Saturday, December 4, 2010
A Helpful Guide To Better Ambient Listening
It is not merely techno slowed down.
It is not just a bunch of sound effects records played at the same time.
It is not boring.
If the ambient music you are used to hearing is any of these things, chuck it in the garbage, because it's a waste of your time. Ambient music requires one to listen, and these elements are all shortcomings to actually listening. It is the easy way out. And that's called 'pop music.'
Like Muzak, ambient music creates an environment that you enter while listening. Notice how no other sense is necessary for this experience: no fractals to look at, no patchouli to smell, no bean bags to lie on. These are all superfluous. All you need are your ears and an active, open mind. Ambient music can get you there—minus the jet lag, minus the come down. All it requires of you is to listen.
And when you've turned off the stereo, keep listening. Ambient music is constant. Birds, wind, cars, people—a rhythm of random, natural sounds perpetually performed: the concert of life. As John Cage has said: "Music is all around us, if we only had ears." So listen, listen to your own rhythms: your heartbeat, the sub-bass rumble of your circulating blood, the music bubbling forth in your brain. Don't tune them out because you've heard it before—it's beautiful, and it's free.
Travel deeper than your surface perceptions, listen behind the sounds, around the silent spaces. Beats begin to emerge from the clutter, voices from seemingly unintelligible sounds (my first ambient experience was hearing rhythmic voices from a running dishwasher as a child). And listen actively—we have been conditioned into passive listening, an activity that requires virtually no action. Ambient music can help you fly, but you still have to flap your arms. How hard you flap only depends on how high you want to go.
Adam Douglas, Redwood City, 1993
at 6:50 PM