How to Listen to Ambient Music


Musical Vocabularies and PurposesAmbient Music

Many years ago, I had a university friend who changed into an evangelizing devotee of the abstract painter Marc Rothko. I recall her gushing over a catalog of Rothko’s work, even as I turned into wondering that I need to be aesthetically challenged; I just did not “get” it. After all, maximum of the paintings had been nothing however huge rectangles of coloration, with moderate irregularities and a contrasting border or stripe. All of the acquainted reference factors of line and shape, perspective and shadow, had been long past. I should recognize them as “design,” however no longer as “artwork.” While they were eye-catching sufficient, I could not see why all of us might rhapsodize over these abstractions… Till I first noticed them for myself in person–a completely extraordinary experience! When I encountered them on the Museum of Modern Art, they actually stopped me in my tracks, subverting aware concept and plunging me without delay into an altered nation. They were not just flat canvases on a wall, but seemed greater like living things, pulsing and throbbing in resonance to a wavelength that had a fundamental connection to the Source of factors. I become stunned. They failed to “specific” a sense–they had been more like feelings themselves, and that they regarded as nothing non-public to me, or Rothko, or all and sundry. When I later checked out the reproductions Rothko’s works in books, they reverted to flat swatches of shade. There changed into a recollection, however no activity of my revel in. This became a revel in that trusted the presence of the authentic artifact (artwork: a truth).


A Tune is Not a Tone Ambient

I spent my early musical lifestyles working often with the tune that used-like representational artwork–some set of acquainted musical conventions to create its impact. There are many vocabularies of melody, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony, and structure that vicinity song in a context of shape that makes it understandable to listeners. “Comprehensible” is not exactly what I suggest–it shows that song communicates only highbrow thoughts, while in fact, it conveys and expresses a whole variety of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and institutions. But there’s a detail of “intelligibility” to conventional kinds of song that depends on a shared formal vocabulary of expression. There are acquainted factors that listeners use to anchor their actual-time experience of a composition, formal or sonic factors that are borrowed from other portions created and listened to within the past. When I find myself buzzing a music from a Beethoven symphony, or invoking one in every one of its characteristic rhythms (dit-dit-dit-DAH), I lessen a complicated sonic tapestry to an abstraction, a shorthand that is without problems recognizable to others familiar with the tune. I can be able to share a musical idea with other musicians the usage of the abstraction of notation. But a “song” isn’t a “tone,” and a “note” isn’t always a “sound.” It is a concept, even a powerful concept, however, once I find myself humming the song, I recognize that I have in a few manners “ate up” the song, reduced it to a subset of its conventions, deconstructed and reconstructed it for my personal functions. Music

An ambient track, and in particular, the kind of ambient track I will check with as “soundscape,” abandon or at least loosens, lots of these conventions. There is, in standard, usually no hummable melody, regularly no recurrent rhythmic pattern, and if there’s a larger “shape,” it is extra usually not anything acquainted or identifiable, even to astute musicologists-it might be absolutely idiosyncratic to the composer. Even the vocabulary of “gadgets” is fluid and too widespread to maintain in thoughts. With the great number of sounds which are electronically-generated or sourced and manipulated from discipline recordings, it’s miles rare that separable and recognizable gadgets or sounds may be recognized this is, “named.” Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century classical composers worked tough to try to erase the acquainted limitations of man or woman units, the usage of uncommon instrumental combos and extended instrumental strategies to blur sonic traces. An ambient song takes this even farther. The sound palette of ambient composers is more diverse and much less difficulty to “naming” than that of composers who use ensembles of conventional units to give their compositions. While the savant can be capable of picking out a valid supply as belonging to a specific method of technology (analog, FM, pattern manipulation, and so forth.), diffuse blending and morphing of sounds can confound even professionals.

