Ambient Album Recommendations

Sunday, 16 October 2016

This blog post is a response to Pitchfork’s recent article presenting a list of ranked “Best Ambient Albums of All Time”. Upon its publication, a few people in my social circle were complaining about the canonization of certain albums as the top of the crop, the absence of other albums, and how that, in a sense, the numbered ranking implicitly (though probably not intentionally) delegitimizes individual variances of taste – (on the other hand, the numerous response articles published afterward are a strong indicator otherwise.) There’s also the thought that when a small set of works is enshrined into the canon of necessary works by acclimation, it calcifies the style. Perhaps no one needs look further into the genre, the fifty best gives you all you need.

At the same time some people were tangentially discussing how musical publications such as Pitchfork give no time to netlabels doing current work in the ambient genre (or in any field of musical exploration.) While there are exceptions, I think this perception is mostly correct. It seems that the non-objecthood inherent in netlabel and free-download self-releases prevent them from being seriously considered by institutionally object-oriented publications like Pitchfork. The result is that artists who are not well known, but who release their musical work physically and/or with payment required are placed on a higher tier than those who share non-object musical releases.

As for me, I have a great admiration for artists who have decided to release their work to provide for the greatest accessibility (despite your ability to pay, you may own the work,) and the least materialistic approach (one less object to hold, and later discard.) It feels to me like an important symbolic rejection of the dominant business-oriented nature of the music world, a notable anti-capitalist gesture.

Fourteen people (including myself) have decided to take a proactive approach to the problems outlined above. Each has recommended a few albums within the broad spectrum of what is called “ambient music.” They’ve provided a sentence or so of descriptive text, nothing too fancy, just enough to get a sense of the music and the reason the author enjoys the music. These aren’t presented as the “best” that the world of free music has to offer in the genre of ambient music. They are simply some albums the authors really enjoy and wanted other people to get a chance to hear. There is no album ranking to be found here.

Each of the releases described below are free, or pay-what-you-want to download. You are welcome to respond in the comments section with further recommendations, or with reactions to any of the albums listed here! Huge thanks to the participants who spent the time to recommend music. I hope these recommendations find a receptive audience. The authors of these recommendations are themselves engaged in some interesting projects, including making music and writing about music. Please take the time to follow links to find out about their work as well!

Here goes:







    The following recommendations by Marc Weidenbaum – website: disquiet.com




Stephen Vitiello revisited his Molly Berg collaborations. The original featured Berg on clarinet and vocalizations — that is, on vocal sounds, rather than lyrics — with Vitiello on guitar and an array of electronic processing. Here the source audio is whittled to a short five minutes of percussive, jittery vowels, bouncing like balls in a pixelated pachinko machine. At times it’s hard to tell where her sounds end and the featured bell-like tones begin.



The syrupy, slurpy, melty place that Danny Clay and Greg Gorlen map in intimate, elegiac detail on “marigolds i” makes for an enticing sonic cul-de-sac, a turnaround in which to get pleasingly disoriented, happily stuck. Time, genre, and technology loop back on themselves and on each other.



The dense, fluid, constantly shifting tone of the Bell Mechanical’s “Dystorphia” is sort of a drone primer. It has the expected white noise frission of something that is defined as a drone, yet were you to drop the (proverbial) needle at any random points the wide variety of sounds comprising the track would become immediately evident. It feels singular, but on repeat listens reveals multiple layers of activity: clouds and pulses and momentary signals. And it presents itself as static, and yet it has, in fact, an internal combustion that is quite active, even rapid. The track highlights numerous ways in which seeming stasis is anything but still.








    The following recommendations by Emmanuel – website: eeem.net



Deep​/​Float by Saåad


Although there are several ways to create music, I have a lot of respect for Saåad’s approach and methods used to craft the Deep/Float album.
I enjoy listening to this album with open headphones when it is windy and dawn, standing and staring at the sea. The drones blend with surrounding sounds, and this never gets old.


PROMINENCES by Tekla Mrozowicka | Marcin Cichy


I like what happens with duos and contrasts. Often, it is not entirely unexpected, and it is not the result of an overachievement; a natural alchemy just develops. PROMINENCES is a beautiful example of that phenomenon.








