Author Topic: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson  (Read 7553 times)

deepspace

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Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« on: September 24, 2008, 04:36:52 PM »
I'm reading an academic paper by Timothy Richardson called "Brian Eno and the Music of the Spheres: The Possibility of a Postmodern Church."

It's very interesting, and while I'm still getting through it (it's quite heavy going), the basic idea is that culture has, in a way, replaced the role of God in our contemporary society.  The unquestioning reverence that we once had for God has been transferred onto Culture, and we maintain this un-tamable massive "being" (or works) by creating more works of art to feed it.  Think about how we refer to artists or artworks-  there is often a very overt conviction there: One that you could see as approaching the religious.  I can think of many times when I've referred to an artist/work as being "impossibly beautiful" or "sublime" - and I've never been a religious kind of person, so maybe that where that gets an outlet.  Think of teenagers today worshipping their musical deities. 

The paper isn't saying that religion (as in the 'transcendant being' up there in the sky) is gone, but that culture and it's works have assumed this position.  It's like we need to have something unknowable, omnipotent, and unreachable in our lives, in the face of science and the knowledge of almost everything.  We are creating mystery for ourselves.

The paper uses Brian Eno as an example of someone creating this mystery- one example is that his early works were some of the first to completely fill up an LP, spacewise, suggesting that these pieces are only previews of something larger (Steve Roach comes to mind here- and Robert Rich's preview album of his night concerts). 

I'll add some more thoughts from the paper as I get through it.  It's very, very interesting stuff.  I love thinking about why we make this music.  Ambient music I find to be one of the most fascinating genres of all:  why do we make such music?  Is it a response to our society?  What are we saying?  And why now?
« Last Edit: September 24, 2008, 04:42:34 PM by deepspace »
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michael sandler

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2008, 04:50:58 PM »
I'm reading an academic paper by Timothy Richardson called "Brian Eno and the Music of the Spheres: The Possibility of a Postmodern Church."

It's very interesting, and while I'm still getting through it (it's quite heavy going), the basic idea is that culture has, in a way, replaced the role of God in our contemporary society.  The unquestioning reverence that we once had for God has been transferred onto Culture, and we maintain this un-tamable massive "being" (or works) by creating more works of art to feed it.  Think about how we refer to artists or artworks-  there is often a very overt conviction there: One that you could see as approaching the religious.  I can think of many times when I've referred to an artist/work as being "impossibly beautiful" or "sublime" - and I've never been a religious kind of person, so maybe that where that gets an outlet.  Think of teenagers today worshipping their musical deities. 

The paper isn't saying that religion (as in the 'transcendant being' up there in the sky) is gone, but that culture and it's works have assumed this position.  It's like we need to have something unknowable, omnipotent, and unreachable in our lives, in the face of science and the knowledge of almost everything.  We are creating mystery for ourselves.

The paper uses Brian Eno as an example of someone creating this mystery- one example is that his early works were some of the first to completely fill up an LP, spacewise, suggesting that these pieces are only previews of something larger (Steve Roach comes to mind here- and Robert Rich's preview album of his night concerts). 

I'll add some more thoughts from the paper as I get through it.  It's very, very interesting stuff.  I love thinking about why we make this music.  Ambient music I find to be one of the most fascinating genres of all:  why do we make such music?  Is it a response to our society?  What are we saying?  And why now?


Is his online perhaps? Sounds, to use a word supposedly favored by Eno, interesting.

I know what you mean about needing something transcendent. I spent a brief time in a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, and that's exactly what they were looking for, something above or greater than themselves now that they had rejected the faith of their fathers. Me, I think the whole point is to get to the place where you don't need or even want this transcendent Other. Needless to say, I didn't hang around the Unitarians for long.

Mike S.

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2008, 04:52:52 PM »
I hate to have to say this, but... since the words "Church" and "Religion" and "God" appear above, I need to remind everyone to behave and stop short of heavy religious discussions. 

I'm not implying at all that I think that's where this is headed, just making extra-sure to remind everyone where we DON'T want to let this go, OK?

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deepspace

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2008, 05:51:43 PM »
Hahaha.  Good call Mike.  Having luckily not engaged in 'that' discussion (I decided to tune out so as to not get overly emotive), maybe I should have realised to add that warning myself. :)
Richardson is talking about the overall change in culture and contemporary religion over, I would say, the past 200 years, and not any specific faiths.  So please don't take it personally. :)

I'll scan the article shortly and put it up for people to read.

I really like Michael Sandler's point of: getting to the place where you don't need or even want this transcendence.  There's something there that is at the heart of why I do this as well.

