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  • General Music Theory and Ambient Music

    Hi Peeps

    I've gotten so used to creating drones lately that I thought I'd best get back to something more, sort of, traditional, if you know what I mean, but still sticking with ambient.

    I've just created a project and I thought I'd experiment with some chord progressions.

    Trouble is, it is no longer sounding "ambient," to my mind at least. It sounds just a bit too "normal."

    I think that, yet again, my lack of real music theory knowledge and "winging" it for the last thirty odd years is holding me back somewhat...

    Does that make sense? Am I overthinking this?

    Perhaps I should stick with drones and noise............
    I may not post anything useful, but at least I do it often

    Bandcamp // SoundCloud // YouTube

  • #2
    I just wing it too, though I'd say repetition works as well as drones and noise

    following isn't ambient in purist sense but



    | Ambire Seiche - @ heart this | @ Sonic Squirrel |
    | @da

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    • #3
      I myself have been considering branching out from droney ambient a bit, and I have attempted to make things of a more 'compositional' nature. But as you say, my lack of proper music knowledge and technique makes it difficult and slow progress, though I can make good things if I really concentrate on it. Often they are drawn out of improvised exploring on my synthesizer or keyboards. Making a track that resulted from that at the moment.

      My advice is to give it a try, and persevere, perhaps get feedback from listeners as you go along. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to do creative things, only peoples' opinions.
      I never learned musical notes and whatnot purposefully, fearing that it would taint how I perceive not just the creating process of the track, but also the listening process, distracted by the clusters of notes I can identify rather than the true atmosphere and imagery of the track. Has anyone else ever experienced this phenomenon?
      https://thegreatschizm.bandcamp.com

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Cloud Hunter View Post
        I never learned musical notes and whatnot purposefully, fearing that it would taint how I perceive not just the creating process of the track, but also the listening process, distracted by the clusters of notes I can identify rather than the true atmosphere and imagery of the track. Has anyone else ever experienced this phenomenon?
        My experience is quite the opposite. I've always had an interest in music and learned some music theory by myself in addition the the music lessons I had in school. Then later I even took a year of Musicology in university. I delved into the classical music of India (ragas, etc.) by myself. Then when I moved to Greece, I had lessons in Byzantine chant, which included some theory (microtones and tetrachords especially).

        But all that never really changed the emotional side of how I enjoy listening to music. I wouldn't normally sit and analyze a piece, unless I was studying it to perform it myself. I do of course have a better ear for harmony, tonality, and rhythm thru all of this. But that only adds a dimension to my enjoyment of music—it never takes away from the pure emotional enjoyment of good music.
        https://ablaut.bandcamp.com/ | https://hearthis.at/ablaut/ | https://soundcloud.com/ablauto

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        • #5
          I am also somewhat musically illiterate, and can say I shared some of the earlier points of view years ago.

          While I still haven't gotten off my backside and applied myself to any theory, I do think it would be a highly useful tool.

          It's a bit like being a freeform poet, but being reluctant to learn grammar (or maybe spelling).

          Doesn't mean one can't poeticize wonderfully and beautifully without, but you might even achieve greater heights with more understanding of how things should work.

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          • #6
            I found a quote about Peter Christopherson of Coil which I quite like:

            "He wasn’t a musician but his whole concept of art was just something I’d never encountered before, he had a sort of microscopic view of everything. Whereas I saw things in terms of notes and melodies and structure, his way of looking at things was to break it down and focus on a very small detail and amplify that - perhaps one or two seconds of sound which he would slow down or analyse or modify in some way, or make a loop out of it, and that would be the basis [for a track]. Quite a lot of pieces for Coil were done like that and I’d never worked like that before, [it] was a total revelation to me. [In] Coil, rules didn’t really apply, there were no musical rules because he didn’t know them!"
            https://thegreatschizm.bandcamp.com

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            • #7
              Originally posted by aoVI View Post
              Doesn't mean one can't poeticize wonderfully and beautifully without, but you might even achieve greater heights with more understanding of how things should work.
              Fully agree!
              argyre planitia: The Atomic Age - Soundcloud - Youtube - Petroglyph Music - Bandcamp

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              • #8
                Originally posted by synkrotron View Post
                I think that, yet again, my lack of real music theory knowledge and "winging" it for the last thirty odd years is holding me back somewhat...

