Some Ambient Albums
Ambient music is not made for supporting an ambience, it’s all about creating one, but isn’t it the purpose of many musics ? Listen to Bitches Brew, the first Weather Report’s albums, Pink Floyd’s Meddle among others – and what a name for a band, Weather Report, talking about musical climates ! Many people consider it has all started in Germany and not in America, at the beginning of the seventies, with musicians like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. Other people will say that ambient music finds its roots a little later, beyond cosmic and starship atmospheres of the era, with Steve Roach and influences like David Parsons or Kevin Braheny. I believe that searching for strange atmospheres and uncommon moods is an older and wider tendency in music, as many people search for evasion in art.
Whatever, I’m not a history teacher :), but just a musician who wants to share with this little post some of his tastes in ambient music. Here are some of my favorites albums, with short notes. Tell me what you think, leave a comment at the bottom of this page :).
Thom Brennan is (not enough) known for its intertwining of lush pads, building impressive architectures like « Secret Faith of Salamanders » (what a title for an album…). « Signals in Moonlight » calls to mind many ambient possibilities, and a surprising use of simple vintage electronic percussions when the listener doesn’t wait for any rythm anymore builds a meaningful soundscape, giving to this so sparse use of drums-like sounds all their meaning and power.
Thom delivers here beautiful guitar soundscapes in a clear Robert Fripp’s way. Even a distorted guitar can build other climates that metal-driven ones :). Thom also performed great guitar and synth tracks on his « Beneath Clouds » album, filled with clear sounding repetitive guitar riffs slightly evolving, transforming themselves and supporting alone the rythm of an actually hypnotic gliding album.
I’ve discovered very recently the music of this new prolific ambient master, his albums are a brilliant synthesis between drone and ambient styles, a crossing between old and new schools, and always an immersion into imaginary landscapes filled with all these weirds sounds and background noises suggesting presences and beings from elsewhere. Actually refreshing, listen to Dan Pound’s music without moderation !
Between interval is the name of Stefan Strand’s ambient project, 4 albums have been released so far. Autumn Continent remains my favorite because of its progression, and the power of the melodies : everything here is about simplicity and effectiveness, the autumn mood with misty soundscapes and some kind of ambient sadness and bleakness surrounds the listener and creates a deep atmosphere to linger.
This band achieves a real fusion between ambient and electro styles. Their very rythmic and repetitive tracks always expose melodic and rythmic elements not that far from from techno / electro styles, but in a really ambient and chillout mood in globally conceived albums that expresses a deep thematic unity, often about mythological concepts rarely used in modern compositions. Great albums to regain energy after too many lingering drones :).
Extremely quiet and melodic album, purely ambient music with the ethnic percussions that Robert Rich loves so much, used in a very sparse and hieratic way, for example in the long track called “Road to Wirikuta”, the sacred land of the Huichols Indians’ deified ancestors. This amazing track takes the listener into some kind of mystical pilgrimage through an esoterical soundscape on the trails of ancient deities…
Purely ambient, quite no percussions, at the boundaries of New Age music like Ambient albums often do. Fragile et delicate synth melodies, ethereal pads, very sparse chimes and percussions interventions and so pure textures and landscapes immerse the listener in an oneiric and soothing place of lingering. Like so many ambient albums, don’t look for a melody you can remind of, a particular improvisation or something : it’s only the mood, the ambient feeling which might engrave its imprint in the mind and the memory of the listener, who can regret that an album passes so fast even if you can’t say : I like this song, because there’s no real song anymore, but the deep unity of a truly original atmosphere.
What to say about the work of Steve Roach ? Completely innovative, setting up roots for the music to come, getting completely rid of traditional sung music’s structure ; even melody and rythm are sometimes absent of his most ambitious projects. What to choose in a so prolific carrer ?
Luminous albums 🙂 Great pads, circling surrounding sounds and fast electro rythms mixed with ethnic percussions, great progression throughout the whole set of tracks becoming clearer and clearer until « touching the pearl ». The final rythm pattern has a presence and a strength beyond its simplicity that makes the listener dive in a very strange soundscape… Maybe one of the most accessible albums in a so prolific career.
« Fever Dreams » is a set of very interesting albums, the third one starting with a strange melody played with a synthetic female voice sound, more and more altered as tracks goes by, then diving into drones and percussive cycles at the boundaries of electronic and world music. This album creates an really present atmosphere, even if you’re just using it, at a low volume, to enhance a moment, as Steve himself says.
This album quickly became classic amongst the classics of Space and Ambient music, at the boundaries of both styles. Luminous ideas, deep immersions in far space, travels through space stations rich in sights of distant futures, this albums keeps the best of classic sequencer-driven music and dives into cosmic ambiences in a very modern way. And don’t forget that the Stargazer was Jean Luc Picard’s starship, before he took command of the Enterprise !
This album is the most famous and the most accessible in a prolific musician’s discography. Vidna Obmana builds here a way to play percussions in an ambient way, and if there are many ambient pieces consisting just of synth pads circling over ethnic percussions, this album is a real masterpiece of foreign soothing grooves to be taken off far, far away…