Jaz’s Music Corner – Episode 1: Ambient



Hi, and welcome to the first episode of Jaz’s Music Corner!

Today, we’re talking about tunes that are wonderful background music for both reading and writing. As I’ve mentioned from time to time, I thoroughly enjoy listening to music when I write. I particularly enjoy listening to neutral-sounding music in the background while I’m reading. As such, I’m always on the prowl for new music. Today, I’m focusing on a subgenre of New Age music called Ambient. It’s often referred to as “music to chill out to” or “relaxation music.” And while it has nothing to do with that medication people take to help them fall asleep, the music may do just that very thing for some people. As for me, I listen to ambient music quite a lot as I’m editing manuscripts. When employed as background music, well-orchestrated ambient is excellent for encouraging concentration and rarely imposes itself to cause distraction while I’m focused on the important process of wordsmithing.

The English musician, sound designer, and conceptualist, Brian Eno, is largely credited with officially coining the term “ambient” to describe conceptual music that’s characterized by ethereal sounds and rhythms. Some also use the phrase “atmospheric” to describe ambient music. Sometimes varying levels of distortion are added to supplement the composition. Brian Eno’s opus was his 1978 album titled Ambient 1: Music for Airports. While that sounds like an odd title, perhaps even conjuring thoughts of tacky elevator music playing while listeners grimace, the title refers to Eno’s exploration into music that was “designed to induce calm and space to think.” Essentially, he viewed locations such as airports as excellent locations to project music that was largely inoffensive to mass audiences, while encouraging a peaceful and reflective mood. Let’s face it…airports are generally hectic-paced, stressful places that are packed with angst-ridden masses of people. However, Eno theorized that, aside from public locations, such music was equally ideal to accompany the process of mediation. I was intrigued by that, and recently purchased two tracks from Eno’s Music for Airports from iTunes. To me, both tracks, simply titled “2/1” and “2/2”, are remarkable for their surprisingly modern sound, despite dating all the way back to 1978. You can listen to track “2/2” via THIS YOUTUBE LINK. I think you’ll find it intriguing.

Other musicians and composers built upon Eno’s work, including the American composer John Cage. The internationally-acclaimed German electronic music group Tangerine Dream is a perfect example of world-class musicians who brought ambient music to the masses with impressive commercial success. Some to think of it, I recently purchased their 2013 album Finnigan’s Wake from iTunes. Tangerine Dream deftly incorporates synthesizers into base level ambient tracks to create music that ranges from mesmerizing to emotionally sweeping. Their music has been used on dozens of film soundtracks over the past three or four decades. One of my favorite Tangerine Dream soundtracks is to the 1983 horror film, The Keep. The film itself, directed by Michael Mann and based upon the novel by F. Paul Wilson, might not be the best example of outstanding horror, it starred a litany of excellent actors (including Scott Glenn, Ian McKellen, Jurgen Prochnow, and Gabriel Byrne) and the film’s soundtrack is amazing. (The tracks “#1: Dinu Pass” and “#5: Brothers in Death” are especially haunting, and actually quite riveting.) But while ambient music is frequently utilized for film soundtracks, it’s equally incorporated into astronomy or science-related documentaries with satisfying results.

Other ambient artists who I enjoy listening to (along with some of my favorite tracks) include: Mark Dwane (“Binary Star” is mesmerizing!), Jon Jenkins (“Sky of Surrender”), Ulf Lohmann (I highly recommend “Java” and “Wasted Years”), Erik Wollo (“Awakening”), and especially Michael Stearns (his entire Encounter album is ambient music at its very best).

Do you enjoy ambient music? If so, leave a comment and let me know who your favorite artists are, as well as some of your favorite tracks.

In future installments, I’ll discuss other genres and subgenres of music, but please leave me a comment and let me know if there’s specific types of music you’d like to read more about in future blog posts.

Until later, enjoy life; be kind to those around you, and Happy Reading…and listening! Peace.