The Irrelevance of Virtuosity

To an exceptional quantity, the virtuosity of the musician-often a vital detail in different tune genres–is replaced, inside the ambient song global, by using the skill of the composer in crafting and shaping the sound. Slow tempos are not unusual, and arpeggiators and sequencers obviate, to a huge degree, the want for ambient musicians to broaden sophisticated keyboard competencies. Complex and fast sequences may be generated that defy the abilities of even wonderful performers. While it’s miles actual that many ambient musicians do carry out in real time, most do not. Even the perception of “performance” disappears to a huge extent. Most soundscapes are recorded works; they’re no longer usually reproducible in actual time by using performers on a level. The more technical expertise of sound-generating hardware and software program is necessary, but in the end, this turns into invisible to the listener, subsumed with the aid of the sound artifact of the tune itself.

The blending of sound in the studio permits ambient composers to control and vicinity sounds freely in the stereo subject, unencumbered by any need to spatially represent a digital performing ensemble. These elements become a part of the composition, while in different musical genres, the combination–in which it may be controlled–is greater of an enhancement or unique effect than a compositional function. Some ambient composers do not even separate the mixing manner from the composition. I, for one, have a tendency to combine as I go, because the dynamics, outcomes, and site in the stereo field are all integral capabilities of my compositions.

Furniture Music

I mention those factors of an ambient song due to the fact they have got implications for how we might method the genre as listeners. I do now not need to indicate that there is simplest one narrow “manner” to pay attention ambient music. In reality, a part of the richness of the style is that its miles amenable to diverse listening techniques. In fact, one famous manner to pay attention to ambient tune is to generally forget about it. This is what I may discuss with as the environmental approach. Here, the sound is handled–within the iconic phrases of Erik Satie–as “fixtures tune.” It is performed, most in all likelihood at a completely low stage, inside the historical past, at the same time as the “listener” is going approximately his enterprise inside the environment. Musak, or “elevator tune,” turned into an early institutional-if insipid– the form of the environmental tune. In public settings, environmental music commonly has some schedule at the back of it; it may be designed to get human beings to linger in a space, or maybe to leave (classical music in department stores as a sonic “weapon” to disperse agencies of teenagers). It can be intended to calm human beings or to get them to spend more freely (the research as to the effectiveness of these approaches is inconclusive). The rave has its “kickback room,” in which over-stimulated ravers can psychically cool or calm themselves. Some hospitals are beginning to apply ambient music to create a soothing surrounding for recuperating patients.

In the house surroundings, the environmental ambient song is self-decided on and regulated. In our domestic, we have some of the recordings which can be expressly used for environmental listening. My companion prefers a CD with the sounds of rain, wind chimes and Tibetan bells. She frequently makes use of this soundscape whilst she paints. The choice of tune for this cause is critical. Her favored painting CD has no development–no start, middle, or stop. There are no interesting developments, topics, or dramatic sonic punctuations. It is without rhythm, melody, and harmony. It efficiently “freezes” (or perhaps the phrase is “frees” ) time in a perpetual present moment, and enables to create–for her– a surrounding that is particularly congenial to her art exercise. In my personal case, I use a variety of soundscapes as an environmental backdrop to my t’ai chi exercise. There is typically a chunk extra sense of rhythm and go with the flow of the sonic tapestries I will pick for this motive (this seems to facilitate the waft of the movement), however I keep away from anything with too much musical hobby for t’ai chi, as I wish to maintain my consciousness on my breath and motion.

Music for Meditation

Some people use an ambient song for meditation, and this deserves its personal discussion. Many individuals who first begin to meditate are dismayed to discover how plenty intellectual chatter or “noise” is generated by using the “monkey thoughts” that is the default waking kingdom of human consciousness. Attempts to quell the endless circulation of idea show not simplest fruitless, but even counterproductive, due to the fact they add a further layer of intellectual activity. For some humans, quiet, relaxing song soothes an overactive mind, on the equal time calming the frame and welcoming spaciousness without requiring any special technique. Admittedly, lots of what’s commercially sold as “relaxation” song are vapid and saccharin; it truly doesn’t help me loosen up. For a more discerning listener, artistic cost wishes to be a criterion for “rest” track. I’m possibly over-opinionated about this, but to me, there’s a wonderful difference between “conscious” and “mindless” music. While branch shop kiosks providing harp and seaside sounds may additionally attraction to the masses, I rarely find out a great deal substance to these sonic bonbons; there are an awful lot better alternatives to foster an ecosystem conducive to an at ease and supple mind.