Meanwhile I would like to read some in depth justifications for your art.  Why are you adding to the body of culture?  And why?
« Last Edit: September 24, 2008, 06:06:40 PM by deepspace »
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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2008, 06:20:25 PM »
Meanwhile I would like to read some in depth justifications for your art.  Why are you adding to the body of culture?  And why?

Interesting thesis.  For my own music making, I would break it down this way:  I create/make music for the pure enjoyment of it.  My decision to release any of what I create would depend on whether I feel I am saying something new.

As a listener, I prefer to hear my ambient without the programmatic content.  I haven't liked much ambient that makes it quasi-spiritual intentions too overt--it can tread that thin line into unintentional cheese.

Forrest

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2008, 06:29:33 PM »
To address Deepspaces' last post:  I think whether or not you create art, at no matter what point in your life of spiritual development, you'll still desire art.  Even Zen Buddhism, which strives for the very thing Michael Sandler was talking about, still has art in its tradition.  But that goes back to why you "do" art.  In the matter-of-fact ways of Zen and Taoism, art represents a naturalness, or return to nature.  In other words, does this artwork convey a certain directness and simplicity of expression?  That would be good art, I would assume, according to that discipline, unlike art that is confused and tortured with itself.  It's not like a negative emotion couldn't be expressed, it's the way it's expressed.  Is there zen in this painting?  It's something hard to grasp if one isn't familiar with the feeling.

 

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2008, 12:40:06 AM »
In ancient cultures, everything was multiplied. Music and art were aesthetically pleasing, codified belief and spiritual discovery, venerated ancestors' lineage, and denoted one's affiliation with family, tribe, and role in society. A piece of clothing, a weapon, or a tattoo would have these multiple functions converging on it. Ritual and pattern was a great part of life, and every act led up to awareness and survival, while also peering into the unseen world of spirits. Something like a work of calligraphy in China could be seen as an work of art, but also adorn a doorway to ward of evil and bring luck. Or Sufi's would whirl in an amazing dance, and their music, while being the height of sonic beauty, would also have a deep, vital purpose, and aid in the search for deeper reality.

In our world today, everything is shattered, carrying usually only one meaning. Thus, when watching TV, the act serves only one purpose: stupor and entertainment. I am fascinated by people, and what they do. In the past, humans must have spent a lot of time making art and music to venerate gods and placate/and or control the forces of nature. Now, when someone tells you they believe in nothing, and that the spiritual world is not real, ask them what the main activity is they do beyond work, sleep, and eating. It will be the consumption of entertainment. That, in effect, is the new religion of the masses. A great amount of time is spent, the time previously spent on spiritual pursuit (something which is now generally considered unproven or unreal) on fantasies, things that in their essence are unreal. What a paradox it is? So religion (and I'm not really comfortable using this word as a blanket to take in all forms of spirituality), the pursuit of the unreal, has been sublimated into entertainment.

But that brings us to art, and those who make it, for a variety of reasons. I know for myself, as a visual artist, it serves the purpose in me, fills the void, left by the destruction of pattern, of ritual, and of striving for something beyond a limited view of life. It fills that gap quite admirably, and if I can find others to share in it, the circle can be completed. This is probably why visual artists and musicians are so tied together, it is like a secret language being traded back and forth from room to room. To my way of thinking, in Western culture, Ambient music is one of the most effective outlets for this marriage of creativity, aesthetic beauty, and a search for the beyond, for the unseen. So strange how electronic machines can be made to evoke fantastical worlds, forgotten rituals, and transdimensional beings.

Sorry if this all sounds a bit entranced, this topic is something I think about a lot...
« Last Edit: September 25, 2008, 12:44:22 AM by 9dragons »

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2008, 05:50:44 AM »
For me the creativity goes both ways and i think that is what enabled the multi faceted aspects described by 9dragons in ancient societies. These societies lived and dreamt with those energies, co created. Ancient irish moneylenders were able to make contracts where the money was paid back in the next life. Native American dances after a hunt are still affecting the hunt that just happened.

Very few cultures are as limited and linear in their understanding of the world, time, the essence of humanity and other worlds around them as we are. Everything is in a line, everyone is trying to get to the top, individual and singular - so there is nothing bu myself and i am defined by one thing - whatever i choose that to be.

For me it's not just about me reaching out for the ineffable, the the unknown beyond my current understanding, but how the ineffable is expressed through me, even in 'ordinary' daily living. Sometimes I try to create music that I pull out of my own imagination - other times it is what my imagination is trying to pull out of me.

