Author Topic: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"  (Read 7626 times)

False Mirror

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Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« on: February 18, 2010, 04:05:12 PM »
Hi there.

Actually I had wanted to start this topic quite a while ago, but I was afraid I could be the only one asking oneself such questions...

While doing my daily evening shopping (bread and other stuff) today I was listening to Ambient on my headphones (I think it was Max Corbacho's "Breath Stream") and once again I was realizing that most other people out there probably don't have the slightest clue about this music. So I was asking myself why Ambient isn't much more popular and this question itself developed into three different sub-questions:

1. I think one main difference is the kind of emotion the music awakens in the listener. Ambient very often takes me back to some almost lost childhood memories, especially while creating my own music. Those moments are sometimes very intensive.
Popular pop/rock/etc music most often deals with very different emotions. I think (prove me wrong) that somehow "basic emotions" are topic of almost 90% of that music - especially love, sex and so on.
Perhaps this is only a personal thing as I've never experienced such emotions and I can therefor identify myself much more with Ambient - I don't know.
What are the emotions that lead to Ambient music? Are we all some kind of psychopaths?

2. Of course the first thing that would come into mind are different musical properties, atonality, no discernible rhythm, no clear and structured arrangement. A while ago I was attending a harmonic theory class at my university in order to give myself more understanding about the harmony basics. The problem was that I almost always had to object the lecturer. He was a very conservative person (leader of some boy's choir) and somehow wanted to convince me that all musical sensing follows a common structure.
Of course this is true in some major aspects, but surely not in general (best example: quartal harmonies - many people (like my parents for example) cant' get along with them, but I love them). Then he wanted me to present some of my music. And when I did (I think it was Chronostatic Scenes) - his statement was: "This is no music!".
I suppose some people need structures they can follow - but why?

3. You probably have heard this yourself much too often when non-Ambient-listeners comment on your music:
"I can't get along with it, I would fall asleep listening to something like that."
"I don't like those long notes..."
"You should send it to some filmmaker."
"Nice movie background music, but I'd never listen to that itself."

Especially the last statement puzzles me. Does Ambient offer too little sensoric input for most people?


Maybe I'm once again thinking much too much about useless questions...

sraymar

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2010, 04:44:21 PM »
Hi, welcome to the ambient music scene. I went through a headache over this a few years back but it tends to come down to this:

1. When you remove the vocals alone you've probably lost 70% of the world right there.

2. When you remove drums and bass, or the rhythm of music you've automatically lost another 20%.

3. Now you're duking it out with classical music fans (and only a percentage of them) and film score fans. Of course quite often to reduce our chances even further we like to mess with or eliminate the structure for good measure(pardon the pun) so we get moved further to the back of the popularity line.

4. Factor in the music isn't about sex or relationships and gets little air time and pretty much only exists on internet radio and in some films, and live performances are rare..... well you get the picture.

It looks like ambient music is guaranteed an esoteric audience.

Steve
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michael sandler

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2010, 05:18:20 PM »
Hi there.

Actually I had wanted to start this topic quite a while ago, but I was afraid I could be the only one asking oneself such questions...

While doing my daily evening shopping (bread and other stuff) today I was listening to Ambient on my headphones (I think it was Max Corbacho's "Breath Stream") and once again I was realizing that most other people out there probably don't have the slightest clue about this music. So I was asking myself why Ambient isn't much more popular and this question itself developed into three different sub-questions:

1. I think one main difference is the kind of emotion the music awakens in the listener...

I have seen this. Some people get very nervous or emotional in a bad way when they hear ambient music. This music is very subtle and very evocative. It can sneak in and stir up feelings you'd rather pretend aren't there.

MikeS

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2010, 05:36:08 PM »
For some people, music is one of the things that defines their image.  We all know people who say things like, "I hate country music" or "Rap sucks" - but I can almost guarantee that they could find something in those genres that they liked.  My friends all like rock, mainly punk or alternative or rockabilly - if it doesn't have guitars, they hate it.  I once played a Morphine CD at a party, and confused them all - "Where is the guitar?  Oh god, is that a SAX?"

