this post has everything to do with ambient music

After years of various things coming up and draining the funds we’ve squirreled away to work on the house, Anne and I are finally able to afford to have some much-needed work done on our house (thank you, everyone who bought Happiest Days!) We should start sometime in the next seven days, and somehow the preparations have ended up including some serious de-cluttering around stately Wheaton Manor.

De-cluttering is probably pretty easy for most people: you just take a bunch of old shit and throw it out, right? It’s not that easy for me. I attach sentimental value to just about everything.

A typical scene:

Anne: “What’s this?”

Me: “I can’t throw that away! That’s a a coaster that I made from a menu from a roadside diner I ate breakfast at with Dave in 1990! Look at the coffee ring!”

Anne: *Facepalm*

It’s a good thing I don’t own a snakeskin jacket. I’m getting better, though, and I’ve reached a point in my life where it feels better to jettison this stuff than it does to keep it. There are all sorts of philosophical reasons for this, I’m sure, but that’s not what this post is about, so fill in your own: “____________________.”

Ooohhh! That’s very insightful. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

So. I have a lot of music on CD, because the only thing I love as much as books is music. I have a huge and diverse collection, because I’ve liked just about every kind of music at one point or another in my life, and since it was never pop music crap that hasn’t had time to become ironic, yet, my CD collection is pretty fucking awesome. If I, uh, do say so myself.

It takes up a lot of space, though, so I’m going through it, ripping most of it to various hard drives, instantly backing them up on other hard drives – just to be sure – and moving the physical CDs to the garage, where I’m happy to give their care and feeding over to Top Men.

Over the weekend, I ripped about two dozen ambient CDs from the early nineties, (which I think was the golden age of ambient music) and listening to them on shuffle has found the nostalgia portion of my brain, and poked it with a sharp stick.

I seem to have these emotional growth spurts about every five or six years, and this music connects me to the one I had in my early twenties, when my friend Dave and I would stay up all night listening to records, talking about art and politics and philosophy. (I credit Dave with my love of electronic music, because he worked in the music industry at the time and kept a steady stream of interesting stuff flowing into my hands for several years. I never would have heard a single record from Silent if Dave hadn’t worked there, and 76:14 would just be a little over an hour and sixteen minutes.)

I was in drama school around this time, so I was surrounded with artists. I spent most of my time (free and otherwise) with writers, photographers, actors, and musicians, so this particular emotional growth spurt was entirely cultural. Ambient music was the soundtrack, because it provided a lush and layered backdrop to everything we did, taking and giving focus whenever necessary. (I suppose that’s why it’s called “ambient”, duh.) Perhaps not coincidentally, it was around this time that I completely rejected what I described as American fast food culture. I may have been a little bit of an insufferable intellectual artiste for a brief time, as well. Ahem. I look back on some of those days with embarrassment, and I know that I owe a lot of people apologies for . . . stuff I’d rather not talk about, lest we all be forced to confront the things we said and did when we were 20. Though I shudder to think about how even more insufferable I would have been if I’d read Ishmael then instead of years later when I was more mature, I still look back fondly on those years of growth and discovery, as they were eventually woven into some of the most beautiful parts of the tapestry of my life.

You know, people always ask me if I ever lived the rock and roll lifestyle (wink wink nudge nudge) when I was young and famous. The truth is that I didn’t, even on the three (yes, I can count them) occasions when some girl creature literally threw herself at me. (SCARY! AHH! WHAT DO I DO?!) When I was a teenager (and there were plenty of teenage stars fooling around with other teenage stars, oh the stories I could tell you but won’t) I was too nerdy and too into RPGs. When I was in my early 20s, I was too insecure and too into books and music and very deep things that really mattered. If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing, though. This may shock some of you, but I’m glad that I fed my mind instead of my libido.

Gross! Too much information.

Anyway, when I mentioned on Twitter that I was ripping all these CDs, and how weird it felt to confront the advances in technology that made it possible (all in 140 characters!) a few people wondered what, exactly, I had in my collection.

I’m always happy to share this type of music with people, and if I have an opportunity to turn people on to music that really opened my mind (without the assistance from any chemical or mind-altering substances, I always feel compelled to add) I always seize it.