On a lighter note i include a post i made on another forum about electronic music. There was humurous discussion about sequences and ambience - termed here ambulance..... ::)

I use more of the ambulance than anything else. Sequences are ok but get in the way of exploring the infinite subtleties of ambulance. The ambulance artist may want to sound like some of Tangerine Dream but not all of it or all the time.

Ambulance can be created by synthesizers or by finding sounds. Sound actually occurs almost all the time and is played by the universe more often than music - of any genre. Some ambulance is a direct recreation of the sounds of the universe - a sort of shorter cover version of reality. Other ambulance is intended to create the sounds of worlds not actually in existence, like the sound of a planet urinating. In some ways this ambulance is a sonic version of david attenborough nature programmes in which we look at the world speeded up or slowed right down - nice on the eyes but not actually how things are.

Found sounds can include instruments, such as the rain on a stick, or goat hoof rattles (once the rest of the goat has been moved somewhere else). Found sounds can also be recordings made in fields (usually under the cover of darkness to avoid looking stupid) Sounds found in fields have included thunder, flying aeroplanes, whales, waterfalls, jungles and industrial factories. other found sounds include humans making as much noise as possible by throwing things like metal sheets around or even singing.

Found sounds are often treated by forcing them through a variety of effects and processes such as echo, phasing, flanging, reversing, stretching etc until the original sound can no longer be recognised - part of the fun is trying to work out how the sound was created......

Ambulance can be used for background sounds whilst be creative on something else, for meditation or just simply going to sleep. It is often admired by people who find paint drying a bit too exciting unless it is a long weekend and they have just had a nice cup of tea.

Hope that raised a smile or too ;D ;D


ffcal

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2008, 10:14:52 AM »
I think that Western audiences are so balkanized now, by technology, by distance and by genre/subgenre, that there is probably a loss of perspective that has devolved into experiencing the arts merely as a diversion or as a form of entertainment.  Our virtual communities seem like only a facsimile of the 'real' thing; we hardly resemble a closely-knit Balinese community where music is part of the daily spiritual practice and there is more a sense of the collective "we" than of the individual "I."  Maybe it has been the linear push towards championing the individual that has led us to give short shrift to searching for universalities.

Forrest

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2008, 07:22:23 PM »
I hate to have to say this, but... since the words "Church" and "Religion" and "God" appear above, I need to remind everyone to behave and stop short of heavy religious discussions. 

I'm not implying at all that I think that's where this is headed, just making extra-sure to remind everyone where we DON'T want to let this go, OK?



Hear hear. Or is it here here...

michael sandler

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2008, 08:06:01 PM »
Meanwhile I would like to read some in depth justifications for your art.  Why are you adding to the body of culture?  And why?

I make music for the same reason I listen to it: because I feel like it. It's more hedonism than religion; komposing for kicks. It's like eating lunch or taking a walk. I know that many people find the sense of transcendence we are talking about in art. And I must say, there is something special that happens when a band is "hitting it" and the chemistry is flowing. And people do get into trancelike states when in the act of creation.

But thats just biology, as far as I am concerned. Pop a Valium, have an orgasm, play a song...it's all the same. If something scrambles your synapes in a pleasurable way, you go girl. But rather than touching something transcendent, I would call it a peak experience, which is just a bodily function involving that big organ in your skull.

We all can point to a book or a piece of music or a radio show that changed our lives. I would not be who I am today had I never encountered "The Grapes of Wrath," "It's Gonna Rain," or Star's End. But suppose I hadn't. Would life be as meaningful? I think yes. Something else would fill the voids those things now occupy...maybe even all the human relationships I might have sacrified on the altar of Important Art. Admit it, anyone who is deeply committed to an art has left some relationships sometimes unattended in pursuit of that art.

And all for what?

Amusement.

Yet even now, something deep within, something untouched by reason, stirs when I hear a song I like...

Mike S.

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2008, 02:58:26 AM »
I hate to have to say this, but... since the words "Church" and "Religion" and "God" appear above, I need to remind everyone to behave and stop short of heavy religious discussions. 

I'm not implying at all that I think that's where this is headed, just making extra-sure to remind everyone where we DON'T want to let this go, OK?



Hear hear. Or is it here here...

especially with the news of a german man being arrested after travelling to England and murdering someone he had been arguing with in an internet forum.....Not sure whether to think "What are we coming to?" or admiring his dedication and passion - even if completely mad and misguided!!!!

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2008, 08:55:33 AM »
Interesting thread,

9Dragons, I really enjoyed your take on this.