Ambient seems to mean "squishy new-age crystal hippy" to most people I meet; they just dismiss it without even listening.
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APK

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2010, 05:47:09 PM »
Good questions. I like questions.
And I liked Steve's initial responses. They surely go a long way to answering things.

It would perhaps be useful (as people usually can't seem to agree on a definition of ambient)
to consider a classic ambient work or two and think about why the piece is so damned good
and yet not too popular.

I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2010, 05:48:45 PM by APK »
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Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2010, 06:13:35 PM »
Maybe I'm once again thinking much too much about useless questions...

This is beautiful, poetic and the story of my life!

As to your question,

Although this topic comes up every few years I think it is one we all ponder often and struggle with. I for one often want to scream at the world...listen to this!!! Slow down!!! Take it in!!!

But alas I have no answers.
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

MarkM

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2010, 06:53:57 PM »
It doesn't matter to me whether people like ambient music or not. I love listening to it, and I love composing it; ultimately that is all that really matters.  However, I do try and expose as many people as I can to it, and often these people may not understand ambient music at first, but many do appreciate it. If they don't like it after listening, that is fine with me. Most people are uncomfortable with anything that breaks away from the crowd or sounds foreign to them. They find comfort with music that their friends like. They find comfort in sounds they can relate to: a recognizable melody, instrument, or drum beat. Yanni , John Tesh, Jefferson Starship, Styx, etc. all have a lot of fans, but there are enough to support those on the edge: Coltrane, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, etc.

Since the record industry is rapidly dissipating and broadcast radio is programming less music and more talk, ambient music has become more fragile of a genre. It will take websites like Hypnos, internet radio like stillstream.com, broadcasters like Chuck van Zyl with Stars End, and it will take live performance to keep this genre alive by exposing it to more people. And of course it will take people like us to keep purchasing ambient music in order to encourage the artists to keep creating.

Altus

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2010, 08:13:37 PM »
While doing my daily evening shopping (bread and other stuff) today I was listening to Ambient on my headphones and once again I was realizing that most other people out there probably don't have the slightest clue about this music.
I've been in the same situation where I'm shopping, and suddenly realize that if the people around me heard what I was listening to, they'd likely take a few steps back in confusion.

I've always liked the fact that ambient is such a fringe genre of music.  It makes it feel more like "my own".  It's like a secret only a few people in the world share, and I'm in on it.

Anyone else feel that way?  :)
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michael sandler

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2010, 07:38:27 AM »
While doing my daily evening shopping (bread and other stuff) today I was listening to Ambient on my headphones and once again I was realizing that most other people out there probably don't have the slightest clue about this music.
I've been in the same situation where I'm shopping, and suddenly realize that if the people around me heard what I was listening to, they'd likely take a few steps back in confusion.

I've always liked the fact that ambient is such a fringe genre of music.  It makes it feel more like "my own".  It's like a secret only a few people in the world share, and I'm in on it.

Anyone else feel that way?  :)

I do recall that the first time I heard this kind of music, it was as if aliens had come in my window. I did have a strong sense of encountering something not of this planet. (That sense was no doubt heightened by the fact that the name of the show was Star's End, but still...)

MikeS

michael sandler

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2010, 07:39:45 AM »
Good questions. I like questions.
And I liked Steve's initial responses. They surely go a long way to answering things.

It would perhaps be useful (as people usually can't seem to agree on a definition of ambient)
to consider a classic ambient work or two and think about why the piece is so damned good
and yet not too popular.

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

Structures From Silence: To slow!

MikeS

Sighthound

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2010, 08:01:08 AM »
It looks like ambient music is guaranteed an esoteric audience.

It's like a secret only a few people in the world share, and I'm in on it.


Well, cool!  I learned that I am a member of a secret group within an esoteric audience.

jkn

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2010, 10:37:55 AM »
Great thread!   I have to agree that Steve somewhat nailed it on the head.

