From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"In the late 2010s, popularity of Japanese ambient records like Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Music For Nine Post Cards (1982), Green (1986) and Haruomi Hosono's Watering a Flower (1984) have soared. In 2019, there was the compilation Kankyō Ongaku (2019) on Light in the Attic."--Sholem Stein
"Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) 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." --Liner notes of Brian Eno's 1978 release Ambient 1: Music for Airports
"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."--Sholem Stein
Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasises 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, often lacking the presence of any net composition, beat, or structured melody. It uses textural layers of sound without prevalent musical tropes, rewarding both passive and active listening. Nature soundscapes are usually included, and the sounds of acoustic instruments such as the piano, strings and flute, among others, may be emulated through a synthesizer. 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."
The genre originated in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s, when new musical instruments were being introduced to a wider market, such as the synthesizer. Eno named and 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 drone music, as some works may use sustained or repeated notes.
Ambient music did not achieve large commercial success, being criticized as having a "boring" and "over-intellectual" sound. Nevertheless, it has attained a certain degree of acclaim throughout the years, especially in the internet age. Due to its relatively open style, ambient music often takes influences from many other genres, ranging from classical, avant-garde music, folk, jazz, and world music, among several others.
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.
In his own words, Satie sought to create "a music...which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks at dinner, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometime fall between friends dining together. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. To make such music would be to respond to a need."
In the 1960s, many music groups experimented with unusual methods, with some of them creating what would later be called ambient music. In 1969, the group Coum Transmissions were performing sonic experiments in British art schools. Many pieces of ambient music were released in England and the United States of America between the late 1960s and the 1990s. Some 1960s music with ambient elements include Music for Zen Meditation by Tony Scott (1964), Soothing Sounds for Baby by Raymond Scott (1964), and Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys by Tony Scott (1968).
Developing in the 1970s, ambient stemmed from the experimental and synthesizer-oriented styles of the period. Although Jamaican dub musicians such as King Tubby, as well as the psychoacoustic soundscapes of Irv Teibel's Environments series, and German bands such as Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream, predate him in the creation of ambient music and/or were contemporaneous with him, Brian Eno played a key role in its development and popularization.
The concept of background or furniture music had already existed some time before, but only in the 70s was ambient music first created, which incorporated New Age ideals with the newly invented modular synthesizer. Eno went on to record 1975's Discreet Music with this in mind, suggesting that it be listened to at "comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility",
The impact the rise of the synthesizer in modern music had on ambient as a genre cannot be overstated; as Ralf Hutter of early electronic pioneers Kraftwerk said in a 1977 Billboard interview: "Electronics is beyond nations and colors...with electronics everything is possible. The only limit is with the composer". The Yellow Magic Orchestra developed a distinct style of ambient electronic music that would later be developed into ambient house music.
The English producer Brian Eno is credited with coining the term "ambient music" in the mid-1970s. He used the term to describe music that can be "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener", and which exists on the "cusp between melody and texture". In the liner notes for his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports (see inset).
Eno, who describes himself as a "non-musician", termed his experiments in sound as "treatments" rather than traditional performances.
In 2010, Eno said other artists were creating similar music in the mid-1970s, but that "I just gave it a name. Which is exactly what it needed ... By naming something you create a difference. You say that this is now real. Names are very important."
The continued development of the synthesizer, namely the FM synthesizer, was instrumental in the maturing of ambient music throughout the 1980s. With the commercial release of synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7 and the Korg M1 in the mid 1980s, the possibilities to create a sonic landscape increased through the use of sampling. Many of these FM synthesizers included capabilities of MIDI clock synching and external hardware compatibility, allowing the music to be much more textured than before. By the late 1980s there was a steep increase in the incorporation of the computer in the writing and recording process of records. The sixteen-bit Macintosh platform with built-in sound, and comparable IBM models would find themselves in studios and homes of musicians and record makers.
By the early 1990s, artists such as the Orb, Aphex Twin, Seefeel, the Irresistible Force, Geir Jenssen's Biosphere, and the Higher Intelligence Agency gained commercial success and were being referred to by the popular music press as ambient house, ambient techno, IDM or simply "ambient". Ambient compositions are often quite lengthy, much longer than more popular, commercial forms of music. The term chillout emerged 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.
London artists such as Aphex Twin (specifically: Selected Ambient Works Volume II, 1994), Global Communication (76:14, 1994), The Future Sound of London (Lifeforms, 1994, ISDN, 1994), The Black Dog (Temple of Transparent Balls, 1993), Autechre (Incunabula, 1993, Amber, 1994), 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.
By the late 2000s and 2010s, ambient music gained the most popularity and widespread recognition through internet, namely on YouTube, with uploaded pieces, usually ranging from 1 to 8 hours long, getting over millions of hits. Such videos are usually titled, or are generally known as, "relaxing music", and may be influenced by other music genres. Ambient videos assist online listeners with yoga, study, sleep, massage, meditation and gaining optimism, inspiration, and creating peaceful atmosphere in their rooms or other environments. As of 2018 ambient music inspired by the anime soundtracks of their childhoods had become popular amongst millennials.
Many uploaded ambient videos tend to be influenced by biomusic where they feature sounds of nature, though the sounds would be modified with reverbs and delay units to make spacey versions of the sounds as part of the ambience. Such natural sounds oftentimes include those of a beach, rainforest, thunderstorm and rainfall, among others, with vocalizations of animals such as bird songs being used as well. Pieces containing binaural beats are common and popular uploads as well, which provide music therapy and stress management for the listener.
Verified YouTube channels, such as aptly titled Ambient has over 200,000 subscribers. Other verified channels that also publish ambient music include, Meditation Relax Music, which has over 1 million subscribers, Soothing Relaxation with 800,000 subscribers, and Relaxing White Noise with over 500,000 subscribers, among others. iTunes and Spotify have digital radio stations that feature ambient music, which are mostly produced by independent labels.
- Background music
- Easy listening
- Furniture Music
- Incidental music
- List of ambient artists
- List of electronic music genres
- Minimalist music
- Sound map