Ambient music is a genre defined by slow layered tones and atmospheric harmonies converging to create an enveloping auditory environment.
This list incorporates both works that are outside and within the conventional bounds of the genre, a sampling of music to be listened to in various states of alert relaxation. Where traditional music can be compared to the construction of an object in space, ambient musicians interact with space itself. Ambient music camouflages itself into the pre-existing noise of modern life. You might find yourself wondering whether the source of a certain sonic element originates from your speaker or your refrigerator.
Music For Airports [Album] 1978
This track recorded by one of ambient music’s pioneers is Brian Eno. The album, Music For Airports was created to address the boring, yet stressful atmosphere endemic to modern public spaces. A lingering piano piece that promotes inward reflection. It was briefly aired at LaGuardia Airport In the 1980s but travellers complained that it was too depressing…
The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond this World [Album] 2011
A slightly more comical take on the genre: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by The Caretaker. The album, dubbed “existential jazz” is full of muffled, static-laden 1930’s Ballroom Pop instrumentation. He uses nostalgia, bordering on cliché to create a culturally charged narrative space, transporting the listener to cavernous, nostalgic “rooms.” Skip to Libet’s Delay at 10:35 for a sort of waltzy trumpet melody accompanied by delayed piano riffs, while the next song “I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing” has a short, ethereal voice with lush, blissful chords.
Sven Grünberg’s Hingus [Album] 1981
Sven Grünberg’s Hingus is the sound of early 1980’s Estonian outer space. This album is not especially calming, but it is futuristic.
F.G. Experimental Laboratory – Journey Into a Dream [Album] 1975
If Hingus is what outer space sounds like, then F.G. Experimental Laboratory’s Journey Into A Dream is the sound of a parallel universe.
Aphex Twin – Rhubarb 1994
Aphex Twin is the Cornish polymath, Richard D. James. He is irreverent, supernaturally prolific, and disarmingly elusive. Rhubarb composed by Aphex Twin makes use of analog synthesizers to create richly textured landscapes. The track’s intimacy, hypnotic melody, and sensitive arrangement make it one of ambient’s true icons.
Monolake – Cinemascope [Album] 2001
Monolake is an electronic duo from Germany. In addition to their musical projects, they are responsible for conceiving the innovative music production software Ableton. The album Cinemascope is an effective mix of droning electronics and the rhythmic qualities of dub. Indigo, released in 2001 should also make the cut.
Boards of Canada – Music Is Math 2002
Boards of Canada, another electronic duo are privately Scottish and extremely discreet in their public image. Music Is Math features squishy yet crunchy basement beats accompanied by warm, anthemic synths. They never fail to deliver nostalgic sentiments without being too melancholic, always looking forward with a hint of optimism. Sounds from the past and the future combined, also check out Amo Bishop Roden, and 1998.
Ravi Shankar Live in Birmingham 1997
Ravi Shankar was an incredibly talented raga composer. Raga, a genre in itself, is specific to the time of day a piece is meant to be listened to. There are performances intended for early morning, afternoon, evening and midnight. All of which have a different pace and aura.
Gas – Pop [Album] 2000
Gas Is a musical project by German electronic musician Wolfgang Voigt. It is purportedly inspired by his LSD experiences in a forest near his hometown. Every track is highly compressed with each sound blending into one another, which creates a heady, atmospheric inflection.
Susumu Yokota – Acid Mt. Fuji [Album] 1994
Susumu Yokota was a highly prolific Japanese electronic musician producing over thirty albums between 1993 and 2012, probing the worlds of acid techno, trance, ambient and dub techno. The album Sakura is a deeply calming work. Each song travels into its own separate narrative. Although not specifically ambient, Acid Mt. Fuji is an astonishing chronicle of an otherworldly voyage, a trip that deserves an enthusiastic mention.