No announcement yet.

Ambient: The Great Debate

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Ambient: The Great Debate

    Epic Mega-post incoming. You've been warned...

    The AO Podcast #31 sparked a rather spirited debate over at KVR. (Original link: )

    After a certain point, it made sense to migrate the conversation to AO rather than continue to clog up KVR's Music Cafe w/ off-topic discourse. I'll repost the highlights below and we can pick up where we left off.

    Things started off with some comments:


    Great job with the podcast us usual, and that was a very interesting interview with Phase47. The podcast gave me a chance to listen to 2 or 3 new Ascendant tunes which I hadn't heard previously. I'm really looking forward to the album release.

    Good work

    Great listen!!

    Great music and interview. The ambient Batman and Robin are a force to be reckoned with!
    Then Annode (AO User Midnight Neighbor) wrote, in response to the podcast:

    What`s happened to ambient music? When did it turn into mainstream consumer, new age with beats schlock? Shame how eventually everything goes commercial.

    It`s no longer conceived as electronic music since it`s mostly in the box software, perceptually. Hardware kept the genre with that anyone can pump it out of a box for a few dollars, the genre has seemed to have disappeared and diluted down to mass appeal schlock. Similar nontechnical dilution happened yrs ago with what was a purist 'western' genre. Now it`s all become commercial country shit, accept for a few purist artists.

    My home town ambient show 'Starsend' has mainly gone mainstream and has been that way for over 10, 15 years now. Where have the real innovators/experimentalists gone?

    Has ANYONE heard of the great Michael Stearns? Sure Steve Roach is a master of ambient and Tribal for sure...but he`s the only real ambient artist name I hear dropped these days. TD was never ambient, they fell into the category of electronic...especially when seqrs were used. I think new categories could be useful within the catch-all of the electronic music/ambient genre.

    I liked hearing Don Tyler speak on times gone bye. It`s a shame though how the (electronic) ambient genre has mainly gone, and despite what Don remembers. He is confused now about what is mass appeal commercial new age schlock with smoke,mirrors and flashing stage lights and what is ambient music.
    I replied:

    @annode - so you buying a copy of Source Tranmission, or what?

    All kidding aside, I do like Michael Stearns & his mighty Serge Modular. I used to listen to one of his CDs on a loop whilst cutting film in college. I lost track of him after Encounter, but I think the reason you don't really hear his name dropped is that he hasn't had a release, to my knowledge, in over a decade. That doesn't make him less of a luminary in the electronic music world though.

    I think the reason you hear Steve Roach over and over again is because he continues to release albums - usually 2-3 a year.

    At any rate, the electronic ambient genre isn't mainly gone, as you've written. Far from it - it's just evolved, and will continue to evolve, and hopefully continue to grow like crazy, as it has been over the past couple decades. If you don't like where things are going (and how they're growing) or what Chuck van Zyl (another luminary in the business) plays on his radio show, you've still got the stuff you like, right? There's nothing wrong with being, following your phraseology, an "ambient purist" - that's great, but you can't expect the world to stay in a kind of stasis, just because you don’t like where it’s headed.

    Things change. Things grow. And often for the better. And I think it's absolutely FANTASTIC that the electronic ambient market has blown-up to include a more diverse range of music and artists. The bigger the blow-up - the better for everybody, especially the artists and fans.

    You can go to any given hardcore techno forum and mention Richie Hawtin or Minus Records, and people will have a similar negative "purist" reaction. I'm not sure if people are jealous, or scared of change or being challenged or what with growth and success. I don't get it, personally. But, for the hundreds of people that are threatened or upset that Richie Hawtin has taken another niche electronic music genre and blown it wide open, there are hundreds of thousands of people who love it. This brings more people to the genre, and creates a healthy economy and ecosystem for the music and the artists that create it. Not to mention the trickle-down effect whereby you might get into Plastikman, et al, and then discover some of the brilliant smaller techno labels like Prologue or Cocoon, etc.

    I think you're going to see the same kind of scaling & market broadening with "ambient" - like it or not. It’s going to be a natural reaction to the current popular electronic music as the pendulum swings away from Skrillex, it’s going to swing back from the spastic toward a more minimal, deep sound - what we’re broadly terming now as “ambient” and whatever other sub genres people are calling them: downtempo, psychill, etc.

    And you're right, anybody can make a halfway decent sounding track these days, which is why it's important to come with more than just the music. Sure, it would be nice to operate on the meritocracy of "let the music speak for itself" but the reality is, there is so much music out there - the signal-to-noise ration is nearly impossible to overcome with just the music on its own no matter how brilliant it might be. Hence the importance of a complete package of sound & vision - music videos, artwork, live performance - anything you can do to raise your profile above the s:n ratio - and yes, that might have to include a pretty technically proficient stage show, though I'll leave the smoke and mirrors to the hair bands.