    The following recommendations by Gregg Skloff – website: GreggSkloff.com




As stipulated, I offer here no hierarchy of rank or “greatness” either relative or absolute. It’s simply a few freely available albums, all tagged serviceably as “ambient,” all of which I’ve gladly listened to – and/or furnished my surroundings with – dozens of times. (Full disclosure: yes, they’re all by friends of mine. I have a collaborative album with Alchymie to be issued later this year. The Alchymie album listed here, however, dates from before we met & does not involve me at all.)
Gregg Skloff
Astoria, Oregon
September 2016


Alchymie – To Begin

Minimal abstractions & improvisations alternate with subtle beats & breezy electric piano vamps. The tour of this spacecraft takes us through the control room, the observation deck, and the lounge.


The OO-Ray – Empty Orchestra

Towering landmarks of myriad form as seen through an avowedly shoegaze-inspired electric haze. “A work of stunning, heartrending beauty,” to quote myself.


Shane, Apparently – From Sleeplessness

Slow-moving banks of fog cover the midnight landscape, gradually trailing into darkness or dissipating into early morning light.











Kakurenbo – Matsuyoi No Tsuki

original: https://kakurenbo.bandcamp.com/album/matsuyoi-no-tsuki

Can’t remember how I came across this artist, but I instantly loved the beautiful melodies and soft glitchy textures. Not recommended for those who don’t like pretty music. Relaxing, without being cloying or sappy. Childlike, not childish.


You’re Terribly Late – Anywhere But Here

original: https://theghostof313.bandcamp.com/album/anywhere-but-here [no longer free]

This is a little darker than I usually like my ambient, but I enjoy the mood and attention to detail. Very visual music. “Make me A Paper Plane Again” is a track I go back to over and over.


Crisopa – Medicamentosa

original: http://www.addsensor.com/addsensor_html.htm

Some elements of electronica here, but I would mostly put it in the ambient category. Love everything about this, in particular “Algo Cián”, one of my favourite netlabel discoveries of the last few years.








    The following recommendations by Zachary Lauterbach – Twitter: @zclauterbach




Tiny Territories by SEALADDER


Power Moves Label (now known as Power Moves Library) out of Canada releases experimental music on cassette in micro editions. This particular release is much more “ambient” than their releases usually tend to be. That said, it is still of the same quality and uniqueness I have come to expect from Power Moves. This entire album is made using keyboards only. Some tracks are a little noisier. Some are more drone. Overall, I feel like this album captures a sound that, in my mind, seems ambient.


Light in the Valley by Andrew Weathers


Andrew Weathers is a prolific musician based out of Oakland, CA and is quite a mastering whiz too from what I hear. If you asked him what kind of music he makes he would probably describe it as “Real Life Rock & Roll.” This particular release, however, is more sparse and stripped down than most of his other albums. Although there might not be anything groundbreaking about this album, it’s calm and mellow beauty get to the heart of what I think about when I think of the qualities of ambient music.


Good Sun Setting by Dias Queue


Davis Salsbury makes music under two different monikers, Grand Banks (typically a duo with Tyler Magill) and Dais Queue. As Dais Queue, Salsbury explores more ambient drone territory. This particular release is among the most ambient of them. It starts off as mostly straight guitar, but as it builds its ambient qualities become more apparent.

My name is Zach Lauterbach. I don’t do anything related to music for a paycheck. It is merely a passion/hobby of mine to listen and play music. My twitter handle is @zclauterbach and there I mostly post about music and talk to others about music. I found out about this submission through Gregg Skloff’s twitter feed.







    The following recommendations by Joseph Vajda – Twitter: @vajdaij



Benge – Minimalist Work (Sustained Tone Branch)


Benge produces really pure synthesized sounds, and it’s very relaxing to listen to. His ’20 Systems’ was a top choice a few years ago, but his back catalogue is worth exploration.


Off Land – Commute


Off Land is an artist in the Boston area, working with field recordings and drones. There’s a lot of good stuff, but I liked the concept of this piece, having done a similar Boston commute before.


