Friday, April 29, 2011

Robert Rich - Rainforest

Robert Rich is one of the more well known ambient artists going around (even though I always get him confused with Steve Roach, and bizarrely enough, Steve Reich), and Rainforest was his major breakthrough album and still his most famous, however unimaginative the title is. But that's 80's New Age marketing for you.

But it sounds exactly like its title; it's a rainforest! Lots of tribal drums, flutes and general jungle noises. It is interesting to note, that Rich designed the tracks around a 'natural' tuning system he created, away from the traditional Western scales. To me, it barely sounds different, but I'm not a musicologist.

Still, the more upbeat tracks are somewhat stereotypical, almost New Age. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, but I've heard it all before. It's the slower songs that are far better. Songs such as Sanctuary and The Raining Room (dedicated to brilliant Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, for the record) have more depth and resonance then their rhythmic counterparts.

But the best song on the album is also the longest; Veil of Mist, which clocks in at nearly 11 minutes. It's a fusion centrepiece of the rest of the album, slow drums, wailing saxophones, and emotive piano.

Rainforest won't win any awards for anything (other than most popular 80's ambient album outside of Enya *shudders*), but it's good enough. Not a heavyweight, and Rich would mature away from the New Age scene after this, but Rainforest is passable for what it is.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two Different Types of Ambient

In my opinion, you can split up ambient music as a whole into two different categories:

  • Pure Ambient - This is what most people think of when they hear the word 'ambient'. There are zero beats here; it's all light synths/keyboards/guitars/basses/noises. The songs just drift along, there is nothing hold them down. This is usually more of a direct attempt at evoking a feeling or a place, without the distractions of overbearing rhythms. Dark ambient and space music can also fit into this category. A good example of this is Seven Ancient Glaciers, by Aglaia.

  • Beat Ambient - A silly name, but you get the point. It's still very relaxing, but there is usually something going on that will grab your attention more, whether it be beats, vocals at the forefront, a faster tempo, whatever. This can be closely related to trance, house or folk, but still evokes something. "Chillout' is another dumb term, but I guess it fits here. A slightly more involved example of this is Cascade by Future Sound of London.

I like both different groups in different ways, and for different things. Rarely will you get a Beat Ambient song that you could sleep peacefully too, but sometimes you can get bored easily if you actually listen to a Pure Ambient song.

Welcome to Ambient Sounds!

Yes, I know, another blog from me. But this one is different.

In all honesty, there are very few relevant blogs to do with ambient music out there. Even if there is, all they usually do is provide a tracklist and a download page, useless to a concerning ambient connoisseur such as myself (and hopefully you). Ambient music doesn't generally receive much kudos, especially online, which is surprising for such a rich and varied genre.

So I'm here to try to rectify that as best I can, with ambient music reviews, ambient music book reviews, ambient music website reviews, and whatever else ambient related I can conjure up.

I'm usually pretty flexible when it comes to the question of 'what can be considered ambient?". However, I don't share the view of the otherwise brilliant book "The Ambient Century" by Mark Prendergast, where pretty much every piece of music that has any sense of space can be classified as 'ambient'. I'm sorry, Jimi Hendrix just isn't ambient. But hopefully I'll be covering things such as psybient, space music, synths, ambient house, IDM, and maybe even some illbient (what a dumb name).

So, let's get started!