    Thanks for responding to my perceptual dilemma. I know you`re quite invested into the idea of what is 'ambient' so I chose you to bat the ball around with me a bit on this.

    My above rant was two-fold I angst on what I perceive as a 'de-evolution' from what 'was' considered ambient to what now is also considered ambient...over the last few decades.
    Ambient doesn`t have kick drums @ 80bpm, in my world. I don`t know what I would call that,(electronica?) but not ambient. Ambient rhythms can be primal but very minimal. Primitive sounds can be within ambient, for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. They aren`t snare, hat, kick components, or similar. I have trouble with that. It becomes non-ambient. Rhythms like 4/4 w similar modern sound components make the music move more towards 'new age' or something else...and that aint ambient. New age, for example, is deliberate in nature. It has a perceivable melody. Ambient is cloud-like, amorphous, without edges, indistinct, neither here nor there. When it starts to be more and more definable, at some point it is no longer ambient. It becomes something else. It becomes something.

    I want a name for those somethings to be outside of the term ambient. I know I won`t get this, but that`s the center of my angst.

    a more minimal, deep sound - what we’re broadly terming now as “ambient” and whatever other sub genres people are calling them: downtempo, psychill, etc.

    My argument is that they are not within an ambient sub-catagory, they are outside. Ambient is an element which can not be made more elemental. A cloud of gas can not be sub-divided.

    I don`t care for 'new age' at all. So when music gets close to how I define new age, I say it becomes more schlocky. That`s just my opinion. Music I see as outside of ambient doesn`t make it schlocky.

    Well, the categorization, classification & genre-fication of music is well beyond my control or purview. People feel the need to categorize. There is a (seemingly natural) compulsion to compartmentalize the concepts of musical classification (among other things) probably since the very beginning.

    In addition, for practical reasons, there had to be some sort of conflation in the music business - it's been going on for decades - you are probably old enough to have had to go to the NEW AGE section of Tower Records (or wherever) to buy your Stearns or Roach or Eno/Budd or Jon Hassell or Tangerine Dream or whatever - none of which, really, were "new age" really at all. That never bothered me - I mean, they had to put the good stuff somewhere. Alot of that was practical, as in, there is only so much room in the record store, but probably also driven by labels, marketing, etc., which is almost always a bad idea in my opinion. (I say let the artists & fans decide what is or isn't genre-x or whatever.)

    I do know where you're coming from, in the 90s it sort of irked me that bands like The Orb or Future Sound of London were being branded as “ambient” among other things like electronica or IDM or whatever. But that whole scene which started in the early 90s (as realized on the ground-breaking compilation Artificial Intelligence Vol 1.) was born out of the idea of creating a kind of sedentary music for the bedroom or living room. So, you know, not unlike the same kind of "sit down and chill out whilst listening to a record" intent of more pure ambient releases. Those tracks had beats and more uptempo arrangements and broadened the "ambient" market on the whole, like it or not. FSOL and the Orb, et al, sold a ton of records, relatively speaking, compared to more pure ambient artists. So it’s not hard to see the how or why the ambient market grew or evolved the way it did. And so now we have artists like Solar Fields, Carbon Based Lifeforms, etc., that are flying the ambient flag at full mast - drum machines and all.

    I guess, that’s maybe some historical context on how we’ve come to have skittering drum beats in what is widely considered to be ambient music. I’m sure somebody knows the history or details better than I do - I was too slammed in the 90s working to care much about new music at the time. But it’s all good. Look, I like all kinds of electronic music, i don’t take the labels personally - because really, how can you? I listen to something, if I like it, I buy it. If I don’t, I move on. Whether or not Ascendant or Aes Dana or Solar Fields (or whoever) fits into your idea of this or that “genre" really isn’t the point. The point is that “ambient” is both a genre and a market, if that makes sense, that has evolved over time - for better or worse, to include the “cloud of gas” as well as the more progressive variants. Do we really need or want to start dividing that up like house music has been divided? House, Deep House, Progressive House, etc? I dunno - like I said, beyond my control or purview.

    Somebody ought to do a book or a documentary on the insanity of music classification and the endless genres and sub-genres we create and why we feel compelled to slap a label on everything. If you really want to see something vexing and inscrutable - go check the Beatport genre charts. I’ll take the tagging system at Bandcamp any day of the week.

