Dark ambient

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Dark ambient
Stylistic origins Ambient, industrial, harsh noise, musique concrète, drone
Cultural origins 1980s and 1990s, Europe and United States
Typical instruments Electronic musical instruments, field recordings
Derivative forms Post-rock
Fusion genres
Ambient noise - Illbient - Black ambient - Funeral doom metal - Drone metal
Other topics
List of dark ambient artists - List of electronic music genres - Dark psytrance

Dark ambient is a subgenre of ambient music that features foreboding, ominous, or discordant overtones, some of which were heavily inspired by elements of industrial music. Dark ambient has its roots in the 1970s, with the introduction of newer, smaller, and more affordable effects units, synthesizer and sampling technology. Dark ambient is an unusually diverse genre, related to mainstream ambient music as well as noise, yet generally free from derivatives and connections to other genres or styles.

Origins and development[edit]


Dark ambient evolved partially based on several of Brian Eno's early solo albums (Another Green World - "In Dark Trees"; Music For Films - "Alternative 3"; Music For Films Director's Cut - Shell, Reactor, The Secret) and collaboration that had a distinctly dark or discordant edge, notably "An Index of Metals" (from Evening Star, 1975), a collaboration with Robert Fripp that incorporated harsh guitar feedback, the ambient pieces on the second half of David Bowie's Low (1977) and "Heroes", Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics (1980), a collaboration with Jon Hassell, and particularly the fourth installment of his ambient series, On Land (1982),[1] which had many deeply spatial elements, often utilizing field recordings to foreboding effect. An important early precursor of the genre was Tangerine Dream's early double-album Zeit (1972), which was unlike most of their subsequent albums in abandoning any notion of rhythm or definable melody in favor of "darkly" sinuous, occasionally disturbing sonics.

Ambient industrial projects like Lustmord,[2] Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France,[3] and Lilith 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.[3][4][dead link] 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.[3]

Among the many artists who produce ambient industrial are Cloud Shepherd, Controlled Bleeding, CTI, Deutsch Nepal, Hafler Trio, Lustmord,

The Knife performing at Melt! Festival 2013

Nocturnal Emissions, PGR, Thomas Köner, Zoviet France,[3] Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Lab Report, Akira Yamaoka, early Techno Animal, Robin Rimbaud and Final. Many of these artists are eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside of ambient industrial.[3] Dark ambient has vibrated also into contemporary classical music. The example can be some solo works of composer Vladimír Hirsch, his project Aghiatrias or composer Jessie Martin.


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an ethereal wave trend emerged within the dark wave movement, that tended toward moody atmospheric pieces rather than jangly minor-key rock. Ethereal wave was mainly associated with the Projekt record label, with bands like Black Tape for a Blue Girl composing moody ambient soundscapes.

By the mid-1990s, a large number of artists were working in ambient industrial, ambient noise, ethereal wave, illbient, isolationism, and other emerging "dark ambient" styles. Among these artists were Endura, Autopsia, Burzum, Vidna Obmana, Daniel Menche, Lull, Muslimgauze, Raison d'etre, Hwyl Nofio, Hieronymus Bosch, and Velvet Cacoon.


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.[3] For example, entire works may be based on radio telescope recordings (Arecibo Trans-Plutonian Transmissions), the babbling of newborn babies (Nocturnal Emissions Mouths of Babes), or sounds recorded through contact microphones on telegraph wires (e.g. Alan Lamb's Primal Image).[3]

Generally the music tends to evoke a feeling of solitude, melancholy, confinement, and isolation. However, while the theme in the music tends to be "dark" in nature, some artists create more organic soundscapes. Examples of such productions are those of Oöphoi, Alio Die, Mathias Grassow, Tau Ceti, and Klaus Wiese. The Symphonies of the Planets series, a collection of works by NASA and Brain/Mind Research in which planetary electromagnetic waves are captured by the Voyager unmanned space probes and converted into audible sound, can also be considered an organic manifestation of dark ambient.[5]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Dark Ambient Music". Synthtopia.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved March 19, 2010. 
  2. ^ Stosuy, Brandon (October 31, 2008). "Show No Mercy". Pitchfork. Retrieved October 31, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Werner, Peter. "Epsilon: Ambient Industrial". Music Hyperreal. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Headbanger's Blog". MTV. Viacom. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  5. ^ Lamb, Robert. "Symphonies of the Planets: Music from the Hearts of Space?" HowStuffWorks. September 15, 2009.