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Ambient music

The Cover of Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, widely considered one of the best ambient releases.
Ambient music is a loosely defined musical genre that incorporates elements of a number of different styles - including jazz, electronica, new age, modern classical music and even noise. It is chiefly identifiable as having an overarching atmospheric context.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Styles of ambient music
3 Notable artists and works in chronological order
4 Sound
5 See also
6 External links and references


The term was first coined by Brian Eno in the late 1970s to refer to music that would envelop the listener without drawing attention to itself. Hence, Brian Eno is considered the father of ambient music. Sometimes associated with elevator music and Muzak, it is more often similar to mood music or an ambient background in movie and radio sound effects. Often listeners will forget they are listening to ambient music, which is one of the biggest attractions of the genre. It can be any musical style, including jazz, electronica and modern classical music.

Retrospectively, some of the works of the 20th century French composer Erik Satie, today best known for his Trois Gymnopédies suite, can be regarded as predecessors of modern ambient music. The invention of the first electronic instrument, the theremin in the early 20th century is also considered an important influence on the later development of ambient music. Similarly some of the works of the French composer Edgar Varèse, who used the theremin extensively in his music can also be viewed as predecessors of ambient music.

Early works from the 1970s by Kraftwerk have greatly influenced the genre. Other earlier artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis in the 1970s and Ray Lynch and Mannheim Steamroller in the 1980s, all of which were considered "New Age," also influenced the growth of ambient electronica.

Purely ambient music is traditionally beatless, in the late 1980s and early 1990s ambient music underwent a resurgence with the reconcilation of rhythm with the dreamy, meandering reverb of the first (late 1970s - 1980s) wave of ambient music. Under the guise of various styles, ambient electronica (sometimes referred to as ambient techno or ambient dub) saw the birth of a new wave of electronic music in the in the works of artists like The Orb, Aphex Twin and the Irresistible Force.

Styles of ambient music

Organic ambient music

Organic ambient music is characterised by integration of electronic, electric, and acoustic musical instruments. Aside from the usual electronic music influences, organic ambient tends to incorporate influences from world music, especially drone instruments and hand percussion. Organic ambient is intended to be more harmonious with nature than with the disco. Some of the artists in this sub-genre include Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, O Yuki Conjugate and Tuu.

Some works by ambient pioneers such as Brian Eno, which use a combination of traditional (such as piano) and electronic instruments would be considered organic ambient music in this sense.

Nature inspired ambient music

The music is composed from samples and recordings of naturally occurring sounds. Sometimes these samples can be treated to make them more instrument-like. The samples may be arranged in repetitive ways to form a conventional musical structure or may be random and unfocussed. Sometimes the sound is mixed with urban or "found" sounds. Examples include much of Biosphere's Substrata, Mira Calix's insect music and Chris Watson's Weather Report.

Ambient electronica

Ambient electronica is the current most widely heard form of the ambient music and began in its modern form in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Artists considered to be part of the inception of the late 1980s, early 1990s ambient electronica movement included Aphex Twin, Pete Namlook, The Orb, Moby and William Orbit. Other prominent artists that make ambient electronic music include Air, Biosphere and Bill Laswell. Initially an underground movement, ambient electronica continued to rise in popularity until its less obscure status in the early 2000s.

Although not strictly speaking, ambient music, mainstream electronic dance music styles such as trance, techno and drum and bass draw inspiration from the soothing electronic sound of ambient music artists in these styles often incorporate ambient elements into their work. Examples are found in Voodoo Child's (aka Moby) The End of Everything album and others.

Some types of ambient electronica:

Ambient dub

Works by Bill Laswell and others, including a number of compilations by various artists.

Ambient groove

Ambient groove music could be seen as a sub-genre of both ambient and trip hop music. Ambient groove is a stylistic middle ground between the two, incorporating elements of both along with dub and world music. The sub genre was created accidentally by the series "A Journey Into Ambient Groove" by Quango Records, a subsidiary of Island Records. ((Quango itself evolved out of the ambient groove project.)) All four in the series are various-artists compilations, with tracks selected and compiled by Bruno Guez. Guez featured similar music on his radio show in L.A, though the movement is European in its origination. As with most sub genres in music, there is some overlap between them. This style is mostly limited to the mid 1990's. The ambient groove sound was created in particular by artists on the Pork label. Guez collected songs exclusively from this label for the "A Taste of Pork'" compilation. The songs themselves feature a combination of synthesizers and drum machines as well as acoustic percussion and other acoustic instruments. Ambient groove does not feature much in the way of vocals or four-on-the-floor techno beats, but the beat and the groove are featured elements, unlike ambient per se. The style has much in common with more modern dub, but generally less reggae-inspired, though there are dub tracks included on the compilations.

Some definitive recordings

Some defining artists

Ambient house

Early works by
808 State, such as "Pacific 202", and others.


Beatless ambient electronica has no overt drum machine or explicit drum sound-driven beat, but maintains rhythm through repetition of some sort of sound as exemplified on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II.


No overt repetition of a sound or sound phrases is clear. This kind of ambient electronica is for some listeners, the least accessible. Some examples include Radiohead's track "Treefingers" from the Kid A album, some of the work of Japanese musician Nobukazu Takemura, and IDM artist Hrvatski's album Playthroughs (recorded under his real name, Keith Fullerton Whitman).

Notable artists and works in chronological order

Main article: List of ambient artists

Artist nameInfluential worksTime period
Erik SatieTrois Gymnopédies
Edgar VarèseEcuatorial.1930s
Brian EnoAnother Green World
Discreet Music
Ambient 4: On Land
Possible Musics: Fourth World (with Jon Hassell)
Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundscapes
DeuterCall of the Unknown.1970s - 1980s
Steve RoachStructures from Silence
The Magnificent Void
Quiet Music
Wally BadarouEchoes.1980s
The OrbA Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Centre of the Ultraworld
The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
KLFChill Out1990
The Future Sound Of LondonISDN
Dead Cities
Aphex Twin AKA Polygon WindowSelected Ambient Works '85-'92
Global Communication76:141994
Moby AKA Voodoo ChildAmbient
The End of Everything.
AirAir 1+2.1998-


See also

External links and references