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Ambience for the Masses
The Music, The Genre
For a long long while now, I have been a very very fond of a musical style called Ambience.   It's not the most well-known of musical styles, and I find it hard to describe.   Its width and breadth escape mere words.   Thus, I have attempted to describe it by example, devoting an extensive hierarchy of pages to the music and its artists.  
Over the years, I have not allowed my inability to explain Ambient music to prevent me from going ahead and trying anyways.   If you'd rather not hear me try to explain it in the next couple of paragraphs, give Ambience for the Masses a spin now.   Okay, still reading I see.   Pause here and get yourself a fresh glass of water.  
No, I'll wait.  
Hum dee dum.  
[ 1:30 later ]  
Speaking in broadest terms, Ambient music is pleasant and melodic, not entirely unlike New Age in its search for beauty, but usually much more deliberate and experimental.   More like a sculpture than a commodity.   I'd say that Brian Eno, one of (if not The) pioneer of the style, described the style very effectively by stating that Ambient music (in its purest form) is not so much designed to be listened to, but rather, to be heard.   For a wonderful introduction to Ambient music, check out his albums (click his link).   Then come back here, because I'm still explaining.  
Alright, let's broach the 'sleep music' subject.   For its first decade, this page on my site explained that 'speaking in simplest terms, Ambient music is meant for sleeping.'   Since then, I have realized that the sultry sleep-inducing side-effect of the music is merely a bonus.   I have learned to appreciate the persistent waking clarity of its non-silence.   Sure, there's always a risk of dozing off.   But with a little willpower and subtle distration (eg. real life), the sounds can add a delightful sheen to your endless now.  
Good Ambient music will make you melt into a puddle of grinning, happy jelly, but it's good for more than just that.   It's great to work to, or to talk over, or to sun yourself with, or to hang with down at the corner.   Or best of all, just being around.   Some of best Ambient albums are the ones that you forget you're listening to until you realize that you're hearing something other than nothing.  
Ambient music can be performed on a variety of different instruments.   Traditionally, it's been performed on the lute, or the cello, on bowls, or the digeridoo, or in acapello or chant.   In more recent times, with the advent of electronic instrumentation, Ambient music has taken on a much more synthetic form.   Microprocessors have formed the tools of a new artist, who may now structure, design and process new sounds to suit his or her needs.   But the music never strays far from the earth; field effects and environmental recordings are also at its very core.  
I find that the most satisfying Ambient pieces are the ones that best combine aspects of both organic and non-organic sounds.   And I'd say that very thing is a strong theme that runs through the genre.  
Ambient music is a rather obscure niche for artists, but it has existed as a form under this name for 20 years.   Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, some of the most god-awfullly beautiful songs and albums suddenly cropping up in all corners of the earth.   And again in the early-to-mid 2000s, as independent digital publishing broke its way through.  
Sometimes you'll find a whole album by some fly-by-night artist who made one big masterpiece that one time in his garage.   Sometimes there'll be just a single track in the middle of an otherwise "normal" album (Pink Floyd has been known to do such a thing on several occasions).   And sometimes an artist 'gets it', and produces years upon years upon volumes upon volumes of inspired material.  
Even after 25 years, I'm able to find at least 2 or 3 excellent full albums every month (though sometimes I stretch my definitions a little bit).   A lot of the current stuff is either import release or imports from Europe or Japan or Iceland, and could costs an arm and a leg, assuming you can find it in the first place.   However, there's a good amount of it available here in the United States.  
The Artists, The Labels
Heh, how things change.   Here's what I said back in '95:  
Caroline Records (114 W 26th St, NY NY 10001) carries a lot of Eno's stuff on E'G (check out "Eno" under New Age or Rock at your local record store). Instinct Records (26 W 17th St #502, NY NY 10001 (practically next door!)) is picking up a good amount of the stuff off FAX, but it's not the sort of thing that Blockbuster Music is prone to keep in stock. You'll be able to find some Jean Michel Jarre or Mickey Hart (ie. RykoDisc) at the local Tower Records. A few have web pages, which you'll find elsewhere. Other stuff you'll find here and there, but it's far from an exact science. If you do go out looking, I wish you the best of luck, because it's not the easiest thing to find, but more than worth all the effort.