Various Artists – Wandering Compilation


Silent Season comes from a dub techno perspective, but they’ve also released stuff by Michael Mantra, for example. This release is a good intro to their sound.








Lucette Bourdin – Golden Sun (Earth Mantra netlabel), 2009

http://relaxedmachinery.com/earthmantra/release-detail.php?id=83

Lucette Bourdin was a French painter and ambient musician and a favourite of mine. I was blindsided in 2011 by coming across the announcement that she had passed on in February of that year. It turns out, unbeknownst to me and no doubt many others who enjoyed her music, that she took up the making of ambient music as a result of her diagnosis with breast cancer. As her site (still up) says: “Her music was especially the product of her transformation through cancer. When diagnosed she said of her desire to create music, ‘if not now, when?’.” Essentially, then, the making of this incredible music was therapy for her, but also, I speculate, born of her desire to bring as much beauty into the world as she could before the end, should that end come. All of her releases are great, but Golden Sun to me is Bourdin’s masterwork, a two-CD set (if you burned ’em) of pieces of shimmering beauty redolent of the happiest sunny day that you can remember in your life, those golden-hued memories of an idealized youth. It’s one of the best ambient music recordings ever made, from start to finish.


VACVVM – Peaceful Atom (Test Tube netlabel), 2011
http://testtube.monocromatica.com/releases/tube228.htm

Peaceful Atom is an astonishing work by an Italian musician and laptop composer named Guglielmo Cherchi, but there’s nothing Italian-sounding or feeling about this recording. As the label page says, “Peaceful Atom was intended to be a concept work about the Chernobyl disaster, and as a result of this some tracks are ideally connected to that topic.” The music on Peaceful Atom is a juxtaposition of an ever-present underlying series of clicks, pops and scraping sounds, which could easily (and was probably intended to) represent the background radiation of a poisoned landscape, with really eerie, spectral, keyboard- and guitar-generated soundscapes. What sets this album apart is its sense of purpose and its unity. This is an entire listening experience that takes you into another world, part beautiful Caucasus landscape/Soviet future dreamworld and part netherworld of sickness and radiation. The effect is quite stunning.


ALTUS – The Sidereal Cycle (“self-released” [first released on the defunct Free Floating netlabel], 2012-13)
http://altusmusic.ca/

Canadian Altus (Mike Carss) is a free-music Creative Commons hero who releases every year at least one great ambient album in various styles. What a generous guy! The Sidereal Cycle is a collection of long-form pieces based on “the temporal cycle that it takes an object to make a full orbit, relative to the stars.” With this kind of spacy topic, you can expect that the music would be drifty and floaty, and Altus doesn’t disappoint. In fact, he shows a facility for that style that he hadn’t quite demonstrated yet in his stellar career. Little-known fact, but these hour-long pieces that don’t seem to do much take a lot more doing than you might think, and not many have really mastered the art. Altus now has. Each of the four long-form pieces has a mood its own, from mournful to majestic. This massive work is definitely classic “space music” and will fit in nicely with your Steve Roach, Jonn Serrie, Micheal Stearns, Thom Brennan, etc., collection.









36 – Shadow Play (2013)


The classic 36 album would be Lithea, but I honestly enjoy listening to Shadow Play the most from their catalog. It’s bleak and ominous in the right ways and would be the ambient anthem of music for me. Also changed my perceptions of ambient as something more monstrous and menacing, ’cause the production is incredibly heavy for a 36 album.


Lost Trail & Cistern – Ten Years of Lost Memory (2013)


I like when ambient, drone, and acoustic folk, so listening to Lost Trail & Cistern brought those worlds together into this very uplifting release with some unforgettable moments tucked between its bed sheets. Definitely a must listen.


Oscob/Digital Sex – OVERGROWTH (2015)


Possibly the best ambient release of 2015 and of our current generation for me, less so for the controversy and personalities behind it (albeit could be seen as the bigger interest of this release), but I think perfects the meaning of a concept album most ambient releases wished they could boast about.









[camn001] Dr (Synchronisation-Mit-Einem-Stuck-Zitrone)




[thump313] Thuuooom (Kaiut)


Review (for two):

I like ambient music that has “different layers” of listening. These two releases are a good example of this.
You can work while listening, using it as background music.
But at the same time, you can sit on a sofa with headphones, and enjoy a rich sound. It’s a game between apparent simplicity and real complexity.