I’ll point those of you who are interested to a portion of a post I made in 2005 (my god, how is it that it simultaneously feels so long ago and so recent to me?) about ambient music. The “it” I refer to is an ambient song I made in GarageBand called Lakeside Shadow:

If you like it, you’ll probably like some of the artists who influenced me over the years: Woob (especially 1194, and especially the track strange air) Dedicated (especially Global Communication, also called 76 14), and Solitaire (especially Ritual Ground). Also, Instinct Records (still alive) and Silent Records (sadly, tragically, defunct since 1996) released an amazing number of genre-defining ambient discs in the 90s. And now, just to prove how hardcore I am, I’m going to throw out Pete Namlook, and the FAX Label, but their stuff is far more experimental than the rest of my list, and isn’t what I’d use to introduce a new listener to Ambient music.

Finally, if you can find it, Silent Records put out an incredible record called Earth to Infinity (I think in 1994) which was pulled shortly after it was released, due to some sampling issues. I think it’s one of the greatest ambient recordings of all time, and don’t ask me for it because I’m not going to jail for you, Chachi.

I think I could have said “incredible” a few more times. Allow me to emphatically pulverize this dead horse deep into the ground: if you only get two ambient records in your whole life, they should be 1194 from Woob and Earth to Infinity (holy shit there are two available from Amazon). If you can only get three, add 76:14, and thank me before you touch the monolith and journey beyond the infinite.

Okay, as I said in 2005, most of my ambient CDs are from Silent, Instinct, and Caroline, and I have a metric assload of FAX recordings that I don’t listen to very much any more. If I were to expand on the artists and albums I mentioned three years ago into a list of essentials, I would add Pelican Daughters‘ breathtaking record Bliss, Consciousness III (or Lunar Phase) by Heavenly Music Corporation, and the 2295 compilation from em:t.

If you’re intrigued, and want to know what some of this stuff sounds like without waiting, please go directly to Magnatune, and fire up their ambient mix. They’ve got artists over there, like Robert Rich and Falling You, who make truly incredible music. (I really think I need to say incredible and really more. Really.) Soma FM has magnificent downtempo and ambient streams, as well. Groove Salad and Dronezone rarely disappoint.

The thing to understand about ambient, though, if you’ve never heard it before, is that it’s slow and deliberate. It takes its time. It doesn’t work in the car, and it doesn’t work if your brain is cranked up to eleven. It’s best enjoyed when you can relax, and let it fill the room around you as you slowly sink into it and out of yourself, like you’ve stepped into a giant gelatinous cube.

Hrm. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. Go ahead and fill in your own: “______________.”

Yes, that’s it. That’s it exactly.

28 thoughts on “this post has everything to do with ambient music”

  1. Wil: hi from Germany… just listened to some samples and wanted to say a quick thank you because I’m hooked now and off to touch the monolith :))
    Nicole aka Louffi

  2. The things aren’t important, it’s the memories they invoke that we don’t want to lose. Take pictures of the items and store them on the same hard drive(s), and look at them from time to time.
    Ambient music does work in the car, if you are on a long road trip and you are tired of listening to Van Halen or Billy Idol (come on, I can’t be the only one…).

  3. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always been a general “fan” of ambient music but can’t really say I know anything about it. Thanks for a good start. Oh, and Magnatune RULES.
    Stop suggesting cool stuff! It makes me want to go buy it! (No, just kidding, please keep suggesting cool stuff to listen to/read/imagine.)
    De-cluttering is probably pretty easy for most people: you just take a bunch of old shit and throw it out, right? It’s not that easy for me. I attach sentimental value to just about everything.
    I wish it was easy for me. And that conversation sounds too familiar. In my house “Anne” is actually “Mr angie k” and “coaster made from a menu” is actually “lampshade made from a signed cast poster from a production I stage managed four years ago but it was art, dammit! Art!” But I am getting better.
    Thanks for the ambient suggestions!

