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What Isn't Ambient?

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  • What Isn't Ambient?

    So I've been thinking a bit lately about how while a lot of the music I am interested in could be classified as ambient, I know that a lot of it would not be for various reasons. So my question rather than defining what is ambient, is "what isn't ambient"? Is it the addition of an element like discernible vocals (or maybe even a discernible guitar) or drums? Is it a lack of spaciousness & reverb? For me personally I think one of the biggest things is (& I'm not sure exactly where it happens) when the song structure lends towards me moving my head back & forth in time to some element, though I definitely think I do this with some aggressive ambient stuff that I guess is a genre that some may call industrial in the first place.

  • #2
    It is definitely a lot of blurred lines in the genre. You're right in talking about industrial as a lot 90's dark ambient was inspired from industrial and had more beats & rhythms. I have definitely heard music labeled as ambient which I wouldn't consider ambient. But being new to the scene I am in no position to argue.

    My snobbish side sticks to the definition of ambient as "relating to the immediate surroundings of something." So when I compose ambient music I try to imitate surrounding sounds of dark mechanical alien worlds. I have also seen a few instances where people were inspired by experiencing oneself, and that does make sense to me as you are a part of your own environment. I think you're onto something about moving to the music. It makes sense to me that if the music inspires motion rather than a state of being then it ceases being ambient.
    Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
    Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.

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    • #3
      Some of the earliest roots of ambient lye in music by composers such as Erik Satie. He described his music as 'furniture music'. It just sat in the back ground not disturbing anyone. Eno's theory for it was similar. A constant loop in the back ground that could easily be interupted. To give an answer to your question; music that garners a negative reaction and makes people want it turned off. Some ambient might cause that feeling though. I'm sure there will be a lot of subjective replies to this. Interesting question.

      I used to follow an ambient guitar page on Facebook. There was one guy who posted quite regularly labelling his music ambient guitar. Frankly it was about as ambient as Metalica. I would say metal is not ambient.
      Graham
      https://www.youtube.com/c/THEBassBus
      https://soundcloud.com/bassbus https://hearthis.at/graham-blanche-ov/

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      • #4
        It's a good question that probably can't be answered definitively given the range of music that falls under the "ambient" umbrella. Personally I divide ambient into roughly 3 categories.

        The first two are external vs internal. When Brian Eno starting writing ambient music, he intended for it to be part of an environment or as a sound installation. Like Satie's furniture music, you could choose to listen to it or just let it blend in with the rest of the external stimuli in your surroundings. To this day I think Eno still writes his ambient music like this. It's probably why he favors generative composition methods. Never overpowering, never calling attention to itself. It's just "there". This is the most literal interpretation of ambient music.

        On the other hand, "internal" ambient music is something that you completely immerse yourself in. Put on headphones, close your eyes, and let the music envelop you completely. With this type of ambient music, you may want to shut out all other senses and instead focus only on the music. This is perfect for mediation and deep listening. In this sense, it can be more immediately engaging to the listener than Eno's brand of ambient music. Steve Roach, Robert Rich, GAS, Tim Hecker, etc create this type of ambient music.

        Of course the lines between these two categories are often blurred. I could put Steve Roach's Immersion series in either category and that was probably his intention.

        The third category is for ambient music that is more melodic or beat driven. Aphex Twin kinda offered up an alternative definition of ambient music with Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Moby reinforced it when he released Ambient a year later. Both draw from other electronic genres (like IDM and techno) and feature beats and melodies. In a way, those albums redefined downtempo/chillout music as ambient music. Given the popularity of the artists I've mentioned, I think that's why ambient music has a very loose definition today.

        So what isn't ambient? It's hard to say but I think the common denominator between my three categories is a sense of creating an environment. Even that third category is born from the chill out rooms in dance clubs. If the music isn't creating a space for you to inhabit, then it isn't ambient music. Vague and subjective, I know, but the best I can do.

        Does a particular type of music create that kind of space? The answer to that is personal and therefore I think the definition of ambient music is also personal.
        Last edited by dreamware; 02-03-2019, 10:45 AM. Reason: Just refining my thoughts a bit
        Bandcamp | Youtube | SoundCloud

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        • #5
          dreamware Indeed in a lot of ambient facebook groups I have heard a lot of downtempo/chillout music shared there, often overwhelming other styles. It is so different than drone style ambient that is hard for me to imagine them being in the same genre.

          But in a way I can see others feeling what I do is in a different genre than Brian Eno, since mine definitely calls to itself. I want to set the listener into feeling they are in a dark alien world and force them to be there. Since living environments have creatures which break the silence, and bring attention, I attempt to do the same with the synths I use (which was inspired by Aubrey Hodges' video game soundtracks).

          In a way what some ambient artists like me may fit better into the old "concrete" music genre which I found having a lot of relation to dark ambient personally: https://www.ambientonline.org/forum/...f-dark-ambient
          Last edited by Immorpher; 02-03-2019, 03:54 PM.
          Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
          Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by dreamware View Post
            It's a good question that probably can't be answered definitively given the range of music that falls under the "ambient" umbrella. Personally I divide ambient into roughly 3 categories.

            The first two are external vs internal. When Brian Eno starting writing ambient music, he intended for it to be part of an environment or as a sound installation. Like Satie's furniture music, you could choose to listen to it or just let it blend in with the rest of the external stimuli in your surroundings. To this day I think Eno still writes his ambient music like this. It's probably why he favors generative composition methods. Never overpowering, never calling attention to itself. It's just "there". This is the most literal interpretation of ambient music.

            On the other hand, "internal" ambient music is something that you completely immerse yourself in. Put on headphones, close your eyes, and let the music envelop you completely. With this type of ambient music, you may want to shut out all other senses and instead focus only on the music. This is perfect for mediation and deep listening. In this sense, it can be more immediately engaging to the listener than Eno's brand of ambient music. Steve Roach, Robert Rich, GAS, Tim Hecker, etc create this type of ambient music.

            Of course the lines between these two categories are often blurred. I could put Steve Roach's Immersion series in either category and that was probably his intention.

            The third category is for ambient music that is more melodic or beat driven. Aphex Twin kinda offered up an alternative definition of ambient music with Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Moby reinforced it when he released Ambient a year later. Both draw from other electronic genres (like IDM and techno) and feature beats and melodies. In a way, those albums redefined downtempo/chillout music as ambient music. Given the popularity of the artists I've mentioned, I think that's why ambient music has a very loose definition today.

            So what isn't ambient? It's hard to say but I think the common denominator between my three categories is a sense of creating an environment. Even that third category is born from the chill out rooms in dance clubs. If the music isn't creating a space for you to inhabit, then it isn't ambient music. Vague and subjective, I know, but the best I can do.

            Does a particular type of music create that kind of space? The answer to that is personal and therefore I think the definition of ambient music is also personal.
            I like this answer a lot. Thank you
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