The following recommendations by Graeme Gill – website: Pilot Eleven Netlabel


Mathieu Lamontagne & Emmanuel Toledo – Belle Chemise (self-released)


Beautiful collaboration between Mathieu Lamontagne (aka Arbee based in
Canada) and Emmanuel Toledo (aka Eeem based in Finland). The project
arrived after exchanges of ideas first between Canada and Finland, then Canada and China where Emmanuel moved for a year, and finally Canada and Finland again. Each repeated listen reveals new sounds and melodies – a rich and immersive experience.


Bing Satellites – Rain (BFW Recordings)

(front cover –
http://www.bfwrecordings.com/releases/BingSatellites/Rain/front.jpg )

Manchester UK is Bing Satellites home town and I’ve heard that a lot of people outside the city think it rains there a lot. He says of this
release “it’s not a chillout album, it’s an album of urban noise, slowly churning and changing. An attempt to share the experience of living near the centre of a busy city.”


DR – Umbrella (self-released)


I love the absolute stillness of Dominic Razlaff’s work. I could have
picked almost any of his releases (free or NYP anyway) but this is his
most recent.









Dave Seidel & Alan Morse Davies – Porch, Rain, Thunder


i’m not even 100% what this is. is it just a field recording? the cover shows a circle of fifths so i presume there is something added to this field recording. either way i find new sounds and textures in it every time i listen. incredibly engaging.


Dave Seidel – Prism, Mirror, Lens


leaning more toward the drone side of ambient these 2 tracks are rich and comforting.


le berger and the ooray (as Le B’OO-Ray) – V


getting 2 birds with one stone. both le berger and the ooray make wonderful on their own and here they combine their powers for something truly spectacular. ghosts and decay and hope.









Norah Lorway – Drone Bølge (Xylem Records)


The short info says that Norah Lorway worked with field recordings from several coastal cities as source material for this and I do have a soft spot for music that is about the sea. Eventually she put together some very cinematic, poetic pieces of sound. Most Ambient drone releases tend to be pretty long but this one is different. It only lasts for about 15 minutes and I like that, always makes me want to relisten once it is over.


Cinchel – Alone in a Room Full of People (self-released)


I love live records from the Ambient/noise field and this is one I found particularly pleasant. It’s sort of loud but calm and there’s always lots of subtle stuff happening somewhere in the background. This is a beautiful album – no big concept as far as I can tell, just dense layers of sound.


Daniel Feuerriegel – The Sea was Screaming (Field Noise Records)


According to the artist himself, Daniel Feuerriegel’s music here is all about creating unusual modes of perception and personally I think it is very successful at that. This record was initially released by the Field Noise imprint from Japan, which I think is sadly not active anymore by this point – it was certainly one of my favorite netlabels, distributing free high-quality Ambient music that was both soothing and truly experimental.







    The following recommendations by Isaac Halvorson – website: hisaac.net




I realize I’m a day late for this, and understand that it may not be used because of that. I just figured I’d try to get this submission in if I could, because the artist I’ve chosen deserves much more recognition than he’s got.

My submission is “winter” by Morgan Greenwood, from Calgary, Canada. Here are some links:



I don’t know much about Morgan. A friend of mine stumbled across the album years ago, and struck up a brief conversation with him. Apparently the entire album was created using Propellerhead’s Reason, and the vocal samples in it are of a conversation Morgan had with his step-mother.

Morgan was a law student at the time this was released, and wanted to make more music, but needed to focus on his studies. We never heard from him after that brief email conversation, but he’s been posting stuff to his SoundCloud again recently, so he must be making music again.

This album is called “winter”, something Morgan being from Canada is no doubt familiar with. I grew up in rural North Dakota so am also familiar, I think it captures that winter feeling very well. It’s dark, bleak, clean, and mysterious, yet the textures and melodies are beautiful because of it. The vocal samples here at some mystery and depth. A really brilliant and beautiful piece of music that I wish more people knew about. Perhaps if he got some more recognition, he would start making music again. One can only hope.









