Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Brief History of Ambient

A Brief History of Ambient Vol 1 - Disc One
A Brief History of Ambient Vol 2 - Disc Two

A bloody stomper of a comp. A comp stomper.

There is a well-known graffiti homage to Joe Strummer in the East Village, which you have undoubtedly passed by in a state of mild distraction, during one of your many boozy, late night perambulations, the sort that ends with the impromptu ingestion of fried dough and a gnawing predilection for dialing individuals with whom, all things considered, it is probably best you maintain no further contact. You probably should just go ahead and delete their number now, while you read this, presumably at your office, and presumably sober, during one of your daily cookie breaks. [Pret a Manger is good]. Further contact, you know in the back of your mind, will lead only to further sorrow, and quite possibly a trip to the men's health clinic.

The image depicts the Clash singer wearing sunglasses, his jacket thrown over his shoulder, accentuated only with a phrase which became one of the band's many unofficial slogans, "The Future Is Unwritten."

This shouldn't be understood to say that this is a property belonging only to the time of what has not yet taken place. Because the past is also unwritten: the steady, inexorable course of present time, in all of history's incalculable twists and inversions, is constantly rewriting the past, making the hidden sonics of its concealed treasures echo in a new key.

Re-engagement with the past is especially fun in the sort of proto-time that we love to go on about at AC, in those heady, experimental open-ended periods of artistic intensity which only retroactively become parts of a movement or can be understood as contributing a genre.

Brian Eno, as every schoolchild knows, is widely credited with coining the term 'ambient music,' and the apocryphal account of the genre's inception involves Eno in an incapacitated state, lying in bed with a broken bone of some sort, listening to a record which had been put on but at an improperly low volume, such that its sonic contents were experienced at the threshold of audibility, wavering in and out of range of the human ear. Like any good materialist, Eno saw this as a new potential to be explored. The musical revolution that followed was a fulfillment as well of Erik Satie's desire to make music "to mingle with the sounds of forks and knives at dinner," rather than something to be consciously, attentively devoured by the audience. Music became wallpaper, became sculpture, became practical, became that most deliciously minor layer of stimulation that cushions you from the harsh opacity of empirical reality.

All your usual suspects are here on this comp, Mr. Fripp, Mr. Eno, Mr. Harold Budd, Mr. Tangerine Dream. Fripp & Eno's acknowledged classic "Evening Star" is here, evidence alone of Mr. Fripp's status as the Eric Clapton of Boring Music. The whole thing is just an epic list of early ethereal compositions and bugged-out melodic drift. Get with it, it wears a beard. Homeless wizards listen to it while doing yoga. Also Harold Budd's piano playing is just sick.

BTW supposedly Eno was as well influenced by a Miles Davis track called "He Loved Him Madly," which is supposed to be some epic ambient jazz dirge tribute to Duke Ellington. Does anyone have this?

Here's a ridiculously cool interview with Eno where he explains the principles behind his "Music for Airports", in which he explains the need for having music tailored for public spaces, how it should be composed so it doesn't interfere with other sounds (human communication, announcements), and so on. Subtitled in Dutch, thank God.


Alex B said...

"Well, If you die it doesn't really matter."

alan said...

Dude,"He Loved Him Madly" is not only my favorite Miles track, but one of my favorite pieces of music, like, ever - half hour of exquisite ambient sorrow, the sonic equivalent of that famous Niezche(sic) maxim re the void's reciprocal gaze; a combination of "Ring The Alarm' and "Theme De Yoyo" in other words. Oh wait, nevermind....