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Author Topic: The qualities of "ambient"  (Read 3560 times)
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FreakAnimalFinland
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« on: August 15, 2021, 09:53:46 AM »

Back in the day, I sold most of my "ambient", including dark ambient and some post-industrial soundscapes away. Just felt as if I was never going to listen soft sounds, when being so focused on harsh noise and power electronics.

I always had sort of dislike towards thing I call "regular ambient". The calm, relaxing, often keyboard/synth sounds & vast echo. I also had dislike for the cheesy qualities of dark ambient. The cheap horror/scifi soundtrack esque keyboard tones, bassy and breathy sounds, monotony, and so on.

However, as much as I listen noise & pe, there has opened good slice of listening time for less abrasive sounds. Steve Roach has been one of the most listened artists for year. Not really -consciously- listening, but something to put on when going to sleep. Quality of his work is certainly AMBIENT in literal sense. Seemingly similar albums, of similar length and approach do have compositional and sonic differences. There are different sounds on each album, even if atmosphere tends to be "the same". When you start with hour+ long piece, you know it doesn't really matter if falling sleep after 5, 15 or 50 minutes later. You got the "point" of particular album.

I know there has been topic of ambient before, but I guess for functionality of forum, it would be ok to start open new topic, rather than searching what all has been formerly discussed by people who may or may not be on the forum anymore.

Qualities of ambient. What would one be looking for? Stuff like Robert Rich or Steve Roach, I don't know whether I would like them as much, if I would treat them as "music"? Put CD on, and listen to it, doing nothing else? Used for ambience, works well. This doesn't mean that it would be inferior. It doesn't also mean that any guy with keyboard and reverb could do it. Successfully compose ambient piece worth to listen to. Have taste and vision of style. Very quickly regular ambient turns out like those endless 6 hour "relaxing" videos on youtube. Just muzak with no artistic merit, just new age bullshit.

With dark ambient, I recall in Noisextra, there was Megaptera CD episode, and Greh was mentioning that for him, this kind of stuff is not about whether song is good, more about how immersive dark atmosphere it creates. It doesn't have to be that much. Nothing catchy. Perhaps not even memorable. Just pushing play, and being dragged into darkness. Of course this is a fact, but especially with my own works, I very often approach also noise, from perspective is the "song" good and interesting. How long it can sustain specific atmosphere, before getting old. For some time, there was growing distaste for music that seemed as if "sonic qualities" and duration was the only idea. Be it music like doom, sludge, BM, or endless HNW crackles or death industrial with nothing happening in it. As opposition, I favored things where at least something happens and there is audible progression. Lately been discussions with some friends that perhaps it would be time to re-evaluate the dark ambient. As result, challenging myself digging up CD's I still have, listening things like KEROVNIAN and such, in main purpose to see if I have formerly listened CD's in wrong state of mind, with wrong expectations.

Qualities of ambient you are looking for?
Who delivers?
What kind of stuff one would be looking for, but haven't been able to find?
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« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2021, 12:39:04 PM »

A few that spring to mind, from different corners of the "ambient" world, and I have chosen these to show a distinct difference to Drone music.  Ambient for me often involves melodic sections and scene setting, as opposed to just a drone.  Subtle field recordings can add an interesting layer to break up any statis.

Chris Douglas aka Amhain under his "Seaes" alias, particularly this colossal album which is a very rewarding listen.  Some darker elements too, it first came out as a 4CD set but I quite like listening to both of the Seaes albums on random playlist.  
https://amhain.bandcamp.com/album/seaes-ii
https://amhain.bandcamp.com/album/seaes-ii-b  -just listening back and there is a lot more "glitch" elements to this album than I remember.  Not ambient!