I love giving recommendations, and I love this music, so I’m (unfairly) going to use my privilege as author of this blog post to recommend more than just two or three releases. Complaints may be filed in the comment section below.


Cinchel – Circle


I might’ve picked any number of his releases, I really am very fond of this guy’s music. This one is one of the lengthiest releases in his catalogue. It was intended to be a sound installation involving multiple tracks playing at once along with audience participation. It also works as a lovely collection of drones.


August Stars – Decline of the Industrial North


I frequently wonder why Sebastien’s music is not more well known, his work is consistently beautiful. Again, the choice of this album over others in his catalogue was arbitrary, I love a lot of his work equally. If I remember right, this was the first album I heard from August Stars. I was enamored of his previous project Still Crescent, and had to do some google searching before I found out that the same composer was responsible for this project. Very ethereal, looping drones.


Percival Pembroke – A Course in the Theory of Drones


I only discovered this album this year, thanks to a recommendation from my internet comrade, Max. This is a collection of distressed lo-fi sound loops that I can’t tell if they’re manipulated samples, or if the artist performed the sounds… and it really doesn’t matter, does it?


Hannah M.G. Shapero (Altocumulus) – My Name Is Marietta Cashman


From the dearly departed experimental music netlabel Just Not Normal this release, credited variously as by Hannah M.G. Shapero or Altocumulus is a collection of recordings from 1967 to 1970 on the Buchla 100 Modular system at Brandeis University by a teenaged girl who later grew up and continued to make ambient music. The back story & cover art to this are priceless, and the music is pretty ace. Noodly, to be sure, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that.


David Nemeth – Home Drones


As ambient music was originally conceived as “ignorable” music, this release is perhaps the most apt entry for me. It consists of site recordings of environmental sounds collected in the artist’s home, sounds which are normally ignored. When attention to the sounds is paid, the music is revealed. That turns the concept on its head a bit, rather than music to be ignored, it’s normally ignored sounds given attention and respected as musical.


Comments

  1. @vuzhmusic thanks a lot buddy, really glad you liked the album I did with @_Eeem_ – there might be even more to come!

    TrackBack by arbeemonkey | October 16, 2016 4:19 pm
  2. @vuzhmusic i’m working my way through, bought a couple so far

    TrackBack by pantsandtie | October 16, 2016 6:50 pm
  3. RT @vuzhmusic: 40 free-to-download Ambient Album Recommendations from fourteen contributors:
    https://t.co/uGY6i9bPHL

    TrackBack by DaveSeidel | October 16, 2016 7:16 pm
  4. @vuzhmusic Thanks, C! Appreciate the inclusion from @cinchel. Great list of stuff to check out (not all of which I was aware of).

    TrackBack by DaveSeidel | October 16, 2016 7:20 pm
  5. @vuzhmusic Amazing, thanks for putting this together!

    TrackBack by phirnis | October 16, 2016 9:10 pm
  6. @vuzhmusic awesome – thx!!

    TrackBack by thehipcola | October 17, 2016 3:44 am
  7. @vuzhmusic fantastic! Thanks!!

    TrackBack by bryontreece | October 17, 2016 5:08 am
  8. Pleased to be involved with this list via @vuzhmusic – a netlabel/CC ambient response to the Hipfork ambient list. https://t.co/ZMXab8vsSC

    TrackBack by GatelessGate1 | October 17, 2016 6:19 am
  9. monday reading: i picked a couple free ambient fav’s to this list https://t.co/nCV2nLAYjV tons of great stuff that i dont even know!

    TrackBack by cinchel | October 17, 2016 10:17 am
  10. @vuzhmusic thank you for compiling this list. It’s an honor to have @DominicRazlaff included in such excellent company.

    TrackBack by CerebralAudio | October 17, 2016 12:00 pm
  11. If you want a good collection of music you just follow these tips: https://t.co/pmXrCB6wad #ambient #ambientmusic

    TrackBack by computerneix | October 17, 2016 1:57 pm
  12. @vuzhmusic @BellyFullOfStar this is fab, great stuff!

    TrackBack by VersesRecords | October 17, 2016 2:59 pm
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