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Ambient (music)

Parent: furniture - music

Era: 1970s - 1980s - 1990s - 2000s

Related: Erik Satie - Brian Eno - lounge music - musical minimalism - sound art - soundscape

"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 [1], September 1978)


Ambient music is a loosely defined musical genre that incorporates elements of a number of different styles - including jazz, electronica, new age, modern classical music and even noise. It is chiefly identifiable as having an overarching atmospheric context. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_music

Brian Eno

The term ambient was popularized by Brian Eno in the late '70s. The percussionless, subtle tonalities of records like Music for Airports were perfect for the CD format when it came onstream in the mid '80s.

If you've done any reading or research on ambient music, you've no doubt heard this album mentioned as a classic in the genre. It was created way back in 1978, and although different artists had created ambient music before this, it was sort of a groundbreaking release in it's stark minimal-ness. It's like 50 minutes of wallpaper music and the term "ambient" music was actually coined by Brian Eno near to the release of this disc. It's one of those releases that you can have playing in the background for hours while you're working on something else, and not be distracted. It's also one of those discs that if you sit down and listen to very closely, you'll almost certainly fall into a state of hypnosis.

Erik Satie

Retrospectively, some of the works of the 20th century French composer Erik Satie, today best known for his Trois Gymnopédies suite, can be regarded as predecessors of modern ambient music. The invention of the first electronic instrument, the theremin in the early 20th century is also considered an important influence on the later development of ambient music. Similarly some of the works of the French composer Edgar Varèse, who used the theremin extensively in his music can also be viewed as predecessors of ambient music. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_music

Muzak and Elevator Music

Sometimes associated with elevator music and Muzak, it is more often similar to mood music or an ambient background in movie and radio sound effects. Often listeners will forget they are listening to ambient music, which is one of the biggest attractions of the genre. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_music


  1. Satie: Gymnopédies No1-3; Gnossiennes No1-6 - Erik Satie [Amazon US]
    Aldo Ciccolini's late-1960s survey devoted to Erik Satie's piano music helped spawn new interest in the idiosyncratic French composer. The pianist rerecorded the cycle digitally, and it is from these remakes that the present reissue stems. While the performances are refreshingly pert, stylish, and perceptive, the rather glassy, treble-heavy engineering can't hold a candle to EMI's warmer analog sound for the earlier recordings. Be that as it may, this disc covers a spectrum of Satie's creative moods (to say nothing of his bizarre titles), from the pensive Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes, and Nocturnes to the upbeat irony inherent in the character pieces. Gabriel Tacchino joins Ciccolini for a balletic romp through La belle excentrique. Happily, this duo will have none of the fussy rubato with which a handful of world-class pianists distort Trois Morceaux en forme de poire. If warm, rounded piano sound is not an issue, then this disc will do just fine as your basic Satie starter kit. --Jed Distler for Amazon.com

  2. The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991) - The Orb [Amazon US]
    Track Listings Disc: 1 1. Little Fluffy Clouds 2. Earth (Gaia) 3. Supernova at the End of the Universe 4. Back Side of the Moon 5. Spanish Castles in Space Disc: 2 1. Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Center Of The Ultraworld, A 2. Perpetual Dawn 3. Into the Fourth Dimension: Essenes in Starlight 4. Outlands 5. Star 6 & 7 8 9 6. Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ult
    The first Orb album was entirely new when it appeared: a low-key dance record, with echoes and swells more than up-front tunes, stoner-level dub bass, and all sorts of samples and sounds--seagulls, film clips, astronaut voices, bits of disco--fluttering through the mix like hallucinations. Essentially a techno album for tired dancers, it's held up nicely over time, thanks to its intricate, dreamy sonics. Beyond the classic "Little Fluffy Clouds"--a set of interlocking synth hooks and loping percussion, held together by a cut-up sample of Rickie Lee Jones talking about the skies of her youth--there are lots of mellow delights here, particularly the blissful reggae groove "Perpetual Dawn." --Douglas Wolk for amazon.com [...]

