Unlike traditional forms of music like rock and classical, ambient music focuses on setting a mood and the texture of a scene. The scenes can vary from coffee shop vibes to city streets, to quiet forests and a gentle ocean. Some artists have even crafted music to reflect fantasy scenes, such as enchanted woods or the Hogwarts library.
What is ambient music? Today we will look to answer this question and provide insight into the state of the genre as it stands. We’ll also look into the history of the music and what brought the genre into relevancy. Read on for more information about ambient music.
What Is Ambient Music?
So this is the big question, what is ambient music? The definition of ambient music is music that foregoes traditional structure in favor of setting a mood. Ambient music is often used in the background of different media or as a way for listeners to provoke a perspective and settle down.
While a lot of ambient music is used when producing other forms of media, ambient music is often released as an album. Many of these albums overlap with electronic music, as they are typically lyricless, are heavy on synthesizers, and share similar soundscapes.
Many musicians are not great singers but are great at identifying instrumental themes and composing. These musicians often flock to careers in ambient music, as it allows them to collect works that require a technical understanding of music.
Ambient Music Characteristics
Ambient music typically relies heavily on atmosphere and texture. This heavy emphasis distinguishes itself from EDM and other electronic music by really working on setting a scene in mind.
Ambient music also tends to avoid harmonic progression. Unlike other types of music, the ambiance will prevent ups and downs in their songs in favor of a consistent tone. This also goes for melodies, as they are also avoided and deemphasized.
Another feature of this type of music is that it lingers on chords for a long time. The ambiance is not afraid to lack progression. Because of this, it can often remain on a similar idea as a composer sees fit.
Last but not least, Ambient music tends to give off notes of improvisation. While the ambiance is not often made on the fly, it tends to evoke a riffing feeling. Artists attempt to find what noises correlate to actions.
This lack of structure lends itself to malleability and allows ambient music to work well as background noise.
8 Examples Of Ambient Music
Ambient 1: Music for Airports
The creator of this piece, Brian Eno, is often credited as the godfather of ambient music. Many say that this album of ambiance coined the phrase ambient music, to begin with, then spun it into the genre.
This ambiance is a premier example of how it can set a tone. Airports are a place of business and goals, so there is no time to stop and listen to lyrics. This album emits the quiet background of a building unmanned and unwilling, and it sets a precedent for all subsequent ambient music.
Little Fluffy Clouds
Little Fluffy Clouds break some of the traditions of ambient music and add an extended intro with lyrics. As the name would imply, this song seeks to omit the lively excitement of a summer day.
This piece certainly succeeds in its quest to capture summer in a sound, As its upbeat, funky tunes provide an air of excitement and freedom. On top of that, the song has many vague individual lines mixed in, many of which may have been things someone would hear in everyday life.
This track is undoubtedly one for individuals seeking a more exciting form of ambiance.
An Ending (Ascent)
Yet another Eno track to stand out as a must-hear. This song is amidst a feeling of vastness and emptiness, Much applicable to that of space.
The feelings behind this piece are that of an unhappy individual, as it captures the quiet, yet very active, peace in the everyday moment. An Ending (Ascent) Serves as a reminder that there is much out there we humans do not know about, and exploration can be intimidating.
A simple name for a simple song, #3 is the pinnacle of what ambient music is all about. This song does not get people to dance or jump about but can be played for a relaxing evening or during a calm morning routine.
This track remains simple, as it loops many of the same nodes throughout its almost 8-minute run time. This is not a hindrance to the song, however, as it manages to provide a consistent and calming environment to anyone whose years come across it.
This song proves that ambient music can be more than just background noise. While there is nothing wrong with this native objective to the genre, Zauberberg Succeeds in taking the listener on a journey around the world. This track is powerful and makes the listener feel like they are going on a grand adventure.
In a Silent Way
This lengthy and refreshing piece of music reminds listeners that ambiance is more than just a synthesizer. Featuring multiple instruments and a variety of different sounds, In a Silent Way serves to Expand a listener's horizon as to what ambient music can be.
Certainly showing some roots in jazz, listeners can tell that this track was made with some level of improvisation. It takes you to many places, bouncy or down in the depths.
Trancentral (lost in my mind).
Unlike the many tracks focusing on nature and the sounds within it, this song seeks to challenge what is nature itself. This song's ambiance focuses on an incoming train and the sounds of a cityscape while resting.
Requiem For Dying Mothers
Taking a heavier tone for a more serious theme, this track is undoubtedly the saddest on the list. While it is unclear what Stars of the Lid meant as the intention for this track, one thing is clear: it is not meant for sunshine and rainbows.
This track features a heavy tone of sorrow and despair. It would not be far-fetched to assume these noises encapsulate the feeling one has when losing a loved one, such as a mother.
The thought of this track alone is a bit of a tear-jerker, and those weak of heart may want to proceed with caution.
