describes himself as a "non-musician", termed his experiments "treatments" rather than traditional performances.
In the late 70s, new-age musician Laraaji began busking in New York parks and sidewalks, including Washington Square Park. It was there that Brian Eno heard Laraaji playing and asked him if he'd like to record an album. Day of Radiance released in 1980, was the third album in Eno's Ambient series. Although Laraaji had already recorded a number of albums, this one gave him international recognition.Unlike other albums in the series, Day of Radiance featured mostly acoustic instruments instead of electronics.
In the mid-1980s, the possibilities to create a sonic landscape increased through the use of sampling. By the late 1980s, there was a steep increase in the incorporation of the computer in the writing and recording process of records. The sixteen-bit Macintosh platform with built-in sound and comparable IBM models would find themselves in studios and homes of musicians and record makers.
However, many artists were still working with analogue synthesizers and acoustic instruments to produce ambient works.
In 1983, Midori Takada recorded her first solo LP Through The Looking Glass in two days. She performed all parts on the album, with diverse instrumentation including percussion, marimba, gong, reed organ, bells, ocarina, vibraphone, piano and glass Coca-Cola bottles.
Between 1988 and 1993 Éliane Radigue produced three hour-long works on the ARP 2500 which were subsequently issued together as La Trilogie De La Mort.
Also in 1988, founding member and director of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre, Pauline Oliveros coined the term "deep listening" after she recorded an album inside a huge underground cistern in Washington which has a 45-second reverberation time. The concept of Deep Listening then went on to become "an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation".
By the early 1990s, artists such as the Orb, Aphex Twin, Seefeel, the Irresistible Force, Biosphere, and the Higher Intelligence Agency gained commercial success and were being referred to by the popular music press as ambient house, ambient techno, IDM or simply "ambient". The term chillout emerged 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.
London artists such as Aphex Twin (specifically: Selected Ambient Works Volume II , 1994), Global Communication ( 76:14 , 1994), The Future Sound of London ( Lifeforms , 1994, ISDN , 1994), The Black Dog ( Temple of Transparent Balls , 1993), Autechre ( Incunabula , 1993, Amber , 1994), Boards of Canada, and The KLF's 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.
Other global ambient artists from the 1990s include American composers Stars of the Lid (who released 5 albums during this decade), and Japanese artist Susumu Yokota whose album Sakura (1999) featured what Pitchfork magazine called "dreamy, processed guitar as a distinctive sound tool".
Ambient music continued to gain popularity in the 2000s with a number of established and emerging artists published works to critical acclaim.
In 2011, American composer Liz Harris recording as Grouper released the album AIA: Alien Observer, listed by Pitchfork at number 21 on their "50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time".
In 2011, Julianna Barwick released her first full-length album The Magic Place. Heavily influenced by her childhood experiences in a church choir, Barwick loops her wordless vocals into ethereal soundscapes.It was listed at number 30 on Pitchfork's 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time.
After several self-released albums, Buchla composer, producer and performer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith was signed to independent record label Western Vinyl in 2015.In 2016, she released her second official album EARS. It paired the Buchla synthesizer with traditional instruments and her compositions were compared to Laurie Spiegel and Alice Coltrane. Kaitlyn has also collaborated with other well-known Buchla performer, Suzanne Ciani.
By the late 2000s and 2010s, ambient music also gained widespread recognition on YouTube, with uploaded pieces, usually ranging from 1 to 8 hours long, getting over millions of hits. Such videos are usually titled, or are generally known as, "relaxing music", and may be influenced by other music genres. Ambient videos assist online listeners with yoga, study, sleep (see music and sleep), massage, meditation and gaining optimism, inspiration, and creating peaceful atmosphere in their rooms or other environments.
Many uploaded ambient videos tend to be influenced by biomusic where they feature sounds of nature, though the sounds would be modified with reverbs and delay units to make spacey versions of the sounds as part of the ambience. Such natural sounds oftentimes include those of a beach, rainforest, thunderstorm and rainfall, among others, with vocalizations of animals such as bird songs being used as well. Pieces containing binaural beats are common and popular uploads as well, which provide music therapy and stress management for the listener.
Verified YouTube channels, such as aptly titled Ambient has over 400,000 subscribers.Other verified channels that also publish ambient music include, Meditation Relax Music, which has over 1 million subscribers, Soothing Relaxation with three million subscribers, and Relaxing White Noise with over 500,000 subscribers, among others. iTunes and Spotify have digital radio stations that feature ambient music, which are mostly produced by independent labels.
Acclaimed ambient music of this era (according to Pitchfork magazine) include works by Max Richter, Julianna Barwick, Grouper, William Basinski, Oneohtrix Point Never, and the Caretaker.
