Post Ambient

i adore this Kevin Shields quote bc it mirrors quite perfectly the old theoretical battles between sculptural art and installation art. Michael Fried hated the theatricality of sculpture bc it jumps out at you - the art experience is turned into dramatic spectacle, oppositional, a theatre. installation art demands being immersed in, surrounded by, subjected to: there is infinite (atmospheric) creative exchange possible in these scenarios, after which the viewer is equipped to creatively subject themselves to just about anything, sculpture included…

the blandness and ignorability of much ambient music (your spotify slumber playlists, your ludovico einaudis) is, in kind of a funny way, theatrical in that it positions you so far from the immersive creative experience. and then perhaps a lot of the music discussed in this thread, in being more welcoming to a totalising spatial/atmospheric experience, can be said to mirror installation, which was, of course, post sculptural art!


Wholeheartedly agree, but I also wonder if ignorable was what he really meant. I feel it was a statement about existing in a liminal space between focused attention and diffuse attention. A place in your peripheral vision, a perspective that might result in a unique perception.

But alas, “ignorable” is what he actually said, and it’s why I’ve never been too keen to accept the label.

Never heard of 8D before, but I’m intrigued!

Music is absolutely functional in my life. I’d go crazy without the utility it provides. It ain’t all about art. It’s just really really cool when it is.

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This thread is great, but, to be honest, it has thrown me for a loop. When I graduated art/music school 8 years ago, I (for the most part) left behind the gnarly, crunchy, “difficult”, noisy, messy, insistent, and assertive ambient music that was, and still is, extremely prominent in academia. I was finally free to explore. I found a trove of great ambient works that sound intensional, emotional, sometimes challenging, but also sometimes blissful.

Ambient is popular now. There is a lot out there, so it is a little harder to find the gems, but personally, I find the same to be true with every genre of music I listen to these days.

Several years ago, I went on a tour of the Lagunitas brewery. Apparently at some point, there was a bit of a craft beer collapse in the US. When asked how Lagunitas survived, the tour guide explained that, at the time, many of their competitors would pull their products off the shelf if they started to become too popular. These breweries equated popularity with uncoolness, and as a result, they failed (as capitalist businesses; interpret that how you will).

I have no problem with attempting to define post-ambient, but a lot of the discussion in this thread feels like – “ambient is popular now which is lame, and it’s also easy to write which is lame; let’s do something else.”

It brings me right back to when I was an undergrad and many of my fellow composition students would say “popular music is dumb because it’s so easy to make.” I would reply “okay, write a popular album then, if it’s so easy.”

I have enjoyed much of the discussion here, and many of you are being extremely supportive. Opinions are great, but hopefully we can continue to keep the discussion constructive without dismissing anyone’s artistic practice. Hopefully that is fair to say.

Personally I would guess that the progression of ambient can more-so be defined by the seemly infinite number of other genres it has inspired, rather than imagining that there will be some sort of monolithic “post” era.


and, of course, as any anthropologist would say, the idea of linear progression and ‘pre’ and ‘post’ anything, especially in artistic terms, is by its very nature utterly reductive to the point of being silly…but it sure is fun, and if it helps to find new music that resonates (as a few of the pieces shared here have for me) then it’s all worthwhile!


On theatricality:

“The essential meaning of silence,” Cage says is not the absence of sound, but “the giving up of intention” (Conversing, 189). That is, the point of 4’33”’s silence is not that the performance should actually be silent but rather that whatever sounds there are should not be controlled by or in any way come from the composer. Hence, as with Barthes, we have on the one hand the characteristically absorptive refusal of the effort to produce an effect on the listener — no intentional sounds. And, on the other hand, we have the inevitable primacy of the listener, since whatever sounds s/he happens to hear (during the famous first performance, the “wind stirring,” “raindrops pattering on the roof,” and, in the third movement “all kinds of interesting sounds” made by the listeners themselves “as they talked or walked out” [Conversing, 65-66]) are the sounds that make up the piece. And just as this absorptive repudiation of intention involved in Barthes a repudiation also of the idea that a work could have a single or “final signified” (the “multiplicity of writing” required the refusal to “fix meaning” [Image, 147]), so in Cage the abdication of the composer’s agency is necessarily accompanied by an insistence on multiplicity: no two performances of 4’33” can ever sound the same. Indeed, no one performance will produce the same effect on its audience. When Cage hears the rain falling, it suggests to him “the love binding heaven and earth,” but he does not imagine that this response will “necessarily correspond with another’s.” “Emotion,” he says, “takes place in the person who has it.”[16] Emotion, like the punctum, is the response the artist cannot control.