5 Top Ambient Music Musicians
Considered by many to be the founder of the genre, Brian Eno is easily the most significant creator of ambient music to date. While many ambient composers are commercial artists who work towards background music for other media, Brian Eno stands out as setting his career on the grounds of making ambient music.
He is famous for his breakout album “Ambient 1: Music for Airports”, where he summons a new wave of music and coins the title of a genre. This album Said Eno apart, As it showed you could create something beautiful out of something so mundane and typical.
It can not be understated how important Eno is to the rise of the ambient music genre and how his sounds and themes have lasted for generations.
Tim Hecker's early days were marked by reasonably quiet ambient music that didn't go against the grain. While indeed some solid tracks, he lacked variety and a unique sound for his ambiance.
Hecker found his stride in the 2010s era. He released his “Ravedeath, 1972” album to high praise and excited new fans. This album stands out because it showed that ambient music could be loud and exciting and even have some hints of metal in it.
Hacker is an inspiration to modern ambient art, showing that one does not need to work on background music to do ambiance. Ambient music can be exciting as a standalone sound.
Lawrence English is an astounding musician and is responsible for a lot of modern ambient music. This creator rocks a cowboy hat as his signature look and is notable as a musician who seeks to put the listener first.
English strives to put himself in the shoes of listeners of his music. When coming up with ideas for ambient, Lawrence thinks about where the listener might be and where their headspace may be. This is unique, as many composers choose not to dictate how their music should be listened to in an ideal circumstance.
Lawrence is an innovator, and his music has implemented a wide range of field recordings. His pieces are often textural and attempt to be forward-thinking material reminiscent of his ideals.
Leyland Kirby, also known by his persona of The Caretaker, is best known for his deep and conceptually rich sound. Layland strives to create sounds that can sort out memories and, in turn, serve to reforge a mind and think through complex thoughts.
Kirby's style tends to stand out as it is innately goodwill and serves a greater purpose. As the name might imply, the caretaker is meant to take care of the listeners. Kirby's work often deals with the onset of dementia, and this heavy topic Has led to his work ethic and goal of helping others through music.
The idea behind this music is that if you loop specific structures of microscopic fragments in music, you can potentially trigger good memories for those both in memory loss and those just living typically.
Many people might know someone who has gone through dementia or is currently going through it. So these tones can be both somber and relatable. That being said, it is inspiring to know that artists are working to better the lives of their potential listeners.
Last but not least, we have Kara-Lis. This artist's works are the results of Norman Records. Kara-Lis is an artist whose work features a lot of loops. Coverdale works to satisfy finding a perfect circle and will often stand on a similar concept for a long time.
The idea behind this type of art is that sounds will loop in nature; in turn, this ambiance seeks to reflect these natural noises.
This artist's most recent album, “Grafts,” is a 20-minute ambient music feature dedicated to exciting soundscapes. This music depicts a set of dimmed neon lights hovering over dull gray industrial floors. The idea is very natural when in practice.
The History Of Ambient Music Music
While the majority of the history of ambient music resides in the last 4 or 5 decades, its roots can be traced back to furniture music in France. In 1917, classical composer Eric Satie was recorded as composing a series of 5 pieces designated to be listened to in the background.
Around the middle of the 20th century, the minimalist movement saw a rise in classical music. Classical music shares a lot of similarities to the ambiance, and we can see that this rise in popularity sets the stage for a more modern take on instrumental music.
After the death of Satie, the subsequent significant rise in ambient music was in the 1970s. We see the creation of the synthesizer inspire many young artists to create calming and atmospheric tunes.
Brian Eno is often considered the creator of modern ambiance, and he came on to the scene as synthesizers arose. His breakout album, “Ambient 1: Music for Airports,” depicted an empty everyday airport and the noises one might feel in that environment. This album is significant because it coined the term ambiance as the genre's name.
This genre became popular due to its relaxing feel and chucks of position to rock and roll. Some consumers felt that the seventies music scene was too complex and loud, so many early ambient music composers sought to create something more relaxed.
The eighties brought a rise in commercialism and, with it, a need for more background music. As the film Industry and other electronic media grew substantially, many companies sought to fill their works with music in the background.
From the mid-eighties until today, Much of the most popular ambient music can be found in video games, movies, and television shows. Classic tunes can be associated with different locations and scenes amongst these media pieces, and these works' impact would not be the same without the ambient tones set the mood.
While ambient music in the background round of film does not seem to be dying down any time soon, there has been a bit of counterculture in the creation of ambient music.
Some notable modern artists seek to change what the genre is capable of and create ambient works that can stand on their own. These artists are asking the question, what is ambient music? Taking great inspiration from the results of Eno at the very beginning.
What Is Ambient Music? Final Thoughts
Music genres are a means for people to categorize types of sounds and communicate which noises they enjoy the most.
This begs the question, what is ambient music? Ambient music is music that doesn't follow a traditional rhythm and flow rules but is created purposefully, like white noise to relax and use in the background.