Dark ambient

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Dark ambient (referred to as ambient industrial especially in the 1980s) is a genre of post-industrial music [1] [3] that features an ominous, dark droning and often gloomy, monumental or catacombal atmosphere, partially with discordant overtones. It shows similarities with ambient music, a genre that has been cited as a main influence by many dark ambient artists, both conceptually and compositionally. [4] Although mostly electronically generated, dark ambient also includes the sampling of hand-played instruments and semi-acoustic recording procedures. [5]



The term dark ambient was coined in the early 1990s by Roger Karmanik to describe the music of Raison d'être and related artists that are heavily associated with the Cold Meat Industry record label. [4] [6]

Origins and development

Dark ambient has its roots in the 1970s with the introduction of newer, smaller, and more affordable effects units, synthesizer and sampling technology. Early genre elements can be found on Throbbing Gristle's 1978 album D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle , and in the soundtrack to the 1977 David Lynch film Eraserhead . Important early precursors of the genre were Tangerine Dream's early double-album Zeit (1972), which unlike most of their subsequent albums abandoned any notion of rhythm or definable melody in favour of "darkly" sinuous, occasionally disturbing sonics; and also, Affenstunde (1970) by fellow krautrock band Popol Vuh.

Lustmord Lustmord cropped.jpg

Projects like Lustmord, [7] Nocturnal Emissions, and Zoviet France [8] evolved out of industrial music during the 1980s, and were some of the earliest artists to create consistently dark ambient music. These artists make use of industrial principles such as noise and shock tactics, but wield these elements with more subtlety. [8] [9] Additionally, ambient industrial often has strong occultist tendencies with a particular leaning toward magick as expounded by Aleister Crowley, and chaos magic, often giving the music a ritualistic flavor. [8]

The album Deep Listening by pioneering electronic and experimental composer Pauline Oliveros in collaboration with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis released in 1989 as well as the album Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers by Australian musical group SPK released in 1987 are also cited as having made a considerable impact on the development of dark ambient. [10] [11]

Many dark wave artists are eclectic in their output with much of it falling outside ambient industrial. [8]

In the 2020s, artists known for producing dark ambient work include acts associated with the Cryo Chamber record label, run by Simon Heath who has been composing dark ambient music for over two decades. [12] The website "This Is Darkness" is devoted to the dark ambient genre in all its iterations. [13]


"Glass Tiger", from the album Neukrk by Disparition

Dark ambient often consists of evolving dissonant harmonies of drones and resonances, low frequency rumbles and machine noises, sometimes supplemented by gongs, percussive rhythms, bullroarers, distorted voices and other found sounds, often processed to the point where the original sample cannot be recognized. [8] For example, entire works may be based on radio telescope recordings (e.g. Arecibo's Trans-Plutonian Transmissions), the babbling of newborn babies (e.g. Nocturnal Emissions' Mouths of Babes), or sounds recorded through contact microphones on telegraph wires (e.g. Alan Lamb's Primal Image). [8]

Generally, the music tends to evoke a feeling of solitude, melancholy, confinement, darkness, and isolation. However, while the theme in the music tends to be "dark" in nature, some artists create more organic soundscapes. The Symphonies of the Planets series, a collection of works by Brain/Mind Research inspired by audible-frequency plasma waves recorded by the Voyager unmanned space probes, can also be considered an organic manifestation of dark ambient. [14]



Isolationism, also known as isolationist ambient, is a style of ambient music prominent in the 1990s. The term was coined by British musician Kevin Martin and first appeared in print in a September 1993 issue of The Wire magazine. [15] He described it as a form of fractured, subdued music that "pushed away" listeners. In 1994 Martin curated a compilation album, Isolationism , collecting various examples of the genre.

Journalist David Segal referred to it as "ambient's sinister, antisocial cousin". [16]

John Everall, owner of the Sentrax label, places the origins of "Isolationist" music in early industrial groups, krautrock, ambient music and experimental composers such John Cage, non-experimental composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, and others. [16]

James Plotkin identifies Brian Eno's ambient works as the greatest influence on the isolationist scene, along with American experimental music such as Illusion of Safety. [17] As Plotkin says,

I really didn't know what was meant by Isolationism [...], because it encompassed this broad spectrum of music that ranged from Ambient to avant garde music to even something more aggressive – like the Japanese Noise scene. [...] Isolationism was a Virgin compilation and it needed a marketing angle. And [compiler] Kevin Martin was definitely responsible for exposing a really large amount of people to music that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, so I guess it's not all bad. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Whitehouse (band)</span> British power electronics band

Whitehouse were an English band formed in 1980, largely credited for the founding of the power electronics subgenre of industrial music.