...pushing this train of thought further,

I also see a parallel in that:

Art or what we call art, be it song, sculpture, painting, architecture, whatever, like societies of old, especially those with deistic leanings (everything from Roman Catholicism, native tribal culture to Judaism) as well as societies with imposed socialistic deism like many Chinese and Roman Dynasties...they all had rules or codes of conduct, which weighed heavily on Art. These rules created both a reason of intent for the art as well as a level of what was acceptable, many times down to something which we take for granted like style, color, chord choice, instrumentation and so on.

I would wager that in many instances these "rules" and the skill required to work around them led to work that is subjectively longer lasting and superior to what is being created today.

Like 9dragons implied, in many cases the work, much like the world back then carried greater meaning.

Now in our "oprahesque" society (just an example not meant to spark debate...sorry to the Oprah fans here) where anything goes, right and wrong are on an individual sliding scale and art (and religion) has become entertainment, it is all largely disposable. What (or whom) is the modern artist/musician creating for?

I have even seen this make its way into our art colleges in the US, where students used to be pushed hard to learn tradition and technique...IE rules, now students are allowed to..."BE".

While this may be arguably beneficial to their inner child, I am not necessarily sure it is so for the cause of art.

In many ways this is why the artistic arguments, safety blanket of..."I create just for myself" may be partially to blame for the throw away media of the day...again no rules, no striving and many times no passion behind the creative drive, because once you reveal your passions or your reason for being, then your art will have a measurement on which it could be judged... as well as be open to debate.

Also add to this the constantly obsolete movements of Cool, what is "in" now, won't be in 6 months, is this really long enough for any artistic movement to reach fruition?

Ok thats all that will come pouring forth for now.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2008, 10:11:52 AM »
Paul:

But the "I create for myself" ethos does not imply that there are no rules.  There are certainly many examples of "rules" in the West, from traditional harmony in classical music to "standard" chord progressions in jazz.  I think the problem you are speaking to has more to do with quality control. 

I also think that there must be a chemical reaction, like a release of endorphins, that takes place when a piece that you are working on falls into place, like a "Eureka!" moment.  It might help explain why some composers continue to plug away at new pieces, in order to experience that "feeling" again.  Aren't these composers creating "for themselves," in a way?

Forrest

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2008, 10:20:29 AM »
I would agree Forrest, thats why I never trust that reasoning from artists as their way out of criticism or a way to dodge said rules...

I would push the point that whenever any artist looks deep into their creative process and their beliefs for that matter, as I am not sure you can successfully separate the two, then they will find a set of rules and/or ideologies to which they will consciously or even sub-consciously become guided by...and that it is the art which is devoid of such principals and rules that is ultimately over the course of time...useless and forgetable.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2008, 10:24:16 AM »
ohh and on your second part, I think the "pleasure" part of creation is a most assuredly one of the reasons artists keep going and become engaged in the first place.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2008, 01:54:45 PM »
What I like about ambient music is that its an escape from conventional music, particularly rhythmless ambient. The structure is loose and often absent altogether. You don't even have to be a musician to create it, musicianship is an option!

Why do we make such music? To explore deeper levels of consciousness via sound and vague musicness in an improvised or loosely structured abstract meditative way.

It may be a response to society's music, and its definitely an escape from the stress of modern society and its stress related illnesses. Our world was once undeveloped land with primitive people(they had their stresses too), now we've built it up into this huge culture that's having a financial meltdown do to intense greed.

Steve



Ambient isn't just for technicians!

The artist isn't a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.

Don't be afraid to grow, give yourself a chance.

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #17 on: September 27, 2008, 02:37:06 PM »
I think rules are very important in many ways and we get into very subtle discussions when exploring them - we all tend to follow convention in some way or other, whether it's in our dress sense or just not hitting people because we feel like it. I remember a group of punks I was part of decrying conventional beauty, who were not happy when i suggested we had not really broken that 'rule' because none of us actually made ourselves ugly, we did not smell of piss or have rotten teeth - we had just changed the ideal of beauty and worked at embodying it

It's important to know what you are doing when you challenge or break rules, not just break them because it's easy. If you don't understand them how can you know what you are choosing to avoid. I knew a pagan animal rights group that had dispensed with the concept of 'Lord and Lady' because of their own reactions to human authority and without, it seemed, any idea of what these concepts might actually mean in the owrlds they were exploring....

I never had any drumming or muical tuition and I recognise both the limits this creates in my musical creation and the opportunites - I spent a little while drumming with a really tight samba band and learnt things that really took my drumming to a new level - gave me more form and rules around which I could improvise.

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #18 on: September 27, 2008, 05:47:49 PM »
I think rules are very important in many ways and we get into very subtle discussions when exploring them - we all tend to follow convention in some way or other.....

It's important to know what you are doing when you challenge or break rules, not just break them because it's easy. If you don't understand them how can you know what you are choosing to avoid......

