Ambient music is a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. Ambient music is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. According to Brian Eno, one of its pioneers, "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."
As a genre, it originated in the United Kingdom at a time when new sound-making devices were being introduced to a wider market, such as the synthesizer. Ambient developed in the 1970s from the experimental andsynthesizer-oriented styles of the period. Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, and Vangelis, as well as the psychoacoustic soundscapes of Irv Teibel's Environments series, were all influences on the emergence of ambient.Brian Eno popularized ambient music in 1978 with his landmark album Ambient 1: Music for Airports.
Developing in the 1970s, ambient stemmed from the experimental and synthesizer-oriented styles of the period. Although German bands such as Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream predate him in the creation of Ambient music, Brian Eno played a key role in its development and popularization and is often cited as ambient's founder. The concept of background or furniture music had already existed some time before, but only in the 70s was ambient music first created, which incorporated New Age ideals with the newly invented modular synthesizer. The impact the rise of the synthesizer in modern music had on ambient as a genre cannot be overstated; as Ralf Hutter of early electronic pioneers Kraftwerk said in a 1977 Billboard interview: "Electronics is beyond nations and colors...with electronics everything is possible. The only limit is with the composer". Similarly, Eno said in a 2013 interview with The Guardian that "One of the important things about the synthesizer was that it came without any baggage. A piano comes with a whole history of music...when you play an instrument that does not have any such historical background you are designing sound basically. You're designing a new instrument. That's what a synthesizer is essentially. It's a constantly unfinished instrument. You finish it when you tweak it, and play around with it, and decide how to use it. You can combine a number of cultural references into one new thing."
As a genre, ambient music usually focuses on creating a mood or atmosphere through synthesizers and timbral qualities. It often lacks the presence of any net composition, beat, or structured melody. Due to its relatively open style, ambient music often takes influences from many other genres, ranging from house, dub, industrial and new age, amongst several others.
Ambient did not achieve large commercial success, being criticized as having a "boring" and "over-intellectual" sound. Nevertheless, it has also attained a certain degree of acclaim throughout the years. It had its first wave of popularity in the 1970s, yet saw a revival towards the late 1980s with the prominence of house and techno music, growing a cult following by the 1990s.
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. In his own words, he sought to create "a music...which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks at dinner, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometime fall between friends dining together. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. To make such music would be to respond to a need." Like Satie describes, Brian Eno notes a time when he was too sick to put on music and got a friend to come over and do it for him. Listening to harp music on an old stereo, he was unable to hear it amidst the loud sounds of the rain outside his window. Initially this frustrated him, but eventually he found it interesting the way the music blended with the natural rain sounds in a way that made it not distinctly apparent, and he set out to create compositions that worked in a comparable way.[ Eno went on to record 1975's Discreet Music with this in mind, suggesting that it be listened to at "comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility", referring to Satie's quote about his musique d'ameublement.
Eno's 1973 collaboration with Robert Fripp (No Pussyfooting) can be seen as an early experiment in ambient music. Through the manipulation of reel-to-reel tape loops by Eno while Fripp played guitar over them, the duo was able to create multi-layered and dynamic pieces whose textures are similar to those of later ambient pieces, the genre not to be popularized by Eno until years later. Their method of composition, involving the treatment and experimentation of loops, would prove influential and has since been emulated by modern artists such as William Basinski, whose work The Disintegration Loops consists of a series of tape loops that slowly deteriorate over as the songs progress, introducing noise and cracks to the initially pristine quality of sound.
Erik Satie is acknowledged as an important precursor to modern ambient music and influence to Brian Eno.
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" (from Get Up with It), 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."
Eno has also been outspoken about the role of the recording studio in ambient music, notably in the freedom it gives in crafting textures of sound. He notes "When I first started recording I didn't have the background of a musician, and in fact it was only because of the recording studio and because of the technology that existed there that I was ever able to become a musician of any kind...the recording studio allows you to become a painter with sound, that's really what you do in a studio, you make pictures with sound..."
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 A Clockwork Orange, as well as her later work Sonic Seasonings. Other significant artists such asMike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis, also Russian electronic music pioneer Mikhail Chekalin, have all added to or directly influenced the evolution of ambient music. Pink Floyd's last album The Endless River falls into the ambient genre. The Yellow Magic Orchestra developed a distinct style of ambient electronic music that would later be developed into ambient house music.[
While muzak can be seen akin to ambient music in that they are both meant to be heard in the background, Eno describes some notable differences between them: "Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to "brighten" the environment by adding stimulus to it...Ambient Music is intended to produce calm and a space to think."
excerpt from a wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_music) with minor edits