ambient music


ambient music
   Drawing influence from artists such as Brian Eno, The Yellow Magic Orchestra and Tangerine Dream, ambient music contains soothing natural noises such as bird song, whale speech and other aquatic sounds, often laid over the top of a slow ‘break beat’ or house rhythm.
   Ambient music was largely ignored by the mainstream until the rave culture boom of the late 1980s. While the main dancefloors of most raves and clubs invariably played acid house, it was in the ‘chill-out rooms’ of such clubs that ambient music could be found. Acclaimed records of this period included The KLF’s Chill Out (1988), The Orb’s A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld (1989) and an untitled album by Space, which was a collaboration between The KLF’s Jimmy Cauty and The Orb’s Alex Patterson, an ex-employee of EG, the record company that released Brian Eno’s early ambient records. While some ambient music of this period was implicitly connected with drug culture, The Orb’s record made this connection explicit, with its cover sleeve claim to be ‘ambient house for the E generation’.
   During the early 1990s ambient music’s popularity broadened beyond rave culture, although it remained popular with fans of dance music, and was often listened to after a night spent at a club or rave. The natural calming sounds of The KLF (symbolized by the photograph of sheep on the cover of Chill Out) became increasingly popular, and many ambient musicians recorded music that, like Chill Out, contained no beats at all. The samples contained within this style led to criticisms that ambient music had become obsessed with ‘new age’ philosophy and green issues. Some artists began to reject the soporific nature of early ambient music in favour of a more abstract electronic sound. A good example of this move was The Aphex Twins’ Selected Ambient Works Volume Two (1994), which eschewed the serenity of previous ambient music in favour of a minimal electronic darkness. The career of the seminal ambient act The Future Sound of London can also be seen as following the three phases outlined above. While their first single ‘Papua New Guinea’ (1992) contained natural sounds combined with a house beat, their second single ‘Cascade’ (1993) was a more dreamy atmospheric sound, while their second album ISDN (1995) was an altogether more disturbing affair.
   One sub-genre that has developed within ambient music is ambient dub, which combines the slow rhythm of dub reggae music with the natural and synthesized sounds characteristic of ambient. Again, The Orb have been at the forefront of this development with their track ‘Towers of Dub’. Following on from this development has been the rise of a hybrid genre entitled ambient jungle. Ambient jungle takes on board the frenetic percussion of jungle, but avoids its aggressiveness through the creative use of strings, ‘pads’ and natural sounds. Artists working within this field include T-Power, LTJ Bukem, Alex Reece and Jacob’s Optical Stairway.
   STUART BORTHWICK

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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