                Does that make sense? Am I overthinking this?
                Ultimately, only you can make that choice.

                This is something I have been grappling with for many years. I learned some very basic music theory stuff in elementary and junior high school--but that was a long time ago and not very extensive. I have frequently considered digging deeper into it, to arm myself with the knowledge and understanding that would help me achieve some of my goals more efficiently and effectively.

                However, that comes at a cost (for me, at least). I call myself an "experimental musician" because of the way I make music (rather than necessarily trying to label the results). I truly enjoy the act of experimentation--the discovery of what works well, learning through experience what doesn't, and exercising my problem-solving skills in a more creative context. Playing around with sounds is a big part of why I do this. That's the focus of my hobby. My concern is that if I learn all the "right ways" to do this up-front, I will switch to a goal-oriented mode of operation that bypasses experimentation and goes straight to implementation. While that would certainly make it easier to create some of the music I'd like, I'm afraid I'll miss (or significantly reduce) opportunities for the kind of "happy accidents" that have led to some of my favorite experiences and results.

                One of these days I'll probably dig a little deeper into proper music theory. But I'll probably take it really slow; pace it and gauge the impact to my workflow and how I feel about it.
                remst8 - remst8.com

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                • #9
                  Interesting thread. Just thought I'd throw something in...

                  IMHO, in many ways music theory should be viewed in the same way as grammar - they are both descriptive, not prescriptive. The artist can do whatever he or she wants to express meaning or emotion or whatever, grammar and music theory give us the tools to describe how that is done. Like grammar, music theory isn't a set of rules to be followed that restricts what we can do. Knowledge of it, however, might help inform our choices.
                  Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Website

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                  • #10
                    This quote of Eno's has stuck with me, and I'd argue VU were one of the most influential bands out there

                    The third VU album is one of your favourites, isn't it?

                    It's one of my big albums, I guess. It made a huge impact on me and it has done ever since. They broke so many rules. Look what it did with drumming! Instead of having a hairy guy hitting a big drum kit, there's a girl with one drum and she plays the simplest things. You have Lou, who was an enthusiastic but not great guitar player. I thought, 'Wow, I can probably play like that.' Sterling [Morrison] was fantastic; a very lyrical player. Early on, you had John [Cale] playing viola. John had worked with La Monte Young, so had Lou. That band represented a convergence of a lot of thoughts. At that time, I was playing with the Scratch Orchestra and the whole subtext of that is that art students were the best musicians because they didn't know how to play things, they were more likely to make original choices. Nearly all of the Scratch Orchestra were art students and nearly all of the Portsmouth Sinfonia was art students as well. So these foundational institutions from that time were people who'd come through an education that said, in a way, craft is not the issue. Ideas are the issue. approaches, processes.
                    http://www.moredarkthanshark.org/eno...cut-jun16.html
                    | Ambire Seiche - @ heart this | @ Sonic Squirrel |
                    | @da

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by YnotB View Post
                      Interesting thread. Just thought I'd throw something in...

                      IMHO, in many ways music theory should be viewed in the same way as grammar - they are both descriptive, not prescriptive. The artist can do whatever he or she wants to express meaning or emotion or whatever, grammar and music theory give us the tools to describe how that is done. Like grammar, music theory isn't a set of rules to be followed that restricts what we can do. Knowledge of it, however, might help inform our choices.
                      Funny you say that, because there used to be a movement to standardise English grammar, and those people called themselves Prescriptivists. From a linguistic standpoint at least, that means the enforcement of the rules of grammar. Of course, the rules are there for reasons, and there is nothing to say you MUST follow them, but it sure does help prevent misunderstandings if you do.
                      Whether something such as this also applies in the language of music, I do not know.
                      https://thegreatschizm.bandcamp.com

