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Terry Hatchett introduces readers to key albums in each genre from A-Z, kicking off this issue with ‘Ambient’.

“BRIAN ENO… THE GENRE-BENDING MUSIC PIONEER AND FORMER MEMBER OF ROXY MUSIC BEGAN WHAT HE CALLED THE ‘AMBIENT’ GENRE FROM HIS HOSPITAL BED FOLLOWING A SERIOUS ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENT.”

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)

brian eno ambient 1 music for airports

Genre-bending music pioneer and former member of Roxy Music began what he called the ‘Ambient’ genre from his hospital bed following a serious road traffic accident. Using a basic synthesiser, Eno strove to replicate the effect of visual art. Ambient doesn’t require constant engagement, and often seeks to merely add background atmosphere to a room. Unlike other genres such as ‘Easy Listening’, closer attention is rewarded by the sonic intricacies of Eno’s sound. ‘Music For Airports’ may have marked the birth of Ambient, but Eno really hit his Ambient stride with ‘On Land’ and ‘Apollo’.

Boards of Canada - Trans-Canada Highway (2006)

boards of canada trans canada highway

 

A truly brilliant EP from one of the author’s favourite artists, ‘Trans-Canada Highway’ picks up the reins of the ambient movement and drives it forward in to the new millennium. Scottishborn Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison recorded the album as they trekked from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C and have managed to truly capture the journey on this low-key, 28 minute record; a brilliant point from which to commence your own journey into the ambient genre.

Global Communication - 76:14 (1994)

global communication 76 14

 

Ambient has often been disparagingly compared to ‘film music’ (a genre we will cover in a later issue) and there is no doubt that Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton’s seminal contribution to the ambient/house is heavily influenced by the work of Vangelis, and was almost certainly an influence on Cliff Martinez and John Murphy’s film scores. However, 76:14 stands alone as a slice of Heaven recorded in its own right and represents the full realisation of Ambient House as a genre in its own right.

Orb - The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991)

orb-the-orbs-adventures-beyond-the-ultraworld

 

Similar in purpose (if not in tone) to Eno’s later album ‘Music for Films’, The Orb take the listener on a simulated journey through the inward and outward space. ‘The Back Side of The Moon’ is a thinly veiled reference to one of their key influences: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’, and ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ came to embody the emergent Ambient House movement.

Biosphere - Substrata (1997)

biosphere substrata

 

As we have seen, the goal of many later ambient albums is to take the listener on a journey and give them a sense of place. Recorded 500 miles north of the arctic circle, Biosphere fuses the ambient sound and takes the listener on what many have called the most distinct and successful ‘aural odyssey ‘ of the genre.

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Vol. II (1994)

aphex twin selected ambient works vol ii

 

Expanding on Richard D. James’ first Ambient outing, Selected Ambient Works, this is a darker, stranger and harder to negotiate proposition that more than rewards the listener’s attention and perseverance. These tracks have a spookiness to them that is uniquely Aphex Twin.

The KLF - Chill Out (1991)

the klf chill out

 

A companion piece to ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ that was born out of the same recording sessions. Though the album demonstrates the immense cross-pollination between artists, influencers, and followers, it more than stands alone as a great ambient record. Compared to ‘Ultra World’, this is a more grounded journey that at times samples cows and Elvis!

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