  4. Me and my thousands of CDs just moved in with my wife and I’m finding myself in the same place where I’m ripping everything to hard drives because there’s no room for CD racks! Unfortunately, I don’t have a garage to keep it all in, so it looks like I will be selling them all at Amoeba or Rasputin. Maybe we should open our own online used CD store?! Anyway, if you want to break your habit of clutter, just go check out an estate sale some time where you can view somebody’s belongings that have been collected for decades and are now being parted out for pennies on the dollar to whoever. Depressing and eye-opening!

  5. Well bugger me. Reading this I went EUREKA I have my show for Friday morning. Turns out I have less ambient music on my hd than I thought. Must get more before Friday.

  6. Decluttering is nearly impossible in my house. There are 3 pack-rats living here. We do have one rule. Keep it if you want it, otherwise it’s trash. Unfortunately, we keep inheriting relatives old good stuff. But, I think we are full now.
    There’s lots of great ambient stuff still being recorded.

  7. Okay, this is spooky.
    I’m right now listening to ‘Into the Labyrinth’ by ‘Dead Can Dance’. While probably not considered STRICTLY ambient, it definitely fills the same niche for me as some of my other ambient music CD’s do.
    I’d also like to point out that ‘in darkness my heart was won’ is right up there, as cool lyrics go, as ‘”Listen son,” said the man with the gun, “there’s room for you inside”. But, then, I am an insufferable Vampire:the Masquerade GM, so don’t mind me.

  8. We go through major purges of our stuff quite regularly, but only recently started with the ripping of CDs into mp3 format. In fact, I am planning on doing that with my favorite music sometime this week. We focused mainly on the CDs that we had only because my husband used to work at a CD store and got free stuff all the time. Now I’ve been hankering for continuous play stuff that I actually LOVE, not just sorta like, so there ya go. So I’m totally in that same boat right now: purging crap, and ripping music. What a life!

  9. “76:14″ is god-like.
    Actually, just about anything by Global Communications is god-like.
    Electronic music just blewed up in the early ’90s and there was tons and tons of awesome stuff to collect from labels like Fax, Instinct, Moonshine, Caroline/Astralwerks, Silent, Waveform Corporation, Warp, Harthouse and many others.
    Solitaire is actually a collaboration between Steve Roach and other artists. Steve Roach has a buttload of ambient albums out, but I think his best stuff is “The Magnificent Void” and “Darkest Before Dawn”. He also did an album of “frontier ambient” called “Dust To Dust” which would make an awesome soundtrack to a spooky western movie.
    eMusic carries a ton of Fax and Steve Roach stuff. The price is right and the MP3s are non-DRMed and encoded at variable rate. I’ve been a customer for years and I’m mostly happy with the service.
    I love my 1,000+ CDs!
    Zrath (that crazy French guy in West L.A.)

  10. I love going on searches for CDs, though. Thrift stores, music shops, eBay…
    Rasputin’s has a great clearance bin, 2 or 3 bucks for CDs, buy 3 get 1 free deals; I can spend a couple of hours in there easily and come out with a dozen or so discs (much to the chagrin of my wife).
    It’s most rewarding when you buy an album for a couple of bucks and discover more songs you like than you were expecting.
    I can’t seem to get into buying digital music for some reason. I do have all my CDs ripped, and rarely play the physical CDs. Radio Paradise, KPIG, Pandora and Paste Magazine all give me a constant supply of artists to look for on the next Great Hunt.

  11. Funny you should post this now. Out landlord decided to replace all the hideous 70s carpets in our flat (yay!!), and we had to move EVERYTHING WE OWN out into the hallway. Two days later I have stacks of stuff I can’t bear to get rid of, but cannot move back in for fear of re-cluttering our home and disappointing my extremely patient girlfriend. This is all random junk that nobody finds precious except me . . . Damn I need help. Maybe someone will steal it all in the night.

  12. Personally, I really like DJ River for chillout. Particularly his “Ambient Chillout [season] [year]” series and his “The [colour] Room” series.
    He releases quite a lot for free through http://djriver.com and his iTunes podcast.

