Ambient music  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ambient music is a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. Ambient music is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. 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."

As a genre, it originated in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, when new sound-making devices were being introduced to a wider market, such as the synthesizer. The work of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster, King Tubby, and composer Erik Satie, as well as the psychoacoustic soundscapes of Irv Teibel's Environments series, were all influences on the emergence of ambient music. Brian Eno named and popularized ambient music in 1978 with his album Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Artists such as The Orb and Aphex Twin gained commercial success with ambient tracks in the early 1990s. Ambient compositions are often quite lengthy, much longer than more popular, commercial forms of music.

Ambient had a revival towards the late 1980s with the prominence of house and techno music. Eventually, ambient grew a cult following in the 1990s. By the early 1990s, artists such as Aphex Twin were being called ambient house, ambient techno, or "ambient" by the media. Genre offshoots include dark ambient and ambient dub.


Early 20th century French composer Erik Satie created an early form of ambient music that he referred to as "furniture music" (Musique d'ameublement), in reference to something that could be played during a dinner whose sound would simply create an atmosphere for that activity rather than be the specific 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." (Jarrett) 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 liner notes of Eno's 1978 release Ambient 1: Music for Airports includes a manifesto describing his philosophy of 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."Brian Eno, Music for Airports liner notes, September 1978

Eno has acknowledged the influence of Erik Satie and John Cage, in particular Cage's use of chance such as throwing the I Ching to direct a musical composition; and minimalist music in general. This influence was manifested in Oblique Strategies, a set of cards devised by Eno and Peter Schmidt and intended to direct the musician or artist when a dilemma occurred in a working situation. Eno used the term "ambient music" to distance his work from elevator music and Muzak. Eno also acknowledged influences 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 became a touchstone to which I returned frequently." (Tingen, Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991)

Early albums such as Ummagumma by Pink Floyd and by the "kosmische Musik"-oriented krautrock artists, like Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, and Cluster have greatly influenced the genre. Among the first electronic ambient albums were Affenstunde (1970) and In Den Garten Pharaos (1971) by Popol Vuh. Other notable albums include Sonic Seasonings (1972) by Wendy Carlos and L'apocalypse des Animaux (1973; recorded in 1970) by Vangelis. Additional early artists, such as Klaus Schulze (a former member of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel), Jean Michel Jarre, and Kraftwerk in the 1970s and 1980s, were influential .

Ambient dub

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."

Notable artists within the genre include Banco de Gaia.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ambient music" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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