Brainwave Entrainment

When searching out track for meditation, consider tempos of 60 bpm or slower, when you consider that one’s coronary heart rate has a tendency to certainly entrain to the essential pace, and a low resting pulse is appropriate to enter meditative states. Also, recollect track which uses binaural beats. These are generally created with distinction tones inside the left and right channels, and may steadily and subtly manual the brain to loosen up into the decrease frequency brainwaves, from ordinary waking focus (beta waves: 14-40 Hz), all the way down to at ease or maybe trance states (alpha waves: 7.Five – 14 Hz). At brainwaves beneath 7 Hz, you are simply drowsing. Binaural beats are primarily based on the concept of brain entrainment, the tendency of the brain to sync up with a reference frequency. Binaural programs also can result in sleep, and there may be ambient song designed for this very purpose.

Music heavy inside the low-frequency range can prompt worried or traumatic states for a few humans, so for such individuals, it may be great to pick out the tune for meditation this is richer at the mid- and high stop, or greater lightly balanced across the frequency range. For a relaxing “sound bath,” some people want to really roll off bass frequencies with the tone manage on the stereo machine. And for positive, in case you are planning on using ambient music for meditation, it must be performed at a low volume; let it combo in with the soundscape of the everyday existence-the whoosh of site visitors, the occasional canine barking, and so forth. Let it’s a detail in the soundscape instead of taking it over. This can help with the practice of mindful attention to the instant. For musicians, track for meditation may additionally truly add an detail of distraction, because the thoughts turn into concerned with musical ideas. For this purpose, I, in my opinion, do no longer use a track for meditation. I choose simply sitting in an extraordinarily quiet area and permitting something environmental sounds that can be present to occur, without (with a bit of luck) naming or decoding them.

Music for Massage and Acupuncture

Massage and acupuncture treatments can be stronger with ambient music, and here among the same the suggestions practice. I propose that you carry your personal music to these sessions, if feasible. Practitioners may also or may not percentage your taste, and there is almost not anything worse than having to listen to a few godawful drivel whilst you’re trying to loosen up. I even have compiled several blend CDs for massage, and mine usually have a form to them that helps me first settle and loosen up with something calm and diffused, then something extra rhythmic, as the massage therapist works on hassle regions, then, on the cease, a totally spacious section, in which I can completely zone-out, and permit my body experience the after-results of the rubdown. This is my non-public desire; in case you need to make your own mix for the rubdown, you must find the combination that suits you.

Immersive Listening – Headphones or Speakers?

This leaves one very last sort of listening that I’d like to speak about: deep listening, taking note of ambient tune as musical artwork form. Here, you provide immerse your self in the sound and give it your complete attention. The first query is taken into account is: headphones or audio system? There are pros and cons to each. Headphones are favored with the aid of many ambient listeners for a variety of motives. First, they isolate the music from environmental sounds, in particular, if the headphones have a noise-cancellation characteristic. Second, and likely extra importantly, they emphasize the width of the stereo subject and permit one to definitely listen panning outcomes (moving from left to right, or right to left) which can be every so often very salient capabilities of ambient music. Most ambient composers are probable to combine normally with best near-subject studio monitors, but they nearly universally test mixes very carefully with headphones for stereo placement and movement of sounds.

The maximum famous varieties of headphones are closed-cup, open cup and in-ear (earbuds). Earbuds are reasonably-priced and easy to tackle-the-cross. They are maximum usually used with iPods or other mp3 listening gadgets. Since they may be inserted without delay into the ear canal, they must be used with the severe warning, and only at low volumes, to shield the ears. Low-frequency reaction is bad and challenge to distortion. Some humans-myself covered-find them uncomfortable and cannot use them. For journey or use in waiting rooms, I pick a light, over-ear headphone.