    Fantastic conversation - good stuff.
    Addendum: I guess the house music thing was maybe not the best example, as there's probably a practical reason behind those kinds of sub-genres as well w/ the DJs and such needing to find a more specific thing for any given club/dance floor/venue.

    We won't have to worry about that until ambient clubs start appearing
    KVR user Woggle then referenced David Toop's mostly great book Ocean of Sound:

    I pretty much draw the line at beats for ambient, but language changes and 'ambient' means a whole lot more than it used to, which makes it less precise. A nice overview of ambient music is found in David Toop's Ocean of Sound


    Don`t think i`ll buy the book. Don`t need his take on it since i`ve been listening to the electronic/minimalists from their beginnings thanks to once non-commercial college station wxpn (university of Pennsylvania), and a friend who had a subscription, importing 'Melody Maker' from the UK where we not only followed the British scene but other Euro-countries such as Germany and France.
    I followed the record label 'Nonesuch' which would release early experimental electronic music such as computer assisted music with early 'mainframe' computers by professors within a college/university. (IRCAM) Paris.

    Musical genres used to be categorized properly and logically. Like following the evolution of rock back to American slavery field calling. Directly related music styles evolved but remained pure to what defined them. Blues is not jazz, and ragtime is not jazz. Blues is not rock but there is blues rock and jazz rock or jazz fusion. There came a sort of 'schlock jazz' and was called smooth jazz. It`s not jazz, it`s jazz with something added or different enough to conceed to become a newcategory.There is no ambient rock or ambient xxxxx. Ambient like blues or jazz should have remained elemental. One can branch from it or add to it to create something else with some other name, but making music that is more then what defines ambient can not be ambient`s ambient + something, or another term all together.
    This hasn`t really happened over the last 40 years with music derived/built upon ambient, ambient electronic. There is a clear reason I can see for this (I lightly touched on earlier)...but that`s a big long discussion.

    Phase47 makes good points as well concerning why things went/are this or that way.
    I had then referenced an article from the Guardian where acts like The Orb are reference foremost as "ambient" --

    An article from the Guardian on the ambient scene: ... -of-canada

    Thanks for the article Don. Nice to know there is a growing scene emerging.
    Reminiscent with the 'Beat' scene,the Beat scene attracted a young intellectual to the idea of socializing with liked minded ppl concerned with the essence of their lives. Speaking to a like minded group in a form of poetry or verse about ones existentialist essence,ideals and the abrasive society while accompanied by minimalistic, tribal drum (bongos).

    Like ambient music, which was, in essence, an audible form of minimalist art, much like cubism or the existentialist dadaism which led up to Beat. Ambient ,like art, can lead to controversy in defining what is art or ambient. As long as ambient is held as a(minimalist) art form, there will be ppl who care whether or not it can lose it`s true essence in a white-wash of other 'outsider' music infiltrating and diluting it.

    Like minded ppl who find a group to share ideals on the essence of what brings them together are strongest when the group is kept relatively small, tightly knit, and difficult to infiltrate. If just anyone is allowed to enter the group should it become so popular, it will eventually disintegrate. This can happen when ppl see profit can be had within an increasingly popular group. Commercialism will break down the group essence as well.
    Minimalist art in the form of ambient music becoming popular is not necessarily a good thing. It means it will become more and more dilute the more popular it becomes.
    I for one don`t see it becoming as popular as all that...but in certain states and countries new age performance became very popular. What was once a meditation/environmental category became a large commercialized bag of crap. I want the essence of ambient to remain as a minimalist art form...for the most part, it has.

    Eno, apart from Roxy Music and with Fripp on some recordings, produced minimalist art using sound as the medium. Using the idea of presenting this palette of sound within a large acoustic space and then referring to it with the name of the space in the title seems to have led to the idea that this minimalist art form can be referred to as ambient.
    Thus ambient was termed. Terms arise so interested ppl can relate to it with one another. "This is something worth looking into". Ppl started to define it and reproduce it. It`s essence remained pure for some years. Now in the present day, ppl have access to a minimum of 128 sound patches with names that can`t possibly lend to a description of the sound since the sounds have become more and more complex and diversified.(within the cat. of pads & keys) The numbers of ppl creating synthetic music, matched by the diversity of sound synthesis, lends itself to major difficulty in classifying it all. So, music, similar to 'minimalist', and then to add melody and progressive structured, 'new age', seemed to have become the catch all genres for what falls within the ambient category.

    Thanks for considering my thoughts.
    I then made the suggestion that we migrate to AO:

    If we're going to get into the beats, inclusion/exclusion, pollution, dilution & contagion, action and reaction, minimalist art, selling-out vs. obscurity, dadaism, and I'll throw in the Italian Futurists, then I am in this conversation for the long haul. It will only be a matter of time before I bring up Rothko, Richie Hawtin (again) and Bauhaus.

