Music Lesson: Ambient Music

Friday’s brief dip into Brian Eno’s musical repertoire encouraged me to dedicate an entire post to the term and genre that the maestro coined – “ambient music”.

You’ve probably heard the term before, and you probably know what it means. At it’s simplest, ambient music is what you think of as background music, or environmental noise. There are no words, no lyrics, and usually only a few instruments. Dance music such as house and trance technically falls into this genre, although it is inherently very different from its predecessors. According to wikipedia, it is a genre in which “sound is more important than notes”, which surprisingly is a very poetic, and accurate, description.
As mentioned on Friday, Eno coined the term “ambient” on his 1978 album “Ambient 1: Music for Airports”. In the liner notes Eno explains, “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”. Meaning, ambient music can easily drift into the background of our conscience, but upon study and close attention it is complicated, meaningful, and beautiful.
The earliest ambient music dates back to 1917 with Erik Satie, who was a french composer that considered his recordings to be “furniture music”. A few other important composers include the german group Cluster, Klaus Schulze, and Erik Wollo.
Lastly, many group ambient music with musical scores, which is partly correct. Ambient music is commonly used as a score to a film, though not all film scores are considered ambient. Notable films including ambient scores are: 2001: A Space Odyssey , Eraserhead, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Donnie Darko.
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