Industrial music is a genre of music that draws on harsh, mechanical, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes. AllMusic defines industrial music as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music" that was "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments and punk provocation". The term was coined in the mid-1970s with the founding of Industrial Records by members of Throbbing Gristle and Monte Cazazza. While the genre name originated with Throbbing Gristle's emergence in the United Kingdom, artists and labels vital to the genre also emerged in the United States and other countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Industrial rock</span> Music genre

Industrial rock is an fusion genre that fuses industrial music and rock music. It initially originated in the 1970s, and drew influence from early experimental and industrial acts such as Cromagnon, Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten and Chrome. Industrial rock became more prominent in the 1980s with the success of artists such as Killing Joke, Swans, and partially Skinny Puppy, and later spawned the offshoot genre known as industrial metal. The genre was made more accessible to mainstream audiences in the 1990s with the aid of acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, both of which have released platinum-selling records.

Industrial Records is a record label established in 1976 by industrial music and visual arts group Throbbing Gristle. The group created the label primarily for self-releases but also signed several other groups and artists. The label gave a name to the industrial music genre.

Electronic body music is a genre of electronic music that combines elements of industrial music and synth-punk with elements of disco and dance music. It developed in the early 1980s in Western Europe as an outgrowth of both punk and industrial music cultures. It combines sequenced repetitive basslines, programmed dance music rhythms, and mostly undistorted vocals and commandlike shouts with confrontational or provocative themes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Throbbing Gristle</span> English band

Throbbing Gristle were an English music and visual arts group formed in 1975 in Kingston upon Hull by Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson, and Chris Carter. They are widely regarded as pioneers of industrial music. Evolving from the experimental performance art group COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle made their public debut in October 1976 on COUM exhibition Prostitution, and released their debut single "United/Zyklon B Zombie" and debut album The Second Annual Report the following year. Lyrical themes mainly revolved around mysticism, extremist political ideologies, sexuality, dark or underground aspects of society, and idiosyncratic manipulation of language.

SPK were an Australian industrial music and noise music group formed in 1978. They were fronted by mainstay member, Graeme Revell on keyboards and percussion. In 1980 the group travelled to the United Kingdom where they issued their debut album, Information Overload Unit. In 1983 Sinan Leong joined on lead vocals. The group disbanded in 1988. Two years later Revell and Leong relocated to the United States, where Revell works as a Hollywood film score composer. According to Australian rock music historian Ian McFarlane, SPK were "at the forefront of the local post-punk, electronic/experimental movement of the late 1970s ... [their] music progressed from discordant, industrial-strength metal noise to sophisticated and restrained dance-rock with strange attributes".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lustmord</span> British musician

Brian Williams is a Welsh industrial musician, sound designer and film score composer. He is often credited for creating the dark ambient genre with albums recorded under the name Lustmord. His experimental work has been described as "not traditionally 'musical'" with "more clearly visual aspects".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chris Carter (British musician)</span> Musical artist

Chris Carter is an English musician, best known for being a member of Throbbing Gristle and the duo Chris & Cosey, both with his longtime partner Cosey Fanni Tutti.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Steven Stapleton</span> British musician (born 1957)

Steven Peter Stapleton is an English musician who is best known as the only constant member of experimental improv outfit Nurse with Wound. He is often seen as one of the pioneers of the British industrial music scene, alongside bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Monte Cazazza and Cabaret Voltaire, although in his music he has explored a wide range of styles, including free-form improvisation, folk, and even Latin American dance rhythms.

<i>Isolationism</i> (album) 1994 studio album by Various artists

Ambient 4: Isolationism is a 1994 studio album of new material by various ambient artists released on the Virgin Records label, part of its Ambient series. The compilation was issued as a double CD, packaged in a slimline case. It was compiled by and features liner notes by Kevin Martin. It was the first in the series to be composed entirely of new, exclusive material.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tesco Organisation</span> Record label

Tesco Organisation is a German record label, mail order company and distributor, specialising in industrial, noise, neofolk and ambient music. Tesco has also organised music festivals in the past such as "Heavy Electronics", "Tesco Disco" and "Festival Karlsruhe"

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kevin Martin (British musician)</span> British music producer

Kevin Richard Martin, often known under his recording alias The Bug, is an English musician and music producer. Martin moved from Weymouth to London around 1990 and is now currently based in mainland Europe. He has been active for over two decades in the genres of dub, jazzcore, industrial hip hop, dancehall, and dubstep.

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The Grey Area is a Mute Records division founded in 1990 to restore and reissue the catalogue of artists who influenced Daniel Miller, head of Mute Records, and to reissue previous recordings of Mute artists. In 1983, Mute had to partner with Industrial Records for the reissue of Throbbing Gristle albums. This division was created following the partnerships signed with Can and Cabaret Voltaire.

Florian-Ayala Fauna is an American artist, musician, poet, and music producer. Fauna is the main member of the post-industrial music project uncertain.


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