    It would be great to get a few more diverse opinions in here first though. It may be that we migrate the topic over to where this kind of discourse may get more attention.

    And so here we are. Fully migrated. I think this is a fascinating and probably important discussion re: what defines modern ambient music, the genre & the market, where we've been, and where we're going. Let the good times roll... Let's hear from some other ambient music fans and producers on the subject.

    Last edited by Phase47; 04-30-2014, 12:13 PM.
    Ascendant Bandcamp // SoundCloud // FaceBook // Twitter

  • #2
    To further the conversation, from that Guardian article:

    So why now? Alex Paterson of the Orb places it within electronic music's general resurgence – "Ambient is being rebranded, like EDM in the States just now," he says – but he also suggests it's part of a bigger cycle, pointing to the centenary of the Italian futurists' Art Of Noises manifesto. Tom Middleton credits young acts such as the xx, Burial and Fuck Buttons for bringing "depth, texture and space" in contrast to the bombast of EDM and pop, suggesting "we crave respite from the relentless bombardment of full-range bangs, booms, wubs and thumps.
    And then just this morning, with regard to the new Ascendant LP - - AO member Thought Experiment wrote:

    Allow me to be the first (of many I'm certain) to say: What an amazing album!

    I think you guys have created a new genre here - there are elements of blissed-out modern ambient, plus old-school tranquil ambient, you've incorporated dance music devices like drops and breaks and risers which work equally as well in this setting. You've retained the spirit of ambient music, and made it exciting to listen to (it certainly ain't ignorable...)

    Outstanding sound design (I love the treatments on the vocal passages), beautifully mixed, and masterfully mastered (as you'd expect ) - this is a piece of work of which you must be immensely proud. So when's the next one coming out?:D
    The mention of genre is what I found to be interesting. For those who have heard Source Transmission, what do you think? Ambient heresy or progressive ambient? Or is this just the culmination of the shift that started in the 90s when bands like The Orb & FSOL were widely branded as ambient?
    Ascendant Bandcamp // SoundCloud // FaceBook // Twitter


    • #3
      Originally posted by Phase47 View Post
      To further the conversation, from that Guardian article:

      And then just this morning, with regard to the new Ascendant LP - - AO member Thought Experiment wrote:

      Allow me to be the first (of many I'm certain) to say: What an amazing album!

      I think you guys have created a new genre here - there are elements of blissed-out modern ambient, plus old-school tranquil ambient, you've incorporated dance music devices like drops and breaks and risers which work equally as well in this setting. You've retained the spirit of ambient music, and made it exciting to listen to (it certainly ain't ignorable...)

      Outstanding sound design (I love the treatments on the vocal passages), beautifully mixed, and masterfully mastered (as you'd expect ) - this is a piece of work of which you must be immensely proud. So when's the next one coming out?:D
      The mention of genre is what I found to be interesting. For those who have heard Source Transmission, what do you think? Ambient heresy or progressive ambient? Or is this just the culmination of the shift that started in the 90s when bands like The Orb & FSOL were widely branded as ambient?
      I've listened to 4 tracks and none of them are what I would consider ambient - they sound more out of german electronica (like Tangerine Dream from the 70s/80s). I don't see that as a bad thing at all musically but it makes the term "ambient" less precise and therefore less useful (for me anyway). I find this change in the use of the term 'ambient' a little annoying because it means when I look for stuff under that tag I come across a lot I am not interested in. However I also come across stuff I would not otherwise come across and that's got advantages as well.

      I think sometimes we need to distinguish between the use of words in conversation and writing and the use of words as tags for search. As tags, words can be fuzzy tools for drawing an audience in when used in combination with other tags in a way that seldom happens in conversation or writing. So 'ambient' might be a tag used to draw in an audience where you think that 'the ambient crowd might like this' but don't actually think it is ambient.

      For me that is how The Milky Seas seems to be using the term. I should say I am also starting to use ambient more as a tag on my own music because I recognise my own usage is old-fashioned (coming out of Satie and Eno). I now describe a lot of what I do as 'gentle music' rather than ambient

      but - which of the tracks do you consider most "Ambient" ?
      Last edited by GregH; 04-30-2014, 03:39 PM.


      • #4
        I fear that this will be a rambling, stream-of-consciousness (tl;dr) post.


        I have difficulties with genre tags generally.