Oh, yeah.   And of course in those days there was Silent Records.   And back then I'd yet to be fully introduced to 4AD.  
Artists like Steve Roach and Robert Rich have been producing the most beautiful drones for so many years it's hard to count.   Men such as David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel have broken the molds of their rocker images to cross over into the ethereal realms, whereas experimentalists such as Harold Budd have thrown themselves completely into the abyss.   In the mid-1990s, we had an absolute flash of brilliance from artists such as Peter Namlook and Tetsu Inoue, while at the same time Biosphere was learning how to draw it all down.  
Back in the days, there were the many artists of the t|me Label.   And magificent labels such as Mille Plateaux have come and gone through the years, while labels 12k like slowly coalesce.   The old is replaced by the new, and some day perhaps Kranky and Kompakt may go their own ways of the dodo.  
Some of the new boys on the block -- Stars of the Lid, William Basinski and Sigur Rós -- carry the gilded genre upon their supple backs.   Artists such as Mirror and Ryuichi Sakamoto have seemed to be endless fonts of wisdom.   Time can only tell what will happen to players like the Hypnos label and Bass Communion.  
The Site
As I write this, it is June 2006, which will sound so silly when I go to revise this page to v1.3 some time around 2017.   When I first launched this portion of my site in 1995, I came up with some pretty simple organizational structures.  
I provided a few access methods from the top level of the 'Ambience for the Masses' context.   The easiest choice was a listing of albums and artist, alphabetically.   This was back when I was dealing with 100-150 of them total; to date, that sum has grown considerably.   I never had time to implement a search engine, but in some ways it's best to just Google my site.  
Ha!   Yeah, remember Google?   In 2017, I'm gonna laugh at that statement, one way or another.  
Every review website is entitled to a list of classics, so I have just such a page.   Frequent visitors may wish to know which are the newest ones to the site, the ones I'm currently carrying around with me.   (And frequent visitors soon realize the I update the site on a greater-than-quarterly basis).  
I also tried to group the albums that I put on the site into loosely-defined sound categories which had no supporting rationale besides my own stubborn opinion.   There are only several coarse groups since I hadn't the time to apply granular tags to all my stuff.   Some day when I'm retired, maybe I'll just do that.  
An every content website should have a random selection page.   Mine's still a simple CGI written in Perl which hits a flat-file (no, not XML -- a good ol' tab-delimited tile with a row-count header line).   Maybe some day I'll re-implement it as a Java service exposed through WSDL, WSIL and UDDI.   And perhaps I'll enjoy that joke in 11 years as well.  
The artist pages feature a decent amount of cross-referencing, since Ambient music is a somewhat incestual community.   (When possible) I scan the album's cover and provide both a small (125 x 125) & larger version -- click on the small image to get the large.  
I provide about three samples per album, all of them horridly short and hooridly compressed to the MP2 standard.   Back then the MP2 encoding was barely becoming supported.   I talk about this in the ancient tools section of my site.   Sure, now that we've seen iTunes and widespread broadband I could change that policy, but why buck with tradition?  
I also review the albums, though sometimes years after I initially launch them on the site.   That's largely because it takes 20 minutes to review an album.   It may be a labor of love, but it's a labor nonetheless.   Basic math says that if i launch 15 new albums, that's 5 hours of just writing time.   Instead, I spend my 'site' time prepping music for my radio stream, which seems much more immediately gratifying to everyone involved.  
And I'd say that's pretty much the extent of things.
The Disclaimer
Oh, and, yes.   I think I'm appropriately obliged to say that the art and music that I have encoded, offered and endorsed herein are provided for the purpose of review only.   I wish to promote these artists and their tremendous works, not niggle with all those silly copyright laws.   I want the public to rush out and purchase this music, give the artists their due, so I'd hope that the suits won't get all in a huff.   Please.   No huffing here.  
Please enjoy your stay at Ambience for the Masses.
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Last Updated on : 02006-06-18

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