Friday, March 5, 2010

Appreciating Ambient Music

For over a year, maybe two, one thing has ensured my relaxation and tranquil state during the late hours of the night when sleep is all I am focused on: ambient music. Its often simplistic and repetitive nature is ideal for wanting nothing more than for sleep to overtake you. But there's more to it than just being a late night companion.

For most people, ambient is background music at best, ignored completely at worst. This is a shame. In my experience discussing it with others, it's a seriously misunderstood style of music which I think is due to lack of exposure and simply having the wrong association to what ambient music encompasses to begin with. I'm sure there are some who think it's merely repeated sounds that have absolutely no emotion to them, i.e. the sound of waves or birds chirping. Although these kinds of sounds are sometimes used in artists that I listen to already, it's not all that ambient music is. There is, in fact, an entire world of music within the ambient genre. Naturally, a lot of it is simply not worth your time of day but the stuff that is has a power that is quite unique from others forms of music.

Surprisingly, a lot of black metal artists tend to favor ambient sounds combined with their lo-fi black metal, or sometimes make songs that are exclusively ambient amongst those that are completely black metal in style. Bands like Burzum, Coldworld, Paysage d'Hiver, Vinterriket, and Velvet Cacoon are all prime examples of this type of dual-nature genre. Some of these listed bands have actually produced pure ambient albums at one time or another too. But you don't need to be a fan of black metal to appreciate the output their ambient side.

Here's a couple excellent releases that consist strictly of ambient music but are from black metal artists. I've included some samples from each as well:

Vinterriket- Lichtschleier

This is a very dark album overall. The imagery it conjures up for me is that of snowy mountaintops that are covered in clouds, with not a ray of sunlight to be found. There is a good amount of natural sounds used on this album, mostly that of wind and it combines with the music well. Vinterriket is very consistent and most of the melodies (though at first maybe seem identical) in fact are carrying a similar theme that joins all of the songs in an excellent manner. It's very somber and probably in my top 3 of ambient albums. Here's a song from the album:

Paysage d'Hiver- Einsamkeit

This is a very obscure release from a very obscure band. It's a demo recording, as is the rest of Paysage d'Hiver's discography, but you would never know it. The quality and sense of immersion one hears when listening to Einsamkeit is incredible. As compared to the previous Vinterriket album, this three song demo is quite different. The natural sounds are even more prevalent here, serving as bookends to segue one song into the next and, and the atmosphere is more celestial and less dark too. Each song runs about 15 minutes in length, so you're getting a lot of material for just three songs. Each is very distinct on its own and, as stated before, the atmosphere evoked here is beyond words. I've yet to hear anything else like this. To me, it's the best ambient release of this last decade, or even the 90s for that matter. Here's another sample for you:

Here's two other albums that have no relation to black metal whatsoever, and they rank among my favorites:

Jääportit- Kauan Koskematon

As you might have noticed in my previous two recommendations I am attracted to ambient that is influenced by winter. This album is no exception and stands very much apart, giving off its own unique atmosphere and sound. Jääportit and this album is a bit more dynamic than Paysage d'Hiver and Vinterriket. There are a lot of different sounds here for just coming from a keyboard. The beautiful artwork conveys exactly the type of landscape this type of music seems to come from. The album comes off sounding cold and inviting at the same time. A highly recommended listening experience. Unfortunately I have no sample to share but if you use the site, you are able to stream the entire album for free:

Mooma- Herd Forming

Easily the more optimistic sounding of all these ambient releases, this is one of the more minimalistic albums you're likely to hear. The sounds all seem to float into each other seamlessly, going from one melody to the next without any jaunty transitions. Unlike the winter inspired albums, this seems to be influenced by the big blue sky that lies above us. No matter what time of the day, it makes me think that I am flying in the air, but not looking down, just witnessing that vast, blue, stretching space in front of me, clouds and all. If ethereal ambient is your cup of tea, this is my recommendation for you. Luckily, here's a wonderful sample for you to enjoy. Oh, and if you like what you hear, the entire album is available for free on the artist's website:

If you have any questions about acquiring any of this music, or would like more recommendations, just leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

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