        I can often distinguish between the major different forms of House music (and there are lots of them), but that's probably helped by my having listened to quite a lot of it over the last 3 years or so, and I'm fairly comfortable with the various distinctions between the different classifications. I'm not an afficionado of House music. I gave this as an example based upon a 3-year period where I have had some exposure to it on a fairly regular basis. Before that, I knew nothing about it at all.

        I have been making tracks myself now for just over 5 years. I sat on them for 30 months before being persuaded to post them by KVR member polyslax. Until then, I had not given any consideration to making these tracks publicly listenable. In fact, none of them had been mixed at this time. Immediately, I had a huge problem. Those pesky genre tags.

        When I started making this stuff, I had the idea of trying to make electronic beat-oriented music, but I wanted to use my past experience playing in various Prog-rock bands as a basis for doing it. I like the presence of melodic and harmonic components, but I didn't really want to go back to the complete early/mid '70s Prog-Rock package again. It had already been done, and by much more capable musicians than myself. So I was left with a bunch of tracks which I felt didn't easily sit in any of the established genres. Yeah, I could have called it "Electronic", but, as a descriptor, "Electronic" isn't really telling anybody anything. So what did I do?

        I thought about it for a few days and then I committed search-engine suicide and labelled everything I made as "ElectroProg". It made me feel better, knowing that I had a definition that at least one person could live with, and it made my life a lot easier from that point onwards, because I didn't have to think about it anymore. I had written 56 tracks, I was happy that my writing process was delivering a style that wasn't quite fitting in with the mainstream, and I knew that I was going to fix/mix/master them all (because I'm determined and persistent when I want to be). What I really enjoyed with this project was pulling in elements from different influences and mashing them up to make something which I found to be both original and familiar at the same time. Some of those influences were ambient.


        What does it mean? I doubt whether this question can ever be answered in a manner guaranteed to satisfy everybody.

        Personally, I don't buy into that elevator/furniture music scene. If I like a piece of music, I'm going to actively listen to it. I know that Mr. Eno is generally attributed with coining the term, and that's fine with me. Maybe the terminology is correct, maybe not. Maybe what I call ambient is not ambient at all. I'm a very confused guy.

        I've been listening to ambient music (but not exclusively) in one form or another for over 35 years. This doesn't make me "right" or an "expert". In fact, I only really started to click with ambient music in the '90s when those FSOL albums came out. For me, they were a catalyst and started to focus my attention more keenly on some of what had gone before. I really liked the way their albums combined those soft, atmospheric sounds with the upfront percussion (similar in some ways to Fripp's Discotronics experiment 13 years earlier). Then I heard Lifeforms. That is still my favourite. Parts of that album make my face melt.

        For me "ambient music" is a feeling, or a vibe. It could be a complete piece of music or it could be just one part of a piece of music. That's the beauty of it for me. I love listening to Massergy's long drones. They are mesmerising and beautiful. It ain't background music. I HAVE to sit down and immerse myself in his tracks, which invariably involves me turning the volume up. I listen to a lot of phoenstorm's tracks too. In many cases his music has a different style, 'cause he involves percussive elements in his pieces, which takes it out of many peoples' ambient comfort zone, but the core of his pieces is that ambient vibe that he sets up with the pad sounds. I love S1gns work too, and the Ascendant album will be on heavy rotation here very soon. These also have a strong "enveloping" atmosphere generated by great synth sounds, and I imagine, lots of processing, all underpinned by a rhythmic pulse, but that "ambient" vibe is certainly there. Then there are more Prog-oriented bands. Porcupine Tree play a lot of rock grooves, but Richard Barbieri gives a lot of their songs a much deeper, spacier atmosphere with his ambient keyboard style. David Sylvian is another artist who has that ambient sound, but really shouldn't be classified as such because he has beatz AND vocals.

        ambient for me is an idea.
        ambient for me is A sound, or it could be THE sound.
        ambient for me is not an end but a means to an end.

        Now let's go back to that house music example above and apply it to ambient music. See where I'm going with this?
        Whatsisname's Little Fluffy Clouds | Campsite | Hearthis | Orfium | SeismicTC | Twitter | Ello


        • #5
          #whoadude - Well-said Seismic. As I mentioned earlier up ^^^ there somewhere, I was somewhat irked when The Orb and FSOL and the like were being branded as ambient (I was a purist at the time, admittedly), but then once I had a chance to hear them - I got it. I didn't care what they were called - especially after I heard Lifeforms. If that was ambient, relative to the rest going on at the time, then okay, count me in. And I suppose it was ambient relative to what else was going on at the time - from what I recall it was all Ace of Base, the Gin Blossoms/Spin Doctors and Snoop Dog.

