Ambient Sounds


I think “ambient music” must almost be a contradiction in terms. By definition, ambient music must be ignored. If it succeeds in drawing attention to itself, it ceases by that fact alone to be ambient. Nonetheless there are people who have made careers of producing what they call “ambient music” and others who claim to listen to it. I don’t understand either group, but I’m told they exist.

Some years ago I had a dream. In the dream I was listening to a piece of ambient music that worked–that is, it was atmospheric music that really was in the background and did not itself distract from whatever you were doing. The piece consisted entirely of random tones, played at random times by randomly chosen instruments from among a large set of possibilities. The tones themselves were enormously rich and complex, but their timing and instrumentation were so haphazard that no sequence ever repeated itself in recognizable form. Instead there were just these wonderfully evocative fragments which never combined into anything more coherent than a wash of sound.

I woke up with my heart pounding and realized two things: 1) this would make wonderful ambient music; 2) now that I knew how the dream version worked, it would be trivial to write a program to generate an endless stream of

Ambient music is a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of slow instrumental music, it uses repetitive, but gentle, soothing sound patterns that can be described as sonic wallpaper to complement or alter one’s space and to generate a sense of calmness. The genre is said to evoke an “atmospheric”, “visual”, or “unobtrusive” quality.

Ambient music is often intended to induce a sense of calm or relaxation. It is associated with lounge music and easy listening, and was an influential component of the development of New Age music. Ambient music may have elements of new-age music and drone music, as some works may use sustained or repeated notes.

Ambient compositions are often meant to induce listeners into a relaxed state (sometimes akin to hypnagogia) such as that experienced during trance or meditation. This has led ambient artists to explore auditory illusions, hitherto more commonly explored by composers of computer music. The sounds that comprise ambient music often originate from sources familiar in the background of everyday life; for example, many pieces incorporate field recordings made in natural environments such as forests, lakes and oceans

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. And yet somehow between the overhang of its historical context and the demands of its formal definition, ambient music has found itself caught between a rock and a hard place: either it’s so bland and inoffensive that you wouldn’t want to waste the time on it, or else it’s so self-consciously “weird” that you couldn’t possibly listen to it at work.

It was Brian Eno’s genius to realize that the concept of “furniture music” had been too limited in its original conception, that what was needed instead was a kind of sonic wallpaper with enough interest and variation built into it to sustain repeated listening over long periods. The key word here is “repeated,” for there turns out to be a significant difference between music that can be listened to in the background and music that can stand up to repeated listening. For example, my wife loves jazz, but when she plays her records I find myself drifting off into thoughts about dinner or what I’m going to write later on in the day. Just try playing this record ten times in a row without your attention wandering!

Ambient music evolved from a number of pioneers, foremost among them Brian Eno, who coined the term to describe music that creates an atmosphere or mood. Its intent is to induce calm and a space to think.

The genre is said to evoke an “atmospheric”, “visual”, or “unobtrusive” quality. Eno popularized ambient music in 1978 with his album Ambient 1: Music for Airports. 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 often bears resemblance to instrumental music. It has been described as “music as environment”, and an “immersive” experience along the lines of surround sound.

Ambient music has been around for centuries. But, in the last decade it has seen a huge increase in popularity, with the rise of electronic ambient music. The famous composer Brian Eno first coined the term “ambient” to describe this kind of music.

Ambient music is usually very relaxing and soothing, but it doesn’t have to be. Ambient can range from very simple sounds to complicated soundscapes. It can cover genres such as classical and industrial. Ambient can create a certain mood or atmosphere of its own.

Ambient usually doesn’t have words or lyrics sung over the music. This is because music without words tends to be more relaxing and soothing than music with words. Many people use ambient as background noise while they’re performing other tasks, like writing an article or painting a picture.

Ambient music is a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of slow instrumental music, it uses repetitive, but gentle, soothing sound patterns that can be described as sonic wallpaper to complement or alter one’s space and to generate a sense of calmness. The genre is said to evoke an “atmospheric”, “visual”, or “unobtrusive” quality.

Ambient music focuses on creating a mood or atmosphere through synthesizers and timbral qualities lacking the presence of any net composition, beat, or structured melody. According to Brian Eno, one of its pioneers, “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.”

Elements typically found in ambient music include drones; subtle variations in texture; and futuristic, abstract or dream-like melodies. Drones are often used to create an atmospheric vibe. A sense of hypnotic stasis may be sought by the composer; listeners commonly find it pleasant to consider that much of ambient music consists of tones which do not change very much over long periods of time. In his book Soundtracks, Mark J. Prendergast writes:

The

Ambient electronic music is a genre that combines elements of ambient music, avant-garde classical, and electronica. This genre is not the same thing as new age or easy listening.

It has become popular in the late 20th century due to the advent of sampling and looping technologies.

All ambient genres have a strong focus on timbre and texture. Music that is purely ambient uses sounds from a variety of sources, which are often processed by tape machines, echo or reverb units, varying filters and other effects.


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