This piece is a little ‘darker’ than I have produced recently and when I was listening to this MP3 version and cursing how this compression wipes out all the nuance and subtleties of the work (a curse of the electronic age we live in), it brought to mind the notion of genre. We (society) love to pin signs on everything in some weird notion that labels make a thing special and brings recognition and acceptance, therefore it must be good because it is blah blah. I am no better in playing this game as I have ‘tagged’ this as dark ambient. This made me thing about the origins of music and constructed sound. Original music and organized sound was ambient, and most of it was dark.
Ambient and dark ambient music has been around for a long time even if it wasn’t, hasn’t been labeled as such. Todays’ society likes to attached badges and labels to everyone and everything. New names are part of the advertising and the promotional and exploitive world we now find ourselves trapped in. Dark ambient, and ambient music in general was around as sound and music long before Eno coined the phrase. The current version of what is now regarded as ambient and dark ambient probably began the 1970s, with the introduction of newer, smaller, and more affordable effects units, synthesizer and sampling technology. An important early precursor of the genre was Tangerine Dream’s early double-album Zeit (1972), which ignores conventional musical protocols such as rhythm and a definable melody in favor of “darkly” sinuous, occasionally disturbing sonics.
In the 1980s a new ‘label’ became popular to differentiate the early experiments into ambient and dark ambient music and preferred to call itself Ambient industrial forming a so called new genre of post-industrial music that features foreboding, ominous, or discordant overtones. In reality it was nothing new, just a sign that ambient music was/is still very much evolving. Its roots was/is heavily inspired by elements of the 70’s ambient music pioneers. The term was coined in the early 1990s by Roger Karmanik to describe the music of Raison d’être and is strongly associated with the Cold Meat Industry record label. You guessed it, another marketing ploy and a heads up that ‘we’ are different from ‘them’. To me it is all music and music is just organized sound or sound in contest. I don’t care for labels and genre, but I understand their necessity sometimes. Makes no difference to me what you call it. It is either good or bad or indifferent no matter the type, style or genre of art or music.
Products of the 80’s like Lustmord, Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France, and Lilith evolved out of industrial music and were some of the earliest artists to create consistently dark ambient music. These artists make use of industrial principles such as noise and shock tactics, but mould these elements with more subtlety and finesse in a more ‘musical’ way than those who chose to completely ignore standard musical convention. Of the many musicians and arts who produce dark ambient seem quite eclectic in their output, with much of their work falling outside of ambient industrial. Dark ambient has vibrated also into contemporary classical music. The example can be some solo works of composer Vladimír Hirsch, his project Aghiatrias or composer Jessie Martin. My favourite ambient artist has to be the ambient genius Robert Rich whose work crosses all genres of ambient and in my opinion has consistantly produced the highest quality of them all.
Ambient music and dark ambient are not really that mush different from each other. Both carry the same qualities are often hard to tell apart. The difference for me is that dark ambient places more emphasis on evolving dissonant harmonies of drones and resonances. There is an over-riding edge to the sound that is not always present in ‘ambient’. Dark ambient always contains low frequency rumbles and machine noises, sometimes supplemented by various gongs, percussive rhythms, distorted voices and other found sounds, often processed to the point where the original sample cannot be recognized. All good fun and dark ambient does allow plenty of room to play and experiment with making new sounds. Generally the music tends to evoke a feeling of solitude, melancholy, confinement, and isolation. However, while the theme in the music tends to be “dark” in nature, some the better artists (in my opinion and taste) create more organic soundscapes. Again, Robert Rich stands out but look for the work of Oöphoi, Alio Die,Mathias Grassow, Tau Ceti, and Klaus Wiese amongst lots of others. The Symphonies of the Planets series, is an interesting collection of works by NASA and Brain/Mind Research in which planetary electromagnetic waves are captured by the Voyager unmanned space probes and converted into audible sound. Anything is possible.