          Originally posted by seismic1 View Post
          So I was left with a bunch of tracks which I felt didn't easily sit in any of the established genres. Yeah, I could have called it "Electronic", but, as a descriptor, "Electronic" isn't really telling anybody anything.
          As an aside, and I can't remember where I heard him say it, but Steve Duda was talking about EDM and mentioned something like, "by the way, we can drop E now can't we? I mean, it's all electronic at this point."

          Originally posted by seismic1 View Post
          Then I heard Lifeforms. That is still my favourite.
          Now Playing over here: Lifeforms. I could listen to Room 208 on a loop forever. And I hadn't listened to this in years. It's still fantastic. No, this is not, based on the phraseology of this conversation, "pure ambient" but it's indeed ambient. Like I said, I was resistant at first, but I now recognize this, simply as ambient. It's not really though - it's bombastic at times, beat-heavy at times, 303 in your face at times, but it's got that ambient sensibility that says "this is ambient." It's hard to explain. It's definitely not the "cloud of gas" purely elemental music, but it speaks to me as ambient. Maybe I've adjusted, or been reprogrammed by the 90s definition of ambient. I don't know. Like you said, it's feeling, or a vibe.

          Originally posted by seismic1 View Post
          Now let's go back to that house music example above and apply it to ambient music. See where I'm going with this?
          So there's

          Deep House
          Electro House
          Progressive House
          Tech House

          That's off the top of my head - am I missing any? (I'm not a house-head.) I'll let somebody else do the ambient analogies w/ examples. I'd still maybe argue that the house breakdown was more of a DJ tool than schisms in the actual scene, but again, not a house-head.

          If pushed, using those examples, l'd say:

          Ambient? That's your classical/purist ambient - Eno, Stearns, etc. Pure beat-less ambient.

          Deep Ambient? Drones, baby. My Phase47 material I guess, would fit here?

          Electro Ambient? (No idea... Maybe put Steve Roach here, because, why not at this point... he belongs somewhere - maybe this becomes tribal ambient instead of electro ambient.)

          Progressive Ambient? Things like FSOL, Ascendant, The Orb... st
          uff with beats that recalls the progressive electronics of ye olde Berlin School? would this be the Psybient genre?

          Tech Ambient? Well, we already have dub/ambient techno, so this would be that: See Edit Select's new album Plox, or Voices from the Lake, Cio d'Or, et al.


          Great stuff, Seismic. You've raised the bar on the conversation.
          Last edited by Phase47; 04-30-2014, 09:38 PM.
          Ascendant Bandcamp // SoundCloud // FaceBook // Twitter


          • #6
            Ok, let's get ready to ramble...

            Ah, labels - people love 'em, don't they? Mostly. Except the new band/artist when the interviewer asks 'What kind of music do you make?' and they invariably say something like 'Oh, we don't like to be pigeonholed by labelling ourselves as (insert hottest thing here)...' And people can become very proprietorial with labels too, forgetting that labels are not universal where matters of aesthetics are concerned, they're a very personal thing.

            Pick up a tin from the supermarket shelf. What does the label say? 'Peaches' You know that if you open the tin you'll get peaches (unless you're shopping in Netto... :lol There's no need for debate - the label tells you what it is. End of story.

            But labelling a style/genre of music is whole different ballgame. The label is outdated by the time it reaches common usage, that's just the way of it. So for someone to say 'You can't call your music Ambient because it has/doesn't have blahblah' is ridiculous. You're the creators, it is what you say it is because only you know your intent. My own personal definition of Ambient obviously differs from yours and Chris' - when I 'do' ambient it tends to be floaty and beatless - but I couldn't say you're wrong to call your music ambient, I don't own the term, only my personal definition of it.

            While we're throwing quotes about, I like this one, credited to Louis Armstrong: 'There's only two types of music: good and bad.'

            And here's one from Thought Experiment: 'Ascendant make good music'

            Last edited by Thought Experiment; 05-01-2014, 01:32 AM.
            My new album is available now, here: https://thoughtexperiment.bandcamp.c.../supersymmetry
            Check out my (hopelessly out-of-date) SoundCloud page:


