Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fabrication and the Mind's Eye

Assemble various elements from any number of ideas and sources, craft and refine toward an indeterminate outcome ultimately given final form.

The artist's concept of the piece determines the framework and limits of the composition; the goals are dynamic developments in the process of creating a total effect.

Matters of individuality and originality will be apparent as aspects of the work, these being consequences of independent thought.

Before the authentic creative act, vision demands insight.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Form, function, depth, content, value, purpose, permanence.

To its listeners, ambient music is an open book, yet it is not a common musical phenomena in the sense that other genres are; that is to say, it is not introduced to young people as an essential element of musical culture, it does not saturate the airwaves, and one typically discovers or takes notice of it for oneself.

With time, it enters consciousness in the way of a new language, changing one's perception of sounds and imbuing them with myriad degrees of emotional significance, heightening awareness and stimulating the imagination.

This is no slight power.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Strange Pastorals

The pastoral ideal involves removing the complicated imagination of the urban dweller to the pleasant settings of rural life and an aesthetic of simplicity in the embrace of nature and human relationships.

This is utter escapist fantasy, of course, and has been so since Egyptian scribes wrote poetry in this style, assuming the narrative voices of unsophisticated, charming people to speak of romance and leisure in small villages along the Nile.  The shepherd in the fields represents the archetype of such a life: therefore the intimate association with the style.  "New Age" music often relates to pastoral settings and is meant to aid or induce relaxation, meditation, the alleviation of stress, and so on.

In contrast, the song "Grantchester Meadows" by Roger Waters reflects a more direct perception of such a landscape-- and soundscape-- as do numerous works by Pink Floyd from around the time it was written.  It is this directness that distinguishes works reflecting the ambient mode from the generic pastoral style, as listening to a track like "Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960" by Brian Eno aptly demonstrates.

Nor is this direct, impressionistic experience of aural atmospheres limited to environments outside the urban; cities and their architectural layouts offer as many interesting and aesthetically appealing settings as fields, mountains and deserts, and imaginary landscapes, though likely more abstract, are equally fitting for treatment in the ambient manner.

The links between a transformational ambient work or sketch-- and even a purely generative one-- to the pastoral are tenuous, but notable.  The contrast is not between the complex and the simple, or the urban and the rural, but between the perceptually mundane and the elevated.  And there is no shepherd, unless it is the composer who facilitates the journey.

To the extent that the Black Mountain School albums reflect such considerations and ideas, they are successful in concept and design for listening.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sonic Field

Acuity of perception and thought rebels against obstruction and distraction.

Visual, auditory, and intellectual limits are not necessarily abhorrent in themselves, but clarity is desirable in any case as providing conditions in which such limits might be extended.  Obstruction and distraction, in cases of  blurred vision, loudness masking quiet sounds, or emotional tension overcoming thought, for example, frustrate the capacity to fully concentrate and focus on such things as complex situations and concepts. 

The design of ambient sounds to fill an environment for contemplative experience is more than a matter of volume and distance between sound source and listener; there must be tonality of a nature conducive to equable sensibility and contrasting movements, shades, tints, and textures of sound to create an atmosphere that is intrinsically interesting and has the potential to transform perceptions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Listening Beyond the Present

Consider the time prior to the existence of recorded sound.

Music was originally reproduced by instrumental performance, conforming to the symbolic written language of musical notation, as interpreted by musical groups or soloists.  Variations reflecting the diverse interpretations characteristic of different orchestras and conductors were to be expected, and these are are indeed notable in modern recordings.

Recorded audio reproduces the same performance every time, providing the interested listener opportunities to increase familiarity with the work and pursue an awareness of various aspects of the musical recording in greater detail. 

On the other hand, the more limited the style or content of the work, the more saturated the listener becomes with continued listening, and, as with pop music in particular, the greater the disposability of the sound and style, even given listeners' emotional attachments to various popular genres over several generations.

The richer the content of a recording, the greater the rewards of repeated listening.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Altered Presences

Light and sound change perpetually and subtly over the course of time.

To a very young child, the immobile beam of a streetlight is starkly different from the daylight, or the lighting of home at night, because it is fixed, and not seemingly omnipresent.  The environment of the child's neighborhood is unchanged, but rendered mysterious by the depth of shadows and the stir of moths in the clear shafts of light that cast a pool of brightness down upon the sidewalk. 

Like moonlight on the ocean, there is a plainly visible source, but the the effects created in the atmosphere-- and the imagination--  are strikingly different from those of the day.

This is the appeal of ambient lighting, of pleasing sounds encountered unexpectedly in the natural world and in the human spheres of influence, and of the tone poem or stylized ambient music composition.  These things afford a change in atmosphere, a different perspective, and altered perceptions.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Underground  minimalism.

These musical efforts have their origins in underground rock dating back to the late 1970's through the early '90's, when small music clubs proliferated in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.  Magazines like Trouser Press, Matter, and the New Music Express gave some coverage to the scene, and ultimately some bands were esteemed by music critics and grew to be popular and successful in the mainstream.  My musical interests tended toward the experimental and improvisational, as reflected in the aforementioned journals' comparisons of recordings by groups I worked with to the Doors and the Velvet Underground.  Such press coverage was minimal; the groups were insignificant, except that they provided a great deal of experience in performing and recording, expanding my awareness of both cultural and technical ideas and processes.

As to nostalgia, that would be absurd.  I do recall one evening after a long rehearsal, relaxing and listening to an album titled Evening Star by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, and becoming aware, with sudden certainty, that this music was, in terms of heightening intellectual and emotional awareness, far superior to anything possible with rock, jazz/fusion or otherwise, and that beside it rock and roll was, at best, boring. 

That moment made all that is under consideration here possible.