Closed-cup headphones lessen environmental noise-in particular those with noise-cancellation. Make sure, if making a decision on noise-canceling headphones, to make certain that the characteristic honestly works. Some claims are exaggerated. Some closed-cup headphones can be uncomfortable for long listening sessions, to make sure any headphone you take into account shopping for suits you properly, isn’t always too heavy and does now not make your head sense like it is in a vise. A downside of the closed cup is that bass frequency response may be confined-with out a port to allow some compression (sound) get away, lower frequency sound production might not be adequate. It is partially inside the nature of headphones that low frequencies will no longer be nicely-represented. It surely takes a bigger cone to create lower frequency sounds, and distance for them to expand (the lowest audible frequencies are numerous toes long). One alternative approach is to use open-cup headphones in conjunction with speakers within the room-mainly if a subwoofer is to be had. This manner, the lows are picked up, each via the open ports in the headphones, and via the body.

The most immersive listening surroundings I actually have skilled was on a “sound table,” where sound vibration comes to the ears and immediately through the frame via transducers constructed into the cushioned surface. For sound healing, this can be the ultimate era. But maximum folks (consisting of myself) do not have normal get right of entry to this era.

A cheaper alternative to the sound table is to lie without problems on a couch or on cushions with bookshelf-length audio system placed a foot or two from every ear; it’s like having a couple of massive, open cup headphones! With this association, you are immersed in the sound without pressure on the top or ears from wearing headphones, and the bass is much less compromised. Experimenting with distinct configurations of the audio system, I even have found that putting the speakers barely above and in the back of the head gives a specifically appealing sound.

Recording Formats

Some listeners may additionally select a “surround sound” scheme, even though it is difficult to locate lots music specifically encoded for this layout. Surround sound has not really taken hold commercially for extreme song listening. This is unlucky, seeing that besides the supply of actual three-D sound replica, the 24-bit DVD surround format presents advanced readability and a more sensible dynamic variety. While commercial surround sound setups are popular in domestic enjoyment centers, they’re basically used for movie watching. Some song has been in particular encoded for surround systems-most of it, film rankings because they had been already encoded for surround in the first place.

But it seems that at least for the present and close to future, most listeners may be working with 16-bit stereo systems, and nearly all of the output of present-day ambient composers is formatted for this playback. The low extent level of many ambient recordings approach that the top bits of sixteen-bit recordings are frequently unused-a compromise that eliminates them from the odious “volume wars” of popular music, however additionally limits bit-resolution. Compression through MP3 encoding tends to “flatten” recordings and distort low frequencies. Listening cautiously, it is easy to regularly also pay attention warbling or different artifacts delivered by using compression. While important for streaming, I locate maximum recordings are irreparably broken whilst encoded at bit quotes beneath 320 bps. (I do desire and accept as true with that more albums turns into available in the 24-bit FLAC layout. While now not yet sensible for streaming, this format promises to deliver recordings of advanced audio great, albeit longer download instances.) Just due to the fact rock and dad listeners who download their recordings on iTunes may additionally have given up on audio fidelity would not suggest we have to! One can make the case that ambient tune, in particular, deserves the best sound feasible.

Immersive Listening – Attention and Process

As a long way from where to region one’s interest in immersive listening, the exact ambient track gives many possible inroads. If the song is drone-primarily based, there won’t probably be a good deal harmonic motion, so the ear could be more likely engaged with texture and atmosphere. Drones, regularly including either a primary tonic tone or a root and fifth blended, anchor a bit and offer a backdrop for the tension and launch of different tones, as they alternately shrink back from the drone in dissonance, or pull away to it in consonance. Melodic and rhythmic additives are both optional factors in ambient music and generally, tend to claim one’s aural interest while gift. They emphasize time over space, on account that melodic terms are like musical sentences, with a starting, middle and quit-and rhythms divide time into periodic devices. An extraordinarily melodic piece requires more sustained interest, while a merely atmospheric piece may permit the listener to vanish in and out. I love each sort of ambient tune, and while extra of my own pieces are melodic than no longer, I even have created non-melodic compositions as properly.