  13. Creative Commons used to have their own directories of music and they had a heck of a lot of ambient stuff (I have a great ambient version of Ellington’s “Caravan” from that source by Binary Beats, album Adventures in Ambient) but they’ve restructured and I can’t find those pages. CCMixter seems to have a lot

  14. Thanks for re-posting this. I’d downloaded the tune at work and used to listen to it quite a bit while chugging through documents. Then we moved cross-country annnd I lost my playlists from work because I didn’t burn them down.
    Long story short, downloaded again and put into playlist!

  15. Only one on Amazon now. ;)
    This post totally made my day. em:t 1194 and 76:14 are two of my favorite albums ever, music that I still feel is transcendent.
    I second the recommendation for emusic. Big Fax backcatalogue, and paying by the track for 15-minute ambient epics rocks. Fax, Ratatat, and Maserati are my coding soundtrack these days.
    Do you like more beat-heavy ambient like the Orb? If so, check out the resurrected em:t’s gel sol 1104 album. It’s what Cydonia should have been.
    Thanks for the recommendation, and for reminding me of some things I love.

  16. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2
    That’s all I ever need. Perfection.
    I was a college radio DJ from 95 to around 2001, and I played electro stuff. I took over a show done by my DJ idol, and kept his spirit alive by occasionally tossing out an all ambient show. Three hours of bliss. Damn good times.

  17. Wil, I bet more than 3 girl creatures threw them selves at you at Pax this year alone…you probably just miss the subtler ones, and only recognized 3. Seriously I bet your wife would tell you the same thing.

  18. I’m finding it easier to get rid of things. Take out the camera, take a picture of said item. Load to computer with a text file describing what it is. Toss out or sell item on Ebay. Memory intact, space conserved. When you get done at the end of a day or so of doing that, burn it to a CD or DVD for a backup.
    All of the family photos are ending up that way. It’s also going to be easy to get a small safe deposit box to keep a back-up of said disks, to keep with other important papers, in case of a house fire.

  19. Damn you Wil…now I’m going to spend most of today checking out the music and won’t get anything done….then my boss (who is my wife) will be mad at me.
    I already found a list of the “25 essential ambient” that includes a surprise for me… Miles Davis – In a Silent Way. Another Miles Davis to find…
    Fortunately, my boss (wife) doesn’t stay mad long, so I won’t be sleeping in the yard…
    As for Heather’s comment: “…I bet more than 3 girl creatures threw them selves at you at Pax this year alone…you probably just miss the subtler ones, and only recognized 3….” That happened to me in college a couple of times – I found out later from friends.

  20. Thanks so much for this post, Wil. I, too, have wondered about how many of the celebrities that I think are cool (like you) are actually self-serving douches behind the scenes. Awesome to see you are more cerebral than pimp. You just increased your CHA points even more!
    I constantly find myself associating musical interests with character (which, I know I shouldn’t do, but meh). I’m always infinitely curious as to what people listen to, and if I were to ever meet you in person this post is what I would want to talk about.
    I teach high school math/science and have my laptop playing music constantly in the background. Teenagers need to be exposed to good culture which isn’t processed and pasturized and I’m more than happy to assist, especially when I have them captive for a few hours each week. I play Bjork and U2 and Midnight Oil and a ton of other stuff that they consider old and busted. Some days I’ll play some 90′s punk and hardcore. Some days Pink Floyd or Neil Young. I try to surprise them as to what music they might hear come from the two little computer speakers on my desk. Whether any of it ever sinks in I’ll never know.
    I had a student once bring in William Shatner’s greatest hits. He actually had gotten it as a birthday present. I instantly put on LSD and one of the girls said “Who’s that?” And before I could answer she said, “Oh, like I’d know you white people music anyway.” So now I’m wondering… did she say that because she thinks all white people listen to Shatner “sing” or because she thinks all white people sound like that? Guess I should’ve asked.
    Finding new music is always awesome and I have not heard some of the bands you listed — so you know what I’ll be doing this week. Lately I’ve gotten into some bands from the Beijing punk scene (a guy wrote a blog post around the time of the Olympics and I thought some of it sounded pretty good). So I’ll be listening to that and Woob. and Falling you. …and many of your other suggestions. :o)

Comments are closed.