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!”
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.