Ambient music is bathing the Top 40 in a rosy glow and ﬂoating about the album chart in multiple CD box sets. But what is it and where does it come from, asks Calvin Bush.
Old '0 light the punk wars for this? Mlxmastor Morris
‘An ambience is an atmosphere, or a surrounding
re you ready to relax, to snooze, to drift. ﬂoat, soak. dream. submerge. take off and bliss out, with a minimum of effort and a maximum of sensory pleasure? While other forms of music continue in their struggle to stave off atrophy and disappearance, 1993 has seen the ﬂourishing of a musical genre that, it could he argued, has been with us since almost the turn of the century.
It is ambient. a loose-limbed term by necessity. which takes in everything from the public-school noodlings of The Orb to the pseudo-aesthetic daring oflohn Cage's ‘Silence’ (four minutes and 33 seconds ofprecisely that); from the neo-jazz in a stylee of 812 and Black Dog to the classically- styled electronic movements and compositions of ultra-serious muso dudes like Peter Namlook. Edgar Froese and Sven Vath. Ambient can be anything you want it to be — atmospheric. anaemic, muzak. muse-ic, heavenly harmonies or sullen swells. But one thing is for sure — in 1993. it was the growth area of the music industry, and 1994 looks set to be the year it blossoms forth into the mainstream.
So where did it come from, why is it so popular now. and can you buy it in quarter ounces down your local cornershop‘? The first known use ofthe term in a musical context came in the liner notes to Brian Eno’s hugely inﬂuential Music for Airports (1978) where he wrote: ‘An arnbience is an atmosphere, or a surrounding inﬂuence: a tint . . . Ambient music is intended to induce calm, and a space to think. [it] must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.’ Unobtrusive yet rewarding; where other forms of music sought to assail. assault and attract the listener’s attention, ambient music seeks to draw the listener in, using
inﬂuence: a tint . . . Ambient music is intended to induce calm, and a space to think.’ - Brian [no
the gentle lapping of susurrient repetition, ripples ofoutward tones. beatless atmospherics, mantric and tribal percussion. The feel. not the message, is crucial.
Most would agree that the roots of ambient music can be found in Erik Satie’s monotone piano movements from the floating world, before nestling up in the post-war period with the experimental edge of the avant-garde - figures like La Monte Young. Cage, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley and Steve Reich (who pioneered the use of tape loops in the repetitive, over-lapping cycles that’s become a staple of so much psychedelic rock and post-house Euro- trance). All saw the minimalism of their music as a means of allowing the listener to discover a truer aesthetic end. than a direct assault on their senses would permit. This was the area where art met rock under the considerable inﬂuence of psychedelics and hallucinogens — the synthesised dreamscapcs of these composers became the soundtrack to the trip.
By the mid-70s, it was the turn ofGerman art- rock weirdos like Tangerine Dream. P0pel Vuh, Can and Neu to carry the flame ofthe new wave of electronic head-music. TD’s Edgar Fosse turned in ‘Aqua’, an elegiac unfolding of liquid synthetic elegance that seemed to encapsulate amhicnt’s other-worldliness. a quality that has remained an ineluctable staple. All live albums released this year on Sven Vath’s crucial ambient label. Recycle or Die, sound like they could have come from the past twenty or next 30 years of the history of music. as the skills of the classical composer become as essential as the visions of the future-dreamer. Context has replaced concept. The listener’s input is as crucial as the musician’s output. As The Orb’s mainman, Alex Paterson remarked, the only difference between good and had ambient
10 The List 3—16 December 1993