Ambient dub is a fusion of ambient music with dub. The term was first coined by Birmingham's now defunct label "Beyond Records" in early 1990s. The label released series of albums Ambient Dub Volume 1 to 4 that inspired many artists, including Bill Laswell, who used the same phrase in his music project Divination, where he collaborated with other artists in the genre. Ambient dub adopts dub styles made famous by King Tubby and other Jamaican sound artists from the 1960s to the early 1970s, using DJ-inspired ambient electronica, complete with all the inherent drop-outs, echo, equalization and psychedelic electronic effects. It often features layering techniques and incorporates elements of world music, deep bass lines and harmonic sounds.According to David Toop, "Dub music is like a long echo delay, looping through time...turning the rational order of musical sequences into an ocean of sensation." Notable artists within the genre include Dreadzone, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Orb, Gaudi, Ott, Loop Guru, Woob and Transglobal Underground as well as Banco de Gaia.
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. Ambient house tracks generally lack a diatonic center and feature much atonality along with synthesized chords. The Dutch Brainvoyager is an example of this genre. Illbient is another form of ambient house music.
Ambient techno is a music category emerging in the late 1980s that is used to describe ambient music atmospheres with the rhythmic and melodic elements of techno.Notable artists include Aphex Twin, B12, Autechre, and The Black Dog.
Ambient industrial is a hybrid genre of industrial and ambient music; the term industrial being used in the original experimental sense, rather than in the sense of industrial metal.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.
Ambient pop is an extension of dream pop, possessing a shape and form common to conventional pop, while its electronic textures and atmospheres mirror the meditative qualities of ambient. It is influenced by the lock-groove melodies of krautrock, but is less abrasive.
Brian Eno's original vision of ambient music as unobtrusive musical wallpaper, later fused with warm house rhythms and given playful qualities by the Orb in the 1990s, found its opposite in the style known as dark ambient. Populated by a wide assortment of personalities—ranging from older industrial and metal experimentalists (Scorn's Mick Harris, Current 93's David Tibet, Nurse with Wound's Steven Stapleton) to electronic boffins (Kim Cascone/PGR, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia), Japanese noise artists (K.K. Null, Merzbow), and latter-day indie rockers (Main, Bark Psychosis) – dark ambient features toned-down or entirely missing beats with unsettling passages of keyboards, eerie samples, and treated guitar effects. Like most styles related in some way to electronic/dance music of the '90s, it's a very nebulous term; many artists enter or leave the style with each successive release.Related styles include ambient industrial (see below) and isolationist ambient.
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.
Space music ranges from simple to complex sonic textures sometimes lacking conventional melodic, rhythmic, or vocal components,generally evoking a sense of "continuum of spatial imagery and emotion", beneficial introspection, deep listening and sensations of floating, cruising or flying.
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 moodsand soundscapes. Space music is also a component of many film soundtracks and is commonly used in planetariums, as a relaxation aid and for meditation.
Intelligent dance music is a style of electronic music originating in the early 1990s that is regarded as "cerebral" and better suited to home listening than dancing. Emerging from electronic and rave music styles such as ambient techno, acid house, and breakbeat, IDM tended to rely upon individualistic experimentation rather than adhering to characteristics associated with specific genres. Prominent artists associated with the genre include Aphex Twin, μ-Ziq, the Black Dog, the Orb, the Future Sound of London, Autechre, Luke Vibert, Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, and Boards of Canada.
Ambient techno is an offshoot of techno that united the atmospheric textures of ambient music with the rhythmic elements and production of techno and house. It was pioneered by 1990s electronic artists such as The Orb, Carl Craig, Aphex Twin, B12, Pete Namlook and Biosphere.
Jon Hassell was an American trumpet player and composer active from the 1960s on. He was best known for developing the concept of "Fourth World" music, which describes a "unified primitive/futurist sound" combining elements of various world ethnic traditions with modern electronic techniques. The concept was first articulated on Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics, his 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno.
Ambient 1: Music for Airports is the sixth studio album by English musician Brian Eno, released in 1978 by Polydor Records. The album consists of four compositions created by layering tape loops of differing lengths, and was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent of defusing the tense, anxious atmosphere of an airport terminal.
Krautrock is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among artists who blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and avant-garde composition among other sources. These artists moved away from the blues influences and song structure found in traditional Anglo-American rock music, instead utilizing hypnotic rhythms, tape-music techniques, and early synthesizers. Prominent groups associated with Krautrock music included Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Faust, Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel, Agitation Free, Guru Guru, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Cluster.
Ambient house is a subgenre of house music that first emerged in the late 1980s, combining elements of acid house and ambient music.