Biosphere from Norway, who often uses his Arctic location for glacial field recordings to weave into his sound.  Both of these albums are good examples of this method.
https://biosphere.bandcamp.com/album/dropsonde-reissue-with-bonus-album
https://biosphere.bandcamp.com/album/the-senja-recordings

Lustmord is probably one of the most famous dark ambient producers, and whilst I am not overly familiar with all of his back catalogue, this album stands out as my most played.  Such a powerful blend of vocal and ambience.  
https://lustmord.bandcamp.com/album/the-word-as-power

The Caretaker with his sprawling analysis of dementia - not typical "ambient" music, he samples old '78 speed records with the crackle and surface noise, moulding them into strange and harrowing experiences.  Everywhere at the end of time begins with fairly straight forward samples and familiarity, before descending over a period of around 8 hours into a bewildering chasm.  Each stage of the album depicts the crumbling of the mind as it succumbs to the disease.  The artist himself has been diagnosed with early onset dementia which gives the album additional emotional drive.
https://thecaretaker.bandcamp.com/album/everywhere-an-empty-bliss
https://thecaretaker.bandcamp.com/album/everywhere-at-the-end-of-time

Other "famous" ambient albums which deserve their critical praise would be Global Communication 76:14 and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 2.  Both of those put me in a great place when I listen.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2021, 08:43:19 PM by Soloman Tump » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2021, 12:57:13 PM »

I prefer ambient music that isn't weighed down by the stench of luxury or overly reliant on a typical sound source—like an oscillator or guitar strings. I think the latter elements are fine as an accent or a piece of the puzzle, but if they're only being processed through reverb, delay, and distortion or whatever, it ends up sounding pretty innocuous or, worse yet, like a gear demo for synths or pedals.

My favorite ambient work has layers and layers of processing—both local and global—and is steered by atypical sounds. It needs to be layered with different kinds of fidelity and heavily textured. If someone is droning synthesizers or guitars for ambient stuff, then it's crucial to find fresh ways to collage it with other sounds and make it sonically multi-dimensional.

A few pretty awesome "ambient" releases that have become major favorites for me include—

Stroma (James from Ahlzagailzehguh) - Recollection Of Reconciliations or the Stroma/Lussuria split. Incredible work, don't even know what to say about it. Just check it out.

Pan To Scratch - With Happiness - Subtly layered field recording pieces at their grittiest, most natural, and most voyeuristic (sonically).

Umbra - Unclean Spirit (Gruntsplatter & Murderous Vision collaboration, calling it ambient is perhaps a stretch, but it's definitely part of the patchwork, and it avoids a lot of the more predictable/boring tropes of the genre)

Marble Sky - The Sad Return - Pretty masterful stuff from one of my favorite Jeff Witscher projects. It's definitely synth driven and has melodic content, but it never feels luxurious or boring.

Christoph Heemann & Merzbow - Sleeper Awakes On The Edge Of The Abyss. Absolutely brilliant pairing and I wish they'd made more albums together. Really special stuff.





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« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2021, 02:53:09 PM »

I prefer the dark ambient with some raw aspect, which is exactly what I also do in my own music with Sa Bruxa: ambience with dirty, distorted micro (or not that micro) concrete sounds, or field recordings, mixed with ambient layers, also touching the borders of low-fi drone or death industrial. I think Lustmord has been a master in doing that, at least in his first 5-6 releases, but there are plenty of other artists who does it: first Desiderii Marginis, first Trepaneringsritualen stuff, the less noisy Shredded Nerve´s stuff, Sonologyst (at least the "Ancient Death Cults And Beliefs"), Mare di Dirac and Psicopompo (both with the excellent Lorenzo Abattoir), Emra Grid, etc..a special mention deserve Phurpa - which I classify as ambient music, although they´re basically sacral chanting with some traditional Bönpo instruments. They released plenty of things, but I think as long as you have 3-4 releases, you don´t really need more unless being obsessed by collecting their stuff or a fan of this kind of sacral music.