            • #7
              Great debate. What I like most about it? That it is actually happening. That you guys are passionate enough to type out novel-length contributions and that we have places like ambientonline to discuss in-depth - I really appreciate that. For various reasons, this is one of those discussions that I'd much prefer to have in person...Helsinki this year won't be happening, but maybe in the future. Arguments like these also tend to no be resolved - which is fine, because, as so often, the discussion is its own reward. It's difficult, isn't it? Musical taste and preference is a matter of emotions, self-concepts, identity-building. Notions of authenticity float around and are dear to some, worthless to others. Innovation is another of the prized characteristics in artistic pursuit and there was a time (we apparently like to believe) when innovation could be measured in relation to a set system, a taxonomic structure that provided us with genres. For reasons that Phase47 has mentioned I think that system has lost its function. This is not to say that genres, innovation, etc. do not exist anymore, but I think we have undergone a process of individualization, formed many localized outlooks, which makes a 'big picture' rather unlikely and even undesirable. One then takes up different positions in different contexts, such as promoting a new album, or explaining why a certain kind of music matters to one personally, or why certain developments in a certain style are unpalatable. We discover that terminologies might be changing, that we use the same words, but mean different things. We argue for our own point of view, ideally understand the views of others, maybe even rediscover and acknowledge common ground.


              • #8
                I think that as long as more than one person is making what they call ambient music, you'll never get a hard-and-fast genre definition, ESPECIALLY given the amazing diversity of what artists and producers are calling "ambient".

                I call some of mu music "ambient", but some people call it "soundscape", and some call it "mindless noise". Oddly, they're all right!

                Great debate.. and a fascinaing read!
                Home Page:
                Authors Den:


                • #9
                  Here is an excerpt from the book "The Dance Music Manual" 2nd edition;

                  "AMBIENT/CHILL OUT"

                  Ambient music has enjoyed a long, if somewhat diverse, history and its subsequent
                  offshoots have formed an important role in dance music since 1989.
                  However, it only recently re-established itself to many as part of the dance
                  music scene when beats were again dropped over the atmospheric content and
                  it was relabelled by record companies and the media as ‘chill out ’ music.
                  The roots of ambient music are nothing if not unusual. It’s believed that it fi rst
                  came about in the mid-1970s when Brian Eno was run over by a taxi. While he
                  was recovering in hospital, a friend gave him a tape machine with a few dodgy
                  tapes of harp music. The result was that music didn’t remain at a constant volume
                  and on occasion dropped considerably in gain whereby it mixed with the
                  rain hitting the hospital windows. This second accident formed the beginning
                  of ambient as Eno began to experiment by mixing in real-world sounds such
                  as whale song and wind chimes with constantly changing synthesized textures.
                  Described by Eno himself as music that didn’t draw attention to itself (go fi gure),
                  it enjoyed some success but was soon relabelled as ‘Muzak’ and subsequently
                  poor imitations began to appear as background music for shopping
                  centres and elevators, and to many the genre was soon written off as ‘music
                  suitable only for hippies ’.
                  When the rave generation emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a DJ
                  named Alex Patterson began to experiment with Eno’s previous works, playing
                  it back to clubbers in small side rooms who needed a rest from the fast,
                  hard-hitting beats of the main room. These side rooms were soon labelled by
                  clubbers as ‘chill out ’ rooms, a place where you could go and take a break
                  from the hectic four to the fl oor beats. As these ‘chill out ’ rooms began to gain
                  more popularity with clubbers, Patterson teamed up with fellow musician
                  Jimmy Cauty to form The Orb and they jointly released what many believe to
                  be the fi rst ever ambient house music for clubbers, somewhat strangely named
                  A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld .
                  Soon after the release of the album, Patterson and Cauty went their separate
                  ways. While Cauty teamed up with Bill Drummond to from KLF, Patterson
                  continued to write under the moniker of The Orb and to DJ in the chill out
                  This form – ambient house – began to grow into its own genre and chill out
                  rooms became a fundamental part of the rave scene. Some DJs became VJs
                  (video jockeys), mixing not only real-world sounds with slow, drawn-out drum
                  loops but also projecting and mixing images onto large screens to accompany
                  the music. This was soon followed by a series of ambient compilations hitting
                  the public market, and artists such as William Orbit and Aphex Twin soon
                  released their own ambient house albums.
                  In 1992, the genre was in full fl ow. As different artists adopted the scene, each
                  putting their own twist on the music, it began to diversify into subgenres such
                  as ambient dub (ambient music with a bass), conventional (ambient with a 4/4
                  backbeat), beatless (no backbeat but following the same repetition as dance
                  music) and soundscape (essentially pop music with a slow, laid-back beat). By
                  1995, ambient music was everywhere, as the larger record companies took the
                  sound on board and saturated the market with countless ambient compilations
                  (although thankfully there was never any Now That’s What I Call Ambient Music
                  Volume 390). Even artists who had ignored the genre before began to hop on
                  board in the hopes of making a quick buck out of the new fad.
                  As with most music that is encapsulated and bastardized in this way, eventually
                  ambient house became a victim of its own success. The general public became
                  tired of the sound. To the joy of many a clubber, it was no longer the new fashion
                  and it returned to only being played where it had originated from – the
                  chill out rooms.
                  Fast forward to the year 2000. A small Balearic island in the middle of the
                  Mediterranean began to revive the public’s and record companies ’ interest in
                  ambient house. DJs in Ibiza’s Caf é Del Mar began to tailor music to suit the
                  beautiful sunsets by mixing Jazz, Classical, Hispanic and New Age together to
                  produce laid-back beats for clubbers to once again chill out to. Now repackaged
                  and relabelled ‘chill out music ’ it’s enjoying renewed interest and has
                  become a genre in its own right. However, while chill out certainly has it roots
                  deeply embedded in ambient music, they have over time become two very different
                  genres. Thus, as the purpose of this book is to cover dance music, for this
                  chapter we’ll concentrate on chill out rather than ambient.