4’33” can thus be understood as an exemplary case of the way in which a radicalized absorption — produced by the commitment to not impose one’s intentions on the listener/beholder/reader, to not perform for an audience — becomes indistinguishable from an account of the work of art in which it is theatricality that’s radicalized — the only thing that matters is the audience’s response. The piece consists no longer in the sounds the composer or performer produce but in the sounds, whatever they happen to be, that the listener hears. The way Cage puts this is to say that for him and other composers “who have accepted the sounds they do not intend” (Silence, 11), the tendency is toward musical performance as “theatre,” which he values because it is the art that most “resembles nature” (12) and which he imagines would in its ideal form be indistinguishable from “everyday life,” so you could then “view everyday life as theatre” (Conversing, 101); art would, in effect, become indistinguishable from nature. The artist who begins with the fiction that his work is not made for the world (not made to be seen, not made to be listened to) ends by collapsing the work into the world — it’s whatever you see, whatever you hear.

From this.


I do a weekly four hour show on Dublab called Void Filler. The idea behind the show is to promote passive listening, music that you can think, work, chat, read or do other things to. Kind of the opposite of most music today which all seems to scream for attention with all of its compression. I call it music to fill your space or spatial music. In the same way people add aesthetic visuals to a room, this is music for sonic aesthetics. The show airs Sundays from 5-9 am so it is somewhat directed to people leaving after hours clubs and does have a lot of beats, but avoids “bangers.” Somewhat like LoFi Girl, but not so genre specific. I believe this idea of spatial music is consistent with Eno’s original idea for ambient music before it got coopted by pads, reverbs and babbling brooks.


I would very much like to listen to this.

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“Lofi beats for study” or as I like to call it “Bro-Ambient”

A great take on the matter thank you!

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What about music that forces itself into the background, music which intends to find its way past the analytical mind and affect deeper parts of the brain, either through monotony or being intentionally understated?
Also, Caretaker Challenge (requires much less endurance than attending the entirety of a 24hour drone event)


I love this relation to the sculptural. Makes a lot of sense. I also really respect twenty-something Kevin Sheilds having this insight in 1990 in the context of music. Especially to the point where he said that this is what he was interested in… no judgements… just that this is what he was working on.

I always felt that Eno’s take on what ambient is was far from gospel (that doesn’t really sit right with his approach overall) and that he was indicating that there is a full spectrum of listening postures: from peaking on LSD with eyes closed level of attention to talking in a shop with it playing in the background. Maybe that’s my assumption and my take – but it really fits the music that I make and how I conceptualize things.

As for the playlists and all that lowfi beats biz: there’s always 100x more music that does nothing for me vs music that turns me on. You could spend your whole life being concerned with what’s bad and why and what’s not genre x and why. It’s always felt like a waste of time to me.

Also: I have made ambient music for my own use for most of 30 years. Hour long tracks of all sorts that are purpose built for me. For meditation, for work, for reading and winding down. It has always felt essential to my practice that I create my own audio environment. It has always felt odd to make my own music just like I want music to sound, but to relegate the audio environment that I live in to others work. For me… I feel ok about the ambient label because I use it in my own way and, making use of my understanding of what the purpose of ambient music or ambient audio is I create it for myself first.


I was thinking of this album while reading through the thread. It’s something you have to sit and “go into” imo. It’s hard to passively listen to it comfortably because of the abstract nature of the harsh sounds, length of time, the skipping irregular looping of familiar tunes in the mid point of the record throws off rhythmic listening expectations, and the conceptual intent of the record makes me feel uncomfortable after awhile (I love this project).

I’m not sure you could differentiate ambient from post-ambient through sound, technique, or utility alone. Brian Eno sounds much different from The Caretaker, atmospheric black metal, and lofi beats, but all four provide similar ambient accompaniment for many people. Post-rock appeared when someone was trying to describe Bark Psychosis’s style of rock. IDM appeared because they named the mailing list that and it stuck around. Prog rock happened when trying to describe what a subset of rock bands were doing with long form rock and roll jams. Djent happened when we were trying to describe Meshuggah and what a subset of prog-metal bands were doing. Maybe we’ll have a subset of ambient artists with a signature sound grow popular enough and accidentally get labeled post-ambient. :slight_smile:


Funnily enough I used to run two student radio shows with the exact same premise. The first was called “Asleep in the Back” - love that first Elbow album. The second was called Workscapes. You can find a few episodes of the latter on Mixcloud if you search for the title.