  3. Brian Eno: Ambient 1: Music for Airports [Amazon US]
    Eno's theory of the "discreet music" he called ambient was far from the modern chill-out room: the idea was that it should function at very low volumes, unobtrusively coloring the atmosphere of a room. Evolving by tiny gradations, the long pieces of Music For Airports (the first in a series of albums that followed the statement of purpose Discreet Music) defy close attention, but then they're not meant to be listened to consciously; they're meant to serve as a counterpoint to the frantic arcs of travel, or rather to be imagined in that setting. --Douglas Wolk

  4. Phaedra (1974) - Tangerine Dream [Amazon US]
    This 1974 masterpiece from Christopher Franke, Edgar Froese, and Peter Baumann ebbs and flows with richly dark soundscapes of electronic sounds and synth. Phaedra was a progenitor for much ambient--and some dance--music, influencing such artists as Steve Roach. After listening to Phaedra it's easy to understand why. The signature pulsing of thick, beautiful Tangerine Dream synth falls across the ambient treasures here, pulling along the orchestral dreamscape before oozing aside for thick washes of expansive sound. The now-classic title cut is both soothing and ghostly, throbbing with subtle sequences and twisted metallic calls before diving into a swamp of nightmarish whistles and hoots. "Mysterious Semblance" soars and swoops like a lovely electronic eagle, bringing tripped-out light and cosmic dignity to the collection. This and the follow-up Rubycon are juicy pieces to the Tangerine Dream pie. --Karen Karleski for amazon.com

  5. A Brief History of Ambient. - Various Artists [1 CD, Amazon US]
    1. Flowered Knife Shadows - Harold Budd 2. Thru Metamorphic Rock - Tangerine Dream 3. Evening Star - Brian Eno 4. Mountain Goat - Amorphous Androgynous 5. Sea of Vapors - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 6. Forge of Vulcan - Hawkwind 7. Requiem [A Floating Leaf Always Reaches the Sea Dub Mix] - Killing Joke 8. Ending (Ascent) - Brian Eno 9. Marina's Tent - Richard Horowitz 10. Rapido de Noir - Irmin Schmidt 11. Kazoo - Ashra 12. Their Memories - Harold Budd 13. Leave Your Body - The Grid 14. Electric Becomes Eclectic - Christopher Franke Disc: 2 1. Phaedra - Tangerine Dream 2. Delta Rain Dream - Brian Eno 3. Monkey King - William Orbit 4. Castle in the Clouds - Gong 5. Life Form - Hawkwind 6. Dance #2 - Laraaji 7. Sacred Stones - Sheila Chandra 8. Earth Floor - Michael Brook 9. Läuft...Heist das Es Läuft Oder Es Kommt Bald...Läuft - Faust 10. Gift of Fire - Jon Hassell 11. End of Words - Material 12. Panorphelia - Edgar Froese 13. Voices - Roger End 14. Traum Mal Wieder - Holger Czukay 15. Home - David Sylvian


  1. The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Trance: The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age - Mark Prendergast, Brian Eno (forword) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Just as anything evolves when its setting changes, 20th-century music mutated as it moved beyond the confines of concert halls and into listeners' everyday environs. Thanks to car stereos, headphones, even computers, people now move within their own soundtracks. In this chronology of compositional innovations, Prendergast, an internationally published music writer, details the widening of sonic possibilities with advancements in recording, amplification and electronic instruments, and with the creative talents of hundreds of bold, brilliant composers. He credits Mahler with first evoking the hypnotic "ambient experience of landscape and emotion," kicking off the century of "repetitive conceptual music." Prendergast describes how, after a four-day fast, the sound of a single piano tone proved revelatory for Karlheinz Stockhausen; how sitarist Ravi Shankar influenced everyone from minimalist Philip Glass to the Beatles; how Donna Summer "merged Germanicity with black music's long history"; and how scores of house and techno artists have "moved the focus of the music away from its creators towards the listener." Organized by artist, the book provides suggested "Listenings" for each one, as well as a list of the "Essential 100 Recordings," which recommends ambient guru John Cage's "In a Landscape," megastar Bowie's absorbing "Low" and Goldie's "Timeless," a debut that brought ambient jungle/drum and bass into the mainstream. Talking Heads' producer Brian Eno, a maverick whose own music heavily influenced New Age and ambient house music, gives the book his stamp of approval in his foreword.

  2. Ocean of Sound (1995) - David Toop [Amazon US]
    A member of a radical editorial collective on the cutting edge of British music criticism in the 1970s, later a critic for more standard papers, including the Times, David Toop'S second book covers a vast expanse of music. His tour-de-force survey describes a dissonant and invigorating clash of music and noise from western classical to Javanese gamelan, from Claude Debussy to Miles Davis to Brian Eno, from disco to techno to ambient. He discusses the changes in our sound world caused by the global reach of radio and recordings, and shows himself a rigorous pluralist, open to all styles and forms, but unafraid to offer robust criticism in any musical sphere.

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