                  - The book gets into great detail with graphics and such, so I won`t paste anymore of it here.

                  So, the author seems to see similarly as I do that ambient is not only a catch all category but also in essence a minimalist music genre. Minimalist ambient plus another style gives what some call a sub-category ex.'ambient-dub'. As the author puts it, when what`s added changes the essence of the ambient in a more complex way, it becomes 'chill-out' or other, ex.'down-tempo', another category in itself.
                  "If you believe in things you don't understand, you might be a republican."annodeMy Music


                  • #10
                    Sounds like Cafe del Mar is happening ;)
                    Ascendant Bandcamp // SoundCloud // FaceBook // Twitter


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Phase47 View Post
                      Sounds like Cafe del Mar is happening ;)
                      As far as the music goes...if easy listening is happening? Not in my world it isn`t. LOL
                      Have a YouTube Cafe del Mar playlist going won`t be for long. haha
                      "If you believe in things you don't understand, you might be a republican."annodeMy Music


                      • #12
                        I need a Cafe del Ambient.
                        Ascendant Bandcamp // SoundCloud // FaceBook // Twitter


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Phase47 View Post
                          I need a Cafe del Ambient.
                          Something like Makyo - Chandan is a real good example of what I consider quality ambient-chill.
                          'Chandan' is no longer on YouTube but this Makyo liquid-ambient tune is;
                          I love Makyo.

                          Ah...found 'Chandan' abient-chill ;
                          Last edited by annode; 05-02-2014, 02:15 PM.
                          "If you believe in things you don't understand, you might be a republican."annodeMy Music


                          • #14
                            I find conversations like this interesting. Personally, I have really eclectic tastes, and a large amount of stuff just doesn't appeal to me. However, I know the reverse is also true - that my music simply appeals to a very small subset of people.

                            "Ambient" has been mainstream since Eno popularized it, Eno (as an example of someone considered "pure" by many) was actually doing something that people have been doing since literally the advent of recording capabilities, musique concrete and ambient use of sound and music as art was a thing long, long before he touched it. Not that I don't like what he did, he's great - I just find it amusing that people hold to these false notion of "purity" in an art form that has been a thing on some level long before the advent of home recording, and the explosion of ambient, drone etc.

                            It's true that the genre has exploded since the advent of ridiculously easy home recording, but that's to be be expected, and it's so with everything.

                            Genre is about marketing though, and little else..the stuff I prefer tends to eschew genre in favor of creativity, but then the more creative you get, the less accessible you might be as well. We all have to use certain terms to get found - espeically with stuff like soundvloud where you are simply going to choose terms that draw in certain folks.

                            Ambient can lend itself to actually being quite accessible, rather than the opposite.

                            Anyway, I respect anyoner who is willing to put out the effort and put a piece of themselves into what they do, whether or not it reflects my own personal's important to remember that artistic integrity is what is important, and someone can have that in spades even if you aren't personally into what they do.

                            I use the term ambient solely because I know a small % of the people who use the term will be into certain sounds, I can use the term noise or drone to describe what I do to. A few years back people used the term 'post industrial', but I don't see it so much anymore.

                            IDK Whether Ascendent counts as ambient, but S1gns has as much right to term as I do lol. From my own dated point of view, i'd simply mentally refer to Source Transmission as good "electronic music" or electronica lol..but again, genre terms are functional to my mind, and don't hold any real meaning.

                            One thing that does seem reasonable to me, is to say the more narrative a piece of music gets, the more difficult it is to call "ambient", that said - again sometimes we use terms to say "this is kind of like" rather than to say "this is exactly" - that is normal for genre terminology.
                            Last edited by Zach Zinn; 05-02-2014, 02:38 PM.


                            • #15
                              I`m not going near that.
                              "If you believe in things you don't understand, you might be a republican."annodeMy Music