Ignoring "ambient" for a second... I used to play in live bands around central Illinois...  three of my four main bands I played in were primarily "original" bands - we wrote the tunes, etc...   we were very popular with about oh lets say 10 people (sure sounds like an ambient audience to me!) that really loved our songs and wanted to hear them played live.   The rest of the bar wanted to hear music they knew.   Cover songs.  Most bars could've cared less if we played any originals - we got booked on our cover song list.   My last band had the most "success" for lack of a better word with the originals... we tended to play mostly our songs - and the covers we did toss in were usually off the beaten path.   We still got a few gigs before we imploded.

Ok - a bit longwinded - but point is, even though I've been in some darn good bands over the years - the majority of the bar owners and people listening didn't give a thought to why we were really playing... and only cared about how good our cover tunes were.

Back to ambient...    the huge negatives in my experience are:

* no vocals
* no hooks
* no catchy chorus
* no beats (or "weird" beats)
* songs without melody (or harmony)
* songs that take 20 minutes to "get anywhere"
* songs that don't "go anywhere" at all

I don't mind the film soundtrack references - it's the easiest way I've found to describe what I write that actually "fits" most of what I write (whether it's drifty drone or micro or minimal techno or soundscape or whatever...)



 
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2010, 11:19:50 AM »
When I read posts like this, I know I'm not alone.

My problem with rock/pop/alternative/punk/metal/country is that the newer stuff just doesn't cut it, it's nowhere near original.  Any of it.  Live is a different story.  Seeing new bands can be a very rewarding experience.  I went to Atlanta last weekend and saw Flogging Molly, Frank Turner and The Architects.  It's no wonder that out of the top 10 albums of last year, only one sold more than 2 million units, the other 9 were between 1-1.9 million.  Yet the top ten tours made quite a bit of money.  Incidentally, the two lists were comprised of entirely different artists.  The reason why I start my rant off with this statement about non-ambient music is just to show that the entire music industry is waning.  If the entire Ambient genre sold 1000 units last year, as opposed to 1010, don't feel bad.  The entire industry has been taking a much bigger beating since Y2K.

Ambient music is viewed quite differently between those of us who make it and those who just listen.  We can observe it for what it is, while others may try to find something that is either hidden, takes longer to find, or may not be there at all.  I can realize that ambient music is intended to be part of one's day, blend in with the surroundings, enhance the silence, relieve the overall stress of living.  Other music will, at times be demanding, or even damning, to the senses.  People not used to ambient music may find it demanding, or even stressful.  I remember telling people when I was handing out discs at a convention last year that "if it puts you to sleep, it's doing its job."  The statement was replied with laughter, but one person came to me the next day and thanked me.  It put him to sleep.

"Why isn't it more popular?"

Well, for one thing, we don't want it to be.  I mean, we would all like it to make us a bit more than an extra $25 a year, but let's get real.  It would suck if ambient music was tops of the pops.  I'd probably start playing in a punk band again. 

But I think the real reason is that it doesn't have a place.  I mean it does, like every where, but it wouldn't be noticed.  But then again it's not supposed to be noticed.  It's supposed to be in the background.  but but but but .... It's its own paradox.  We create music that isn't intended to be in the forefront of peoples lives, then it probably won't be in their lives at all.  Ambient music is like a beautifully fresh painted wall.  When we finish it, we are very happy.  It looks great.  The problem is that no one will notice it until we point it out.  When we do, they will appreciate it.  But the most we will get is "that's nice".

And...if you don't mind me saying it...as long as there are people out there who will contend that everything in the past three years has been @#$%, then....

A humorous thought...   My wife tells me that no one will ever notice my music until years after I'm dead.  So, now the problem for me is how do I make it so that it will be available in the 23rd century?

Last year I found that someone did a dance performance in Vermont using one of my pieces of music.  I got a e-mail today that someone in Hungary downloaded two of my tracks off CDBaby.  It's news like this that keeps me going.  It's what makes me happy.  So, I only get one person a year to listen.  It's not like I'm spending thousands on marketing.
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2010, 11:23:06 AM »
BTW, where did those four stars come from?
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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2010, 11:29:46 AM »
More posts = more stars.  We're all about quantity over quality here!   ;)
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Wayne Higgins

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #15 on: February 19, 2010, 11:40:24 AM »
whew, I knew it wasn't from the sales! :D
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False Mirror

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #16 on: February 19, 2010, 01:08:20 PM »
Some nice thoughts here and I'm glad you obviously have the same questions from time to time.