I also like a lot the minimalism combined with the above said "rawness" in the ambient, generating a disturbing and spooky atmosphere through the combination of low-fi productions and instruments. Examples could be the "black metal ambient" of bands like Les Legiones Noire or Dapnom, Black seas of infinity, etc..etc..also great is the epic ambient produced by some black metal musicians like the Mortiis Era I, Paysage D´Hiver ambient parts, Wongraven or the Burzum ambient records, with more epic feeling and an overall "distant" mood which still has a creepy aura and minimal, low-fi sounds in it. 
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« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2021, 02:56:49 PM »

Other "famous" ambient albums which deserve their critical praise would be Global Communication 76:14 and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 2.  Both of those put me in a great place when I listen.

Indeed, both masterpieces. I was close to sell my Global Communication copy in a moment of lack of interest, but I didn´t manage to separate me from that record, which is the only one I own of them, but somehow all the time I put it up on the turntable I ended up being enthralled by the embracing atmosphere they create.
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« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2021, 07:35:54 PM »

I have read here (and elsewhere) discussions about "musicalizing" noise, or where musical elements are added to noise to make it more like traditional music.  I remember people looking at fade in/outs added to noise, as well as rhythm and other elements of "normal" music as being examples of this.  I feel like the same idea applies to ambient music (or at least to how I tend to think about ambient music).

When I am in the mood to listen to ambient music, I am looking for a recording of an ambiance, not music that is ambient.  For example, I really like the long droning/field recording sounds of Trist (the German project, not the Czech one).  But I do not usually care for the cinematic ambient stuff that Cryo Chamber releases.
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« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2021, 01:51:59 AM »

Qualities of ambient you are looking for?

It varies. It depends on mood. Sometimes I'm alright with Harold Budd style musical minimalism, other times I prefer flat out eleh/Radigue style drone, other times Lustmord style dark ambient, other times Kosmiche, sometimes some ten hour long YT soundscape. Invariably it's something that attempts to turns off the more conscious, active elements of the mind.
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« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2021, 05:36:52 PM »

Qualities of ambient you are looking for?

It varies. It depends on mood. Sometimes I'm alright with Harold Budd style musical minimalism, other times I prefer flat out eleh/Radigue style drone, other times Lustmord style dark ambient, other times Kosmiche, sometimes some ten hour long YT soundscape. Invariably it's something that attempts to turns off the more conscious, active elements of the mind.
Right.  It's a genre, not a monolith.  I come at it like any other music and get satisfaction from various styles.  While I've less often been in the mood for Hearts of Space, like Steve Roach, I definitely go to that sound sometimes, more so in the past couple years.  Some artists use gear or tones that turn me away more than their style of play.  Alio Die is a good example of that, though I know there's something there, and I'll eventually find that space.
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« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2021, 03:58:21 AM »

first, i want ambient to feel genuine... not the spacey dreamy stuff, not a cheesy horror soundtrack, something that makes me feel like the artist actually managed to communicate a part of his sincere & serious feeling about the world, and that feeling resonates with the way i feel myself, i guess

second, i like artists who sound like themselves rather than copying anyone else, a strong sense of deliberation and authorial intent in sound design, arrangement and whatnot; which normally entails not drenching everything in digital reverb & other fx, not relying on easily accessible sound sources such as sample libraries & synthesizer presets, and generally not doing things the lazy way

imo, the first (the what) and the second (the how) are almost necessarily linked, as sounding genuine requires genuine ways of soundmaking, if that makes any sense

... and at this point i realize that those are my wants for all types of music, so i probably said nothing about ambient per se... well, maybe aside from bitching about too much reverb

so here's a rant specifically about modern ambient:
take a sample, timestretch it to oblivion, throw a bunch of valhalla dsp & eventide plugins on top, rinse and repeat, here's "your" dark ambient album... which likely took less time to produce than its own length in minutes
too many accessible digital tools that make people's lives easier, which is not necessarily bad, but often results in music made by tools rather than by artists... that's my problem with a lot of current ambient music... so what i want to hear is something that is NOT THAT

anyway, the particular artists i like are early Current 93, Lustmord & Ain Soph, Zero Kama, LAShTAL, Capricorni Pneumatici, Metgumbnerbone, definitely not against some newer stuff as well, mostly CMI releases from the 90s.
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« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2021, 10:36:09 AM »