When I think of convention I think of structure like verse-chorus-bridge, or verse with a refrain. Usually with a conventional sound set as well with drums, bass, guitar, standard keyboard sounds like piano, organ, GM type stuff, or their electronic equivalents with some interesting synth sounds tossed in for window dressing, vocals singing melodies with lyrics, string and horn sections.

I've never heard a refrain in ambient music, nor a verse-chorus-bridge. The sound set is usually pretty large, and include evolving sounds, many of which don't reoccur in other ambient artist's music.

A common thing for jazz musicians to do is play a verse, chorus and maybe a bridge and call that the "head", then go off and improvise for awhile, then after everbody has had their mini-solos, traded eights, etc., they'll go back into the "head" and exit. This does not occur in ambient either to my knowledge.

Some moodier symphonic music sounds ambientish to me but they are restricted to orchestral instumentation. I've tried emulating this but with electronic sounds in the mix staying abstract without repeating themes, just wandering around but still in a linear fashion. The possibilities are literally endless.

Most ambient stuff I've heard is looped, using strange sounds if not atonal. Sometimes just a simple drone, sometimes a suspended chord made up of individual notes looped and often orchestrated with a different sound for each. Sometimes it gets more involved with recurring looped phrases seperated by a few seconds of silence while other looped phrases play then wait their turn. Some go further and have multiple themes that don't recur. Garth Brooks isn't going to doing this. Anyway these are some of the methods I've noticed and there are others.

Steve






Ambient isn't just for technicians!

The artist isn't a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.

Don't be afraid to grow, give yourself a chance.

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Re: Culture=God - Article on Brian Eno by Timothy Richardson
« Reply #19 on: September 28, 2008, 04:17:35 PM »

When I think of convention I think of structure like verse-chorus-bridge, or verse with a refrain. Usually with a conventional sound set as well with drums, bass, guitar, standard keyboard sounds like piano, organ, GM type stuff, or their electronic equivalents with some interesting synth sounds tossed in for window dressing, vocals singing melodies with lyrics, string and horn sections.

I've never heard a refrain in ambient music, nor a verse-chorus-bridge. The sound set is usually pretty large, and include evolving sounds, many of which don't reoccur in other ambient artist's music.

A common thing for jazz musicians to do is play a verse, chorus and maybe a bridge and call that the "head", then go off and improvise for awhile, then after everbody has had their mini-solos, traded eights, etc., they'll go back into the "head" and exit. This does not occur in ambient either to my knowledge.

Most ambient stuff I've heard is looped, using strange sounds if not atonal. Sometimes just a simple drone, sometimes a suspended chord made up of individual notes looped and often orchestrated with a different sound for each. Sometimes it gets more involved with recurring looped phrases seperated by a few seconds of silence while other looped phrases play then wait their turn. Some go further and have multiple themes that don't recur. Garth Brooks isn't going to doing this. Anyway these are some of the methods I've noticed and there are others.

Steve


There are some awesome ideas and insights going on here.  I thought I'd add some thoughts about the perception that ambient music is different to conventional music.  Most of the insights here, I agree with, but I thought i'd add this:
I agree with Seren in that we all do follow convention in some way or another:  For example, relating to song form: Structures from Silence by Steve Roach has a clear A and B section, one being the refrain, the other clearly being the transition back to it. 1/1 by Brian Eno has a clear A/B pattern.  Very tonal, very simple, very traditional.  The innovation is elsewhere- it's in the ideology, the delivery, the non-western approach to performance and narrative.

I write ambient music with clear structures, and even god forbid, refrains, or something you might loosely call a chorus!  Harmonically, I often use a traditional tonal centre (as do most ambient artists) with relating chords/keys.  All the melodies are usually diatonic and not overly chromatic.   So what I'm saying here is that harmonically, ambient isn't usually that complex, and is more of a rebellion in terms of texture, instrumentation and concepts of duration, rather than harmony, melody and form.  One thing that I like to do within this simple framework is to overlap chords and keys.  eg.  overlapping the chords F, Bb and C.  It's a truly beautiful sound, yet has three very simple related chords at the heart of it.  I'm not a big fan of overly dissonant sounds, except when used in a sparse and concise way.  Stalker is an album where we have two artists, Lustmord and Robert Rich inhabiting that ideal beautifully.

Anyway, have to go to the beach.  I'm staying at the beach for a week.  It's truly sublime, and I've been doing the Hammock beach test (playing hammock whilst gazing at the sea) and it works amazingly.  That sounds like another topic....

« Last Edit: September 28, 2008, 04:20:34 PM by deepspace »
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