|Stylistic origins||Electronic music
|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|
|Derivative forms||Ambient house – Ambient techno – Chillout – Downtempo – Trance – Intelligent dance|
|Dark ambient – Drone music – Lowercase – Black ambient – Detroit techno – Shoegaze
|Ambient dub – Illbient – Psybient – Dark ambient – Ambient house – Space music – Post-rock|
|Ambient music artists – List of electronic music genres – Furniture music|
Ambient music, unlike other forms of "background music", is intended to enhance acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies in the sound environment. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty 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." As a genre it originated in the United Kingdom at a time when new sound-making devices such as the synthesizer, were being introduced to a wider market. Robert Fripp and Brian Eno popularized ambient music in 1972 while experimenting with tape loop techniques. The Orb and Aphex Twin gained commercial success with ambient tracks. Ambient compositions are often quite lengthy, much longer than more popular, commercial forms of music. Some pieces can reach a half an hour or more in length.
Developing in the 1970s, ambient stemmed from the experimental and synthesizer-oriented styles of the period, while being influenced by nurse with wound, Kraftwerk and Klaus Schulze; nevertheless, the dance and techno music of the 1980s also played an important role in the genre. Brian Eno is regarded as ambient's founder. The concept of background or furniture music had already existed some time before, yet Eno created ambient by fusing elements of environmental music with electronic music. Ambient's sound was additionally influenced in part by space rock and Krautrock.
As a genre, ambient music focuses on creating a mood or atmosphere through synthesizers and timbral qualities. It often lacks the presence of any net composition, beat, or structured melody. Due to its relatively open style, ambient music often takes influences from many other genres, ranging from house, dub, industrial and new age, amongst several others. Since it is a relatively ambiguous term, ambient has no distinct characteristics, and its style can vary a great deal. In essence, it is a term to describe forms of music that put an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. Ambient music is often highly conceptual and experimental in style, while it is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual" or "unobtrusive" quality.
Ambient did not achieve large commercial success, being criticized as having a "boring" and "over-intellectual" sound. Nevertheless, it has also attained a certain degree of acclaim throughout the years. It had its first wave of popularity in the 1970s, yet saw a revival towards the late-1980s with the prominence of house and techno music, growing a cult following by the 1990s.
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.
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". 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".
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."
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") 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."
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, also Russian electronic music pioner Mikhail Chekalin, 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. The Yellow Magic Orchestra developed a distinct style of ambient electronic music that would later be developed into ambient house music.
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.
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), Another Green World (Invisible Landscape,1996), 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.
Related and derivative genres
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 '90s, found its opposite in the style known as Dark ambient. Populated by a wide assortment of personalities—ranging from aging 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. Some artists and releases that epitomize the style include Sandbar David Wonder, Bass Communion's Ghosts on Magnetic Tape and Vajrayana, Lull's Cold Summer, Controlled Bleeding's The Poisoner, the Robert Rich/Lustmord collaboration album Stalker and Burzum's albums Dauði Baldrs and Hliðskjálf, many albums by Mathias Grassow . Related styles include ambient industrial and isolationist ambient.
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. Illbient is another form of ambient house music.
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, Controlled Bleeding, CTI, Deutsch Nepal, Hafler Trio, Lustmord, Nocturnal Emissions, PGR, Minóy, Zoviet France, Nine Inch Nails, Susumu Yokota, Scorn and Heimkveld Kunst. However, many of these artists are very eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside of ambient industrial per se.
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 moods 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.
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, 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. 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.) 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, M.A/V.E - Musica.Arte/Video. Experimental, Deutsch Nepal, Inanna, Negru Voda, Thomas Köner, Robert Fripp, Steven Wilson, and Chuck Hammer (Guitarchitecture).
Of late[when?] 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 have pioneered the genre and are largely credited with popularizing the sound. These bands are largely known as post-metal.
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. It often features layering techniques and incorporates elements of world music deep bass lines and harmonic sounds which evolve. 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."[this quote needs a citation]
Notable ambient-music shows on radio and via satellite
SiriusXM Chill plays ambient, chill out and down tempo electronica
- 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.
- 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.
- Ultima Thule Ambient Music, a weekly 90-minute show broadcast since 1989 on community radio across Australia.
- SoundScape, a weekly 3 hour show program hosted by Greg 'Cracker' Carrick on community radio Yarra Valley FM 99.1  in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
- Alpha Rhythms, a 3 hour radio show aired by WYSO, an NPR affiliate operated by Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio airing on Sunday evenings.
- Ambient Zone, Sunday Electronic Listening Program broadcasting weekly from RTRFM since 1994 in Western Australia and across the world online. Hosted by original collective member Gavin Ee. Incidentally also featured Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire in its early years. Showcases everything from historical reference ambient music to the latest output from the most creative electronic producers. Ambient Zone Website
- Sound Introversion, An ambient / drone / glitch / melancholia music project and weekly radio show on soundpond.net (Saturday afternoons 4pm-6pm, Adelaide, South Australia CST). Made and presented by Yuri Tománek and Jason Sweeney. Sound Introversion Website
- 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).
- Eno, Brian. "Music for Airports". Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- "Ambient Music Definition". Deepintense.com.
- Prendergast, M. The Ambient Century. 2001. Bloomsbury, USA
- Jarrett, Michael (1998). Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC, Volumes 1–3. Temple University Press. p. 1973. ISBN 978-1-56639-641-7.
- Tingen, Paul (2001). Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967–1991. Watson-Guptill. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-8230-8346-6.
- Brian Eno, [ Music for Airports liner notes], September 1978
- 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".)
- Yellow Magic Orchestra at AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, Matthew Collin, 1997, Serpent's Tail ISBN 1-85242-377-3
- Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Ambient music". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. p. 22.
- AllMusic. "Dark Ambient: Significant Albums, Artists, and Songs". Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- "Ambient House". Allmusic. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved October 4, 2006.
- Werner, Peter. "Epsilon: Ambient Industrial". Music Hyperreal. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
- "... 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?
- "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
- "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?
- "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
- "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
- "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
- "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
- "...Spacemusic ... conjures up either outer "space" or "inner space" " – Lloyd Barde, founder of Backroads Music Notes on Ambient Music, Hyperreal Music Archive
- "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
- " 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?
- "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
- Reynolds, Simon; Chill: the new ambient, ArtForum, Jan, 1995
- Epsilon: Isolationism Thread from Ambient Music Mailing List
- Holmes, Thom (2008). Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture. Routledge. p. 403. ISBN 0203929594. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
- Mattingly, Rick (2002). The Techno Primer: The Essential Reference for Loop-based Music Styles. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 38. ISBN 0634017888. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
- "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
- "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
- "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
- "Ambient Zone" since its inception has been showcasing the most cutting edge ambient electronic and experimental techno sub-genres from underground record labels around the globe.
- "Sunday Night Chill," A Weekly Ambient Electronic Music Playlist on Indie Shuffle
- Ambient Techno in Sound on Sound
- Ambient Music Guide – Comprehensive ambient music resource site
- Further examples of ambient music
- Ambient music at the Open Directory Project
- Ambient sounds of nature or rain