How to Listen to Ambient Music

Musical Vocabularies and purposes

a few years ago, I had a university buddy who turned into an evangelizing devotee of the abstract painter Marc Rothko. I take into account her gushing over a catalog of Rothko’s workeven as i used to be wondering that I should be aesthetically challenged; I simply didn’t “get” it. in spite of everythingmost of the paintings had been nothing howevermassive rectangles of color, with mild irregularities and a contrasting border or stripe. all the acquainted reference factorsof line and formangle and shadow, had been gone. I ought to recognize them as “layout,” but not as “artwork.” even asthey had been beautiful enough, I could not see why every person might rhapsodize over these abstractions… until I first noticed them for myself in individuala very exceptional revel inonce I encountered them at the Museum of contemporary artwork, they literally stopped me in my tracks, subverting aware thought and plunging me at once into an altered kingdom. They were no longer simply flat canvases on a wall, but appeared more like residing things, pulsing and throbbing in resonance to a wavelength that had a essential connection to the source of thingsi used to be bowled over. They failed to “explicit” a sense–they have been extra like feelings themselves, and that they seemed like nothingpersonal to me, or Rothko, or all peopleonce I later looked at the reproductions Rothko’s works in books, they reverted to flat swatches of shadethere has been a recollection, but no undertaking of my revel in. This became an enjoy that trusted the presence of the unique artifact (art: a truth).

track isn’t a Tone

I spent my early musical existence working in general with tune that used-like representational artsome set of acquainted musical conventions to create its effectthere are numerous vocabularies of melody, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony, and structure that vicinity song in a context of shape that makes it understandable to listeners. “understandable” isn’t precisely what I mean–it indicates that tune communicates simplest highbrow ideaswhile in reality, it conveys and expresses a whole range of thoughtsemotions, sensations and associationshowever there’s an element of “intelligibility” to conventional sorts of track that depends on a shared formal vocabulary of expression. There are familiar elements that listeners use to anchor their actual-time experience of a composition, formal or sonic elementswhich can be borrowed from other pieces created and listened to inside the beyondwhen I locate myself buzzing a trackfrom a Beethoven symphony, or invoking considered one of its function rhythms (dit-dit-dit-DAH), I lessen a complex sonic tapestry to an abstraction, a shorthand this is without problems recognizable to others acquainted with the track. I can beable to share a musical concept with other musicians the usage of the abstraction of notation. however a “track” isn’t always a “tone,” and a “word” is not a “sound.” it is an concept, even a powerful ideabut when I find myself humming the tune, I realize that i have in a few manner “ate up” the tunedecreased it to a subset of its conventions, deconstructed and reconstructed it for my personal functions.

Ambient song, and specially, the type of ambient track i can talk over with as “soundscape,” abandons, or as a minimumloosens, many of these conventions. there’s, in wellknowngenerally no hummable melody, regularly no recurrent rhythmic sample, and if there is a larger “form,” it’s far more commonly not anything familiar or identifiable, even to astute musicologists-it might be completely idiosyncratic to the composer. Even the vocabulary of “instruments” is fluid and too widespread to keep in mind. With the profusion of sounds that are electronically-generated or sourced and manipulated from area recordings, it’s miles rare that separable and recognizable edm album covers contraptions or sounds can beidentifiedthat is, “named.” late 19th and early 20th century classical composers labored hard to try and erase the familiar boundaries of individual unitsthe use of unusual instrumental combinations and prolonged instrumental techniques to blur sonic traces. Ambient song takes this even farther. The sound palette of ambient composers is greatervarious and less problem to “naming” than that of composers who use ensembles of traditional units to provide their compositions. at the same time as the savant can be able to pick out a sound supply as belonging to a selected method of era (analog, FM, pattern manipulation, and so on.), diffuse blending and morphing of sounds can confound even specialists.

The Irrelevance of Virtuosity

To a super extent, the virtuosity of the musician-often an important element in other music genres–is replacedwithin the ambient track internationalby means of the ability of the composer in crafting and shaping the sound. gradualtempos are common, and arpeggiators and sequencers obviate, to a massive degree, the want for ambient musicians to develop sophisticated keyboard capabilitiescomplex and rapid sequences can be generated that defy the capabilities of even super performers. even as it’s miles actual that many ambient musicians do carry out in actual time, maximum do now not. Even the belief of “performance” disappears to a large volumemost soundscapes are recorded works; they areno longer commonly reproducible in actual time through performers on levelmore technical expertise of sound-generating hardware and software program is essentialbut in the long run, this becomes invisible to the listener, subsumed through the sound artifact of the track itself.

the mixing of sound inside the studio enables ambient composers to govern and area sounds freely inside the stereo area, unencumbered via any want to spatially represent a virtual performing ensemble. those factors become part of the composition, while in other musical genres, the combinationin which it may be controlled–is extra of an enhancement or unique impact than a compositional featuresome ambient composers do not even separate the combination mannerfrom the composition. I, for one, have a tendency to combine as i’m goingbecause the dynamics, effectsand site inside the stereo discipline are all necessary features of my compositions.

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