I think sraymar and jkn summarized the actual reasons for people not liking our music quite well. In conclusion we might say that most people don't like it because it's much too different from what they are used to. Hence those people probably didn't develop enough musical self-confidence to be really open to something completely new.
I think what is so obvious for most of us here simply doesn't apply to all people. Not everybody is interested that much in music, so they just didn't develop their musical horizon in a way where they are really open for something new.

I have made similar experiences like the dance performance you mentioned, Wayne Higgins.
I did create music for such performances several times. For example last summer I had a few performances in Switzerland with an experimental dancing/acting ensemble of 10 naked girls dancing/performing to my music ;D. I do also play on vernissages from time to time and the music works quite well for such places, but those people attending vernissages are probably much more open-minded to any kind of art anyway...

Btw: I also got informed that my music had been used for several BDSM performances  :o

petekelly

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2010, 01:24:05 PM »
Quote
A humorous thought...   My wife tells me that no one will ever notice my music until years after I'm dead.  So, now the problem for me is how do I make it so that it will be available in the 23rd century?

Yes Wayne,

In the 23rd century, I believe we will be looked upon as pioneers - but alas, at present, we are in the realms of the wildly esoteric :)
Saying that though, I believe ambient music will gain a larger and certainly more diverse audience over time.

cheers
Pete

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #18 on: February 19, 2010, 01:44:01 PM »
3. Now you're duking it out with classical music fans (and only a percentage of them) and film score fans. Of course quite often to reduce our chances even further we like to mess with or eliminate the structure for good measure(pardon the pun) so we get moved further to the back of the popularity line.

Steve

I actually find ambient and classical to be very compatible musics with substantial overlap in certain areas (like longer form pieces with expositions that take some time (and patience) to develop, and elements of repetition and minimalism, or ambiguous tonalities).  There's no reason for a listener to have to choose, unless you're making a desert island list. I think, though, that an ambient piece could suffer by comparison if not enough attention is paid to creating an interesting structure or form.

Forrest

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Re: Music, Emotion and "Why isn't Ambient much more popular?"
« Reply #19 on: February 19, 2010, 01:45:28 PM »
Here's my opinion on this subject:

I was never surprised that this genre wasn't ever really a large listener base because really it's music for the mind and quite frankly there aren't a lot of people who "think" outside the box with regard to music and its ability to be a "soundtrack" to your being.  Also, a lot of people are scared by the music - there's some legitimate reasons for this as much of the ambient music is arguably darker in tone and it takes sort of an adventurous mind to really appreciate it, so I can sort of understand that.  But, ultimately, I believe a lot of people have lost their spirituality these days.  I think this genre, without a doubt, conveys a sort of spiritual element that only some people will really "get".  At least for me when I create the music it is an art, it is meant for people to take in and interpret anywhere their mind takes them.  Same for when I listen to the music.

The bigger concern for me though is that there seems to be VERY few people interested now in this genre compared to 10 or 15 years ago. I shouldn't be surprised since I don't think many people are very thoughtful to begin with but what happened to those folks who were into it 10-15 years ago?

I think partly it's due to a glut of the same, shall I say, sometimes boring "drone" music and it may have turned some people off.  It did for me at times, granted we all have different tastes and that's not to say it's bad music, but there got to be a lot of redundancy.

Then you have the economy, the wars, the loss in faith in humanity, I mean, the world is really kind of in chaos and I often wonder if people who might have discovered this genre as a form of comfort or other listening pleasure just don't even consider it because the world's going to hell!

Anyway, I'm not sure if or when it will rebound but currently I believe it's become one of the least appreciated music genres ever.

J.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2010, 01:49:02 PM by Numina »