I’ve already alluded to the innovative use of a stereo area by using ambient composers, and as soon as the listening approach I enjoy is to visualize a spherical vicinity extending around my ears and in the front of me, in which I tune sounds as they originate and use up within this area. The skillful use of dynamics, put off and reverb and EQ permit ambient composers to create shiny 3-dimensional illusions, and as a listener, I revel in putting my interest on sound placement and motion inside the stereo field as a vital element of the composition. Besides the lateral placement of sound between proper and left channels, one can listen to the “top” of sounds within the stereo subject, as the ear places better frequencies “above” and decrease frequencies “under.” One also can word the distances of sounds, observing how a few are present and near, whilst others recede into the distance. It is likewise thrilling to observe how sounds react in an imaginary area. An ambient track is typically very heavily reverbed, the perceived field for sound frequently cavernous. Letting the ear follow a legitimate as it echoes in the digital area after which regularly fades can create a vibrant mental photo of the dimensions of the soundstage.

An ambient track is likewise rich with sounds that evolve in tone over time, using a selection of morphing and filter-controlled effects that make a person sound into its personal journey. Listening for changing harmonics in a sound, in particular, the top partials that outline a sound’s timbre, is a rewarding exercise in mindfulness of sound that reveals thrilling information in a chunk.

Ambient composers may additionally evoke any range of types of harmonic palettes in their paintings. Some nice paintings is purely tonal or triadic, even absolutely diatonic (the use of simplest seven tones of a scale), at the same time as works can also appoint extended harmonies, including distinct scales, bitonality (simultaneous sounding of harmonies in extraordinary keys), quartal concord (based totally on fourths in preference to thirds), or even entire atonality (no “domestic key,” but same participation of all twelve tones. I have heard a few very quality music the usage of trade tunings and temperaments. This is frequently a feature of tribal or international-track influenced ambient. A tuning which takes listeners out of the acquainted Western equal-tempered scales can open up fantastic sonic vistas. Listening for harmonic “spice” is a first-rate way to go into an ambient piece that can involve innovative use of tonality and tuning. It isn’t always essential to “identify” precisely what those factors are musicological. Over-intellectualization can even get within the manner of completely appreciating an ambient composition. But being aware of those opportunities, and listening for them, can open up the ear and increase one’s personal connection to a piece of tune.

The much ambient tune has a strong visible component, at least to me. It isn’t always sudden that so many ambient composers are also visual artists or as a minimum dabble in visual artwork forms-as I do. While few composers or listeners may also have real synesthesia (seeing music as coloration or shape-or colorations as musical tones), the practice of visualization at some point of the listening revel in opens up many connections between the senses and might improve the experience. Some portions have a sturdy feel of “story,” and writing or telling a story that emerges from an ambient tune listening revel in may be an exceptional manner to talk your imaginative and prescient of a bit to others. It is likewise interesting to test with listening with eyes open and closed. For me, those are very specific stories. I discover that through proscribing visible sensory enter, my listening to turns into more acute, and I am capable of a word a good deal more than I can with my eyes open. On the other hand, there are a few fantastic videos made to accompany the ambient song, well-worth exploring. Multi-media presentation may constitute one of the extra feasible venues for ambient song inside the live performance hall. Audiences might not receive in simple terms recorded tune as an “overall performance,” however the addition of visuals creates a more complete “stay” experience.

There is an exceptional range of fashion inside the genre of ambient tune, starting from New Age space song to very dark, business noise-orientated music. I try to sample as lots as I can, getting to know from and appreciating the range of this developing style. It is interesting to be part of this still-emerging format, each as a composer and a listener.