Calling Metgumbnerbone ambient is a slight stretch of the imagination, unless there is a whole section of their back catalogue I've missed, pleased to be educated on such things
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« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2021, 07:46:34 PM »

Calling Metgumbnerbone ambient is a slight stretch of the imagination, unless there is a whole section of their back catalogue I've missed, pleased to be educated on such things

you're probably right
and i don't think you missed anything
because what i had in mind was mainly Ligeliahorn

ps
remembered another one i really enjoy: Popol Vuh - In den Gärten Pharaos
not sure how much stretching of one's imagination is needed to count that as ambient though
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« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2021, 06:20:22 AM »

Qualities of ambient. What a question. You had me actually thinking before the random dribbles, good job. I’m tempted to end there, but maybe to say that while I’d agree that it’s no monolith my first inclination is toward the more monolithic. If not then perhaps other labels can as readily adhere. Experimental. Industrial. Whatever. Big whatever fan here. Start tinkering with the formula and you risk being non formulaic and dare I say it creative. Facetious, half. Listening right now to the Astro tape on Absurd Exposition and is this blistering psychedelic purity, a shimmery sweet afterburn to go with your Gnosis …or a rather nice dose of liquescent ambience? (Better, ambiance.) Far from monolithic and perhaps few would bat an eye at the affixture of an ambient tag (the two discogs contributors may demur).

I say this saying that the said monolithic inclinations are often bothered by overloaded twiddlings of the volume knob. Call me wanker and guilty as charged but eight point five times out of ten my preferred ambient is delivered at the highest levels available. Lustmord’s Heresy made Roemer’s list of essentials and I’d agree. Not to suggest there would be such a thing as correct delivery protocol; fifteen percent is still I think statistically significant.

A shorter and better response would probably read, how the hell should I know. Except to cycle back again to iterate that only the more monolithic stuff tends to jog the faulty circuits that incline the brain to declare, with a palpable standard of awareness, yeah, I’m gonna listen to some fucken ambient.

Random anecdote for the special interests scene. Here’s me, not too far back, taking a big ol dump at an Italian restaurant, mind not particularly engaged, reflecting that the proprietor has some wicked awesome taste in ambient music. It only dawned on me, possibly mid wipe, that I was actually listening to the air conditioner. At the highest levels available.
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« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2021, 10:18:28 AM »

For a long time I used to have the mindset that life is just too short to listen to ambient, and I find that for me that is still usually the case. However there are exceptions.. I think it is possible to have interesting sounds and progression, while still having that ambient "vibe". One example that I rather like is Zoät-Aon. Totally dense, lots of sound. Quite glacial in its progression but still interesting enough to me that it doesn't end up as strictly background.
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« Reply #13 on: August 18, 2021, 03:34:32 PM »

Quote
the Caretaker with his sprawling analysis of dementia - not typical "ambient" music, he samples old '78 speed records with the crackle and surface noise, moulding them into strange and harrowing experiences.  Everywhere at the end of time begins with fairly straight forward samples and familiarity, before descending over a period of around 8 hours into a bewildering chasm.  Each stage of the album depicts the crumbling of the mind as it succumbs to the disease.  The artist himself has been diagnosed with early onset dementia which gives the album additional emotional drive.

Good to see the Caretaker being mentioned, very atypical and feels like a soundtrack to a dystopian movie or novel. Still needs to listen to his latest works though.



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between the everything of the noise and the emptiness of the silence.
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2021, 12:03:26 AM »

The Caretaker...The artist himself has been diagnosed with early onset dementia
is that true? james kirby is 47, would be surprised if it was

nice to see kirby go from the prankster v/vm days (once named by ron lessard as the worst noise act he had ever seen live) to his current role as critical darling. the sounds are good
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