It’s Art, Its music, Its Ambient

Posted: March 2, 2011 in Rants, Raves, and Education

“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

Technical Definition and Backstory:

The roots of ambient music go way back the period just before and after the first world war which gave rise to two significant Art Movements that encouraged experimentation with various musical (and non musical) forms, while rejecting more conventional, tradition-bound styles of expression. These art movements were called Futurism and Dadaism. Aside from being known for their painters and writers, these movements also attracted experimental and ‘anti-music’ musicians like 20th century French composer, Erik Satie.

Satie utilised Dadaist-inspired explorations to create an early form of ambient / background music that he labeled “furniture music” (Musique d’ameublement). He described it as being “the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere, rather than serving as the focus of attention”. From this historical perspective, Satie is the link between these early Art movements and the work of Brian Eno, who as an art school trained musician, had an appreciation of both music and art.

Brian Eno is credited with coining the term “Ambient Music” in the mid-1970s to refer to music that can be either “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener”, and that exists on the “cusp between melody and texture.” Eno used the word “ambient” to describe music that creates an atmosphere that puts the listener into a different state of mind and chose the word based on the Latin term “ambire” which means “to surround”. 

Listen to Brian Eno Then                                                                  Listen to Brian Eno Now


I’m sure you’re thinking…that’s great, but how does all this relate to EDM today?

By the early 1990s artists such as The Orb and Aphex Twin  were being referred to by the popular music press as ambient house, ambient techno, IDM or simply “ambient” according to the liner notes of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports:

Later in the period much experimental electronica,  expanded the themes of ‘ambient’ along the lines of earlier 1970s ambient music & dub but with increasingly abstracted sample-based textures and digital electronics that ultimately began to converge with minimalist compositions and music concrete.

Digital era electronic ‘electroacoustic’ artists, including the recent work of Eno himself, are notable in their attempts to create ‘sonic sculptures’ which interact with the physical architecture of the listening space using advanced electronic installations.


Listen to Aphex Twin




 Listen to The Orb


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