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Cloud Hunter View Post

                        Funny you say that, because there used to be a movement to standardise English grammar, and those people called themselves Prescriptivists. From a linguistic standpoint at least, that means the enforcement of the rules of grammar. Of course, the rules are there for reasons, and there is nothing to say you MUST follow them, but it sure does help prevent misunderstandings if you do.
                        Whether something such as this also applies in the language of music, I do not know.
                        But they were misguided fools. There aren't any rules, just shared desires to communicate the message effectively.
                        Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Website

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by synkrotron View Post
                          ...
                          Trouble is, it is no longer sounding "ambient," to my mind at least. It sounds just a bit too "normal."
                          ...
                          Brian Eno apparently coined the term 'Ambient music', and he had his own ideas of what it should entail,
                          but over the years different people had their own ideas and 'Ambient music' evolved in various ways and directions
                          that might not fit in well with Brian Eno's ideas, but that is the nature of music. It tends to evolve over time.

                          I think Ambient music today has many influences and many different ideas mixed into it. I think the general
                          concept used these days is that if the music, regardless of the particular elements it contains, has a fair
                          bit of emphasis on 'ambience', then it is often considered as 'Ambient music'. Purists may disagree
                          strongly, but that seems to me to be what is considered by many to be 'Ambient music' these days.

                          I think there is even a sub-genre of electronic dance music or similar that they term 'ambient'.
                          Basically if there is a fair bit of ambience in a piece, I personally don't care at all if it has some other
                          more traditional music elements to it such as melodies and chords and percussion or whatever else.
                          If it has a fair bit of ambience then it falls within the 'ambient' domain as far I am concerned anyway.

                          There also seems to be a close connection between ambient and experimental music, with the two often
                          being mixed together, so I personally think a person is only limited by their imagination these days.
                          I think whether some others agree or disagree with your own interpretation of what is ambient is
                          not so important at all as doing what works for you. The lines seemed to pretty blurred in many musical
                          genres these days, but that only seems to be a problem for purists. The bottom line is people will
                          tend to listen to what is interesting to them regardless of how anyone might classify it. Do what works
                          for you. Some people may like it, some people may not. At least you will enjoy making music that
                          suits your own style.
                          Last edited by TDP; 03-27-2017, 09:34 AM.
                          Soundcloud | YouTube | Bandcamp

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                          • #14
                            But going back to andy's original post, I guess a simple approach to music theory would suggest that a chord progression should be based around the chords formed from the notes of the signature key, and this indeed can sound "normal". I guess the role of the experimental musician might be to break that and include chords (we're talking about chord progressions here) that are not formed so. We, as artists, and arguably, particularly as ambient musicians, are free to go wherever the feeling takes us. From my point of view, it is not at all clear whether knowledge of music theory will help us to express the atmospheres/emotions that we want to express - it is equally possible that at least limited knowledge will lead to attempts to abide by "rules" that will restrict artistic expression. In many ways (limited) knowledge of music theory could be more restrictive than ignorance.
                            Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Website

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                            • #15
                              Ha ha, Ok, YnotB, but I think it is at least partially relevant to the discussion.
                              Whether you use more traditional scales and progressions and chords or
                              not, or devise your own, there are still probably going to be people who think anything
                              with melodies and chord progressions and scales of any type is still not 'ambient', or they
                              may also think that experimental music in general is not necessarily ambient at all unless it
                              meets some specific limiting criteria or other. (I am not saying that at all however.)
                              Some might also say that electronic drone music is pretty 'normal' after many years of it being around already.
                              I think you just have to go with what works for you, and maybe someone else might like it too.
                              You would still have the problem of whether or not it is OK to post any particular track in the ambient releases forum here
                              or not, as I think the lines are pretty blurred these days about what ambient music is. :biggrin:
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