Harold Montgomory Budd was an American avant-garde composer and poet. Born in Los Angeles and raised in the Mojave Desert, Budd became a respected composer in the minimalist and avant-garde scene of Southern California in the late 1960s, and later became better known for his work with figures such as Brian Eno and Robin Guthrie. Budd developed what he called a "soft pedal" technique for playing piano.
Dark ambient is a genre of post-industrial music that features an ominous, dark droning and often gloomy, monumental or catacombal atmosphere, partially with discordant overtones. It shows similarities toward ambient music, a genre that has been cited as a main influence by many dark ambient artists, both conceptually and compositionally. Although mostly electronically generated, dark ambient also includes the sampling of hand-played instruments and semi-acoustic recording procedures, and is strongly related to ritual industrial music.
Discreet Music (1975) is the fourth studio album by the British musician Brian Eno, and the first released under his full name. The album is a minimalist work featuring synthesizer and tape delay. The A-side consists of one 30-minute piece, while the B-side features three variations on Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel, performed by the Cockpit Ensemble and conducted by Gavin Bryars.
Cluster & Eno is a collaborative album by German electronic music group Cluster and English ambient musician Brian Eno. The style of this album is a collection of gentle melodies: a mixture of Eno's ambient sensibilities and Cluster's avant-garde style.
Drone music, drone-based music, or simply drone, is a minimalist genre that emphasizes the use of sustained sounds, notes, or tone clusters – called drones. It is typically characterized by lengthy audio programs with relatively slight harmonic variations throughout each piece. La Monte Young, one of its 1960s originators, defined it in 2000 as "the sustained tone branch of minimalism".
Cluster were a German musical duo consisting of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, formed in 1971 and associated with West Germany's krautrock and kosmische music scenes. Born from the earlier Berlin-based group Kluster, they relocated in 1971 into the countryside village of Forst, Lower Saxony, where they built a studio and collaborated with musicians such as Conny Plank, Brian Eno, and Michael Rother; with the latter, they formed the influential side-project Harmonia. After first disbanding in 1981, Cluster reunited several times: from 1989 to 1997, and from 2007 to 2010.
Space music, also called spacemusic, is a subgenre of new-age music and is described as "tranquil, hypnotic and moving". It is derived from ambient music and is associated with lounge music, easy listening, and elevator music.
Jonathan Julian Hopkins is an English musician and producer who writes and performs electronic music. He began his career playing keyboards for Imogen Heap, and has produced but also contributed to albums by Brian Eno, Coldplay, David Holmes and others.
Dean De Benedictis is an American composer, musician, performer, and producer of experimental and alternative music. He is a trained musician and has released albums as a solo artist as well as played with groups such as Brand X and The Strato Ensemble.
Eurotechno refers to the musical soundtrack by English group Stakker for their 1989 experimental short film of the same name. The original film was an avant-garde experiment in the audiovisual videola genre and features rapidly shifting colourful computer graphics, reflecting the influence of rave culture. Although the visuals of the film were primarily the work of Stakker members Marek Pytel, Mark McClean and Colin Scott, the musical soundtrack was largely the work of Brian Dougans, later of The Future Sound of London. The 25-minute soundtrack was recorded using a Roland TB-303, and reflects the fast-shifting momentum of the film by incorporating fragmented elements of acid house, Chicago house and Detroit techno that shift after their brief appearances, thus contributing to an intricately layered style.
Richard David James, better known as his alias Aphex Twin or AFX, is a British musician, composer and DJ. He is best known for his idiosyncratic work in electronic styles such as techno, ambient, and jungle. He has often been called the most influential or most important contemporary artist in electronic music, by many publications including Mixmag, The New York Times, NME, Fact Magazine, Clash and The Guardian. A number of publications made comparisons to electronic music's Mozart: Mojo called him "the Mozart of techno", Q magazine used "the Mozart of ambient", and a 1995 cover feature in Mixmag dubbed him "a genius, the MDMA Mozart".
Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno is an English musician, composer, record producer, visual artist, and theorist best known for his pioneering work in ambient music and contributions to rock, pop and electronica. A self-described "non-musician", Eno has helped introduce unique conceptual approaches and recording techniques to contemporary music. He has been described as one of popular music's most influential and innovative figures.
Selected Ambient Works 85–92 is the debut studio album by Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of British electronic musician Richard D. James. It was released on 9 November 1992 through Apollo Records, a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S Records. The album consists of beat-orientated ambient tracks recorded onto cassette reputedly dating as far back as 1985, when James was thirteen to fourteen years old. An analogue remaster of the album was released in 2006, followed by a digital remaster in 2008.
Chilean electronic music refers to the electronic music genre and its subgenres produced in Chile or by Chileans.