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I prefer the dark. The darker the better. And obviously I am for the money. The more the better.

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It seems Tim Hecker has been considering this also. From the blurb of their latest release(edit: in part) (no punches pulled):

The latest by Canadian composer Tim Hecker serves as a beacon of unease against the deluge of false positive corporate ambient currently in vogue. Whether taken as warning or promise, No Highs delivers – this is music of austerity and ambiguity, purgatorial and seasick. A jagged anti-relaxant for our medicated age, rough-hewn and undefined.


Other than maybe soundtrack work, where is this corporate ambient? The mostly non-ambient study playlist stuff is what he’s talking about?

If I were to try to identify precursors that shifted ambient things towards their current possibly-corporate state, I’d likely start with Tim Hecker’s Kranky years and the lavish NPR-fueled attention they mustered (nothing wrong with those records, just that they broadly led to something unlike his pre-Kranky records).


Some years ago during a period when I was required to read loads of music press releases every week, I considered starting a blog called Most Personal Release to Date. It would have collected for ridicule excessive, insulting, nonsensical or desperate quotes from album PRs (with bonus points for instances of the titular cliché).

I’m relieved to have realised in good time what a nasty idea it would’ve been to wallow in such petulance, and so discarded the idea; still, whenever I read PRs like this one I remember it.
I sincerely appreciate (perhaps even too much, to be honest) an oppositional perspective in creative endeavours—I think it can have vital roles in motivation, self-reflection, developing novelty. But then to have your latest release defined and described almost entirely in oppositional terms, in about the most supercilious language currently in vogue for the purpose; that’s quite distasteful. And tedious.

Not wishing to derail; I will later either edit this, adding something relevant to the main discussion, or just delete the post.


I think this is relevant to the thread as is. Marketing hyperbole is often part of the genre definition process (or whatever we call it).

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I too hope you keep it, made me laugh and I think it’s relevant. Reminds me of REM proclaiming they remained “an alternative band” despite the multi-million dollar corporate record contract they had just signed.

PR is a tough slog even under the best conditions. I can see where if you’re someone as visible in this field as Tim Hecker, running simply with “I made a piano record, I hope people like it” might actively work against your interests. The antagonistic stance is amusing, because despite appearances from within, and the premise on which this post-ambient discussion began, how popular is ambient really?

We’d have to assume we aren’t well past a post- period for ambient and decades into something else (surely after 50 years, there has been more to it than just Eno’s habit of self-mythologizing)? I guess it would have to be contingent on there being a cluster of new things that are “ambient popular” only more so? In the case of post-rock, the bands existed before, it was an exercise in reductive cleverness in journalism that gave us the label, rather than Tortoise saying to each other at band practice “hey, let’s make some post-rock!” When you’re sitting on a stack of 70s-inflected long-form jams for review, I’m sure typing avant-psych jazzmaths over and over again gets irritating.

By the time post-rock stopped being speculation on the record collections of loosely-similar bands like Slint and Bark Psychosis and started being PR code for Pitchfork Fest bands that played like GY!BE, it had already proved a bit questionable as an aesthetic concept. Which raises the question, would anyone even want to be post-ambient? Some new mot juste might serve everyone better.


20 characters of holy heck that Tim Hecker track sounds amazing on a good hifi. That promo copy sounds like a troll. lol. Could be that’s just where we are. Post meaning. Post ambient. Just feeling. Authenbiant.


There is definitely a big weird “false positive” corporate ambient world. A friend of mine signed a contract with a UMG ambient imprint. They got a large-ish advance (which obv they don’t particularly expect to recoup).

Same friend was approached by a label heavily invested in by Apple to sign a multi-album deal.

Sleep music, “meditation” music, study music. All of those things represent a shocking percentage of streaming share, and are generating middle to upper middle class incomes for lots of people.

There is a pretty large amount of SEO that happens when these artists name tracks and projects, and it pays apparently.

Weird world. I def welcome Hecker’s rebuttal personally.