Ambient Music - History

History

The roots of ambient music go back to the early 20th century. In particular, the period just before and after the First World War gave rise to two significant art movements that encouraged experimentation with various musical (and non musical) forms, while rejecting more conventional, tradition-bound styles of expression. These art movements were called Futurism and Dadaism. Aside from being known for their painters and writers, these movements also attracted experimental and 'anti-music' musicians such as Francesco Balilla Pratella of the pre-war Futurism movement and Kurt Schwitters and Erwin Schulhoff of the post-war Dadaist movement. The latter movement played an influential role in the musical development of Erik Satie.

As an early 20th century French composer, Erik Satie used such Dadaist-inspired explorations to create an early form of ambient / background music that he labeled "furniture music" (Musique d'ameublement). This he described as being the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere for that activity, rather than serving as the focus of attention. From this greater historical perspective, Satie is the link between these early Art movements and the work of Brian Eno, who as an art school trained musician, had an appreciation of both the music and art worlds.

Brian Eno is generally credited with coining the term "Ambient Music" in the mid-1970s to refer to music that, as he stated, can be either "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener", and that exists on the "cusp between melody and texture". Eno, who describes himself as a "non-musician", termed his experiments in sound as "treatments" rather than as traditional performances. Eno used the word "ambient" to describe music that creates an atmosphere that puts the listener into a different state of mind; having chosen the word based on the Latin term "ambire", "to surround".

The album notes accompanying Eno's 1978 release Ambient 1: Music for Airports include a manifesto describing the philosophy behind his ambient music: "Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

Eno has acknowledged the influence of Erik Satie and John Cage. In particular, Eno was aware of Cage's use of chance such as throwing the I Ching to directly affect the creation of a musical composition. Eno then utilised a similar method of weaving randomness into his compositional structures. This approach was manifested in Eno's creation of Oblique Strategies, where he used a set of specially designed cards to create various sound dilemmas that in turn, were resolved by exploring various open ended paths, until a resolution to the musical composition revealed itself. Eno also acknowledged influences of the drone music of La Monte Young (of whom he said, "La Monte Young is the daddy of us all") and of the mood music of Miles Davis and Teo Macero, especially their 1974 epic piece, "He Loved Him Madly", about which Eno wrote, "that piece seemed to have the 'spacious' quality that I was after...it became a touchstone to which I returned frequently."

Beyond the major influence of Brian Eno, other musicians and bands added to the growing nucleus of music that evolved around the development of "Ambient Music". While not an exhaustive list, one cannot ignore the parallel influences of Wendy Carlos, who produced the original music piece called "Timesteps" which was then used as the filmscore to Clockwork Orange, as well as her later work Sonic Seasonings. Other significant artists such as Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis, also Russian electronic music pioner Mikhail Chekalin, have all added to or directly influenced the evolution of ambient music. Adding to these individual artists, works by groups such as Pink Floyd, through their albums Ummagumma, Meddle and Obscured by Clouds. The Yellow Magic Orchestra developed a distinct style of ambient electronic music that would later be developed into ambient house music. Other groups including Yes with their album Tales from Topographic Oceans, the Hafler Trio, Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, Can, and Kraftwerk have all added distinctive aspects to the growing and diversified genre of ambient music.

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