Eno had been in the rock band, Roxy Music. He had begun a fledgling rock career but was also showing an interest in exploring the quieter side of music and the use of self-generating music systems. He released a very quiet album called "Discreet Music" which was generated using a randomized process. Quite peaceful
Eno and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, struck up a collaborative relationship resulting in the two astounding works, "No Pussyfooting" (1973) and "Evening Star" (1975.) Classics of visionary music! These were using a continuum approach to music and a tape looping system to produce infinite repetitions of guitar licks and runs. (Fripp & Eno, have a 2004 release, "The Equatorial Stars," which is excellent.)
Then, I believe it was 1978, Eno released the first work in his "Ambient" series, "Music for Airports." Eno described his idea of ambient music as that which puts a "tint" in the air. I often refer to this as the "Sonic Incense" idea. This album was far more successful than anyone dreamed it would be. The following recordings in this series each was successful in its own way. The idea of ambient music was here to stay.
Eno's full career contains many twists and turns. In terms of ambience, "Thursday Afternoon" is probably his greatest work (in my opinion, of course) and "On Land" is also deeply satisfying and profound.
The early Eighties saw the emergence of a long lasting highly varied synthesis movement. In a short period of time: Steve Roach, Robert Rich, David Parsons, Michael Stearns, and Constance Demby. These artists, among many others of that time, began to explore the limits of expression in synthesis.
Steve Roach may be the consummate current exponent of Brian Eno's original dream for ambient music to provide the atmosphere of another world, what he called "fourth world music," but might be better considered, "World Ambience." Steve's long career began with a more electronic sound focussing on explorations of movement through space ("Now" and "Traveller.")He then explored pure space in his most ambient period ("Quiet Music" and "Structures from Silence;" two exquisite discs and prime choices for first timers.)
Steve Roach developed a love for the didgeridoo and the cultural and natural ambiences of the indigenous people of Australia. His 2-cd "Dreamtime Return" is a landmark in World Ambience. Following this release, Steve entered a relatively long period of dark ambient releases using the didgeridoo to convey atmospheres of the primordial shamanistic trance. This music sounds like aboriginal ancestors of eons past, chanting drumming and didging in a fire-lit cave with moving handpaintings on the walls.
This dark period culminated with "The Magnificent Void," which was an exploration in depth, so to speak.
Steve has made numerous continuum discs (that is, the entire cd is one long piece that presents an ambience which is generally the same but with constant subtle variations, "sonic incense.") He calls these "Soundworlds." "Dream Circle" is delicious and satisfying.
Lately, Steve has been into a more modern sound, with infectious, optimistic percussion tracks. His collaborations with Vir Unis, "Body Electric" "Blood Machine" (superb!) are exciting and energetic. His recent releases, "Light Fantastic" and "Core" continue to mix aspects of his previous periods. While it is near impossible to keep up with his prodigious output of 3 or 4 discs a year, you can visit his site for the latest. "Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces" (2003) is a four disc set which shows Steve operating at the height of his powers. Very reverential, supernatural and dreamy!
Michael Stearns might be thought of as the premier space music composer. "Planetary Unfolding" is superb. His many fine albums stand the test of time and lately he has been composing music influenced by the various indigenous musics of the Americas. "Sacred Sites" is great. Check out his collaboration with Steve Roach and Ron Sunsinger, "Kiva." Native American synthesis nonpareil! The recent "Within" cd is eclectic, tasty.
Robert Rich has created intriguing continuums of organic sounding music. His work is mostly in just intonation. He has lately been in a dark "glurpy" period, exploring primal goo and so forth. Early ambient efforts feature "Trances," "Drones" and the impeccable "Rainforest." His collaborations with Steve Roach, "Strata" and "Soma" blow my mind. Rich continues his sonic excellence with the recent 3cd set "Humidity," and the recent "Somnium."
David Parsons creates "sound paintings." His music is very influenced by the indigenous musics of Tibet. "Himalaya," "Yatra," "Dorje Ling" and "Parikrama" are exemplary works which give fine electronic representations of deep meditative states. His disc, "Shaman," is a wonderful fusion of modern trance synthesis with authentic ancient trance musics. The recent, "Maitreya," release is perhaps his finest since the "Himalaya" release.
Al Gromer Khan produces synthesis in the manner of music from India. "Mahogany Nights" and "Tantra Drums" are quite exotic. Sufi synthesis. I am now realizing that i have a whole bunch of ALK discs. "Sufi" is his best rhythmic work yet. "Music From An Eastern Rosegarden" is sonic perfume, indeed (some may find it too minimal, but i love it.) "Tantra Electronica" and "Kamasutra" are also FABULOUS.
Kip Mazuy has produced some of the most excellent ambient music around! Radically beautiful, engaging on repeated listening and superb production. His release, "Now Is Forever" is a classic. "Beautiful Sound" is also terrific. If you like Brian Eno's "Music For Airports," Kip Mazuy has followed this idea of simple, elegant beauty to a new level! "Ocean Euphoric," his 2003 release, surpasses all his previous work for being one completely engaging and thoroughly satisfying sonic experience. I have NEVER heard bliss states described so accurately on disc! Although a little pricey, is definitely worth it and a major contender in my mind for best visionary sound work in 2003. 2004's "Nurturance" is another fine release.
Lucia Hwong has produced excellent goddess music with a heady asian bouquet. She had two releases in the 80s, of which I highly recommend "Secret Luminescence," and then a long hiatus until "The Goddess Trilogy" of the late 90s. Of these, "Celestial Realms" is pure healing magic.
Robert Carty is simply amazing in the amount and variety of his output. This Utah composer's sound is an aggregate of some of the best touches of the greatest synthesists around, yet he brings his own style and elegance to every piece. Lately, I've been really enjoying "Himalayan Dreams," but there are so many strong albums it is hard to know what exactly to recommend. "Cloud Pull," "The Living," "Timeless" and "Tonalities" are all exciting.
Glenn Deardorff is a newcomer to dark ambient, much like Steve Roach's darker work, but his album, "Primordial Mariner" is so exemplary that I have to include him. Glenn, e-mail me and let me know what is going on.
Robert Scott Thompson has done some very credible ambient work. His influences are quite evident, here sounding like Eno, there like Roach, but overall a promising artist. "The Silent Shore" is a very satisying listen for the traditional ambient listener.
Brannan Lane has produced some very interesting ambient music of which I currently recommend "The Lost Caverns of Thera" to anyone who enjoys the dark organicism of artists like Robert Rich or Lustmord. This music has a variety of grotto-like sonic environments. Lots of dripping water and voidness. The emotions do get spooky and claustrophobic at times, but range into deep states of introspection and, at the end, elation. An audio spelunking adventure! Lane has various styles on different cds. His "Sleep Cycle," is i think his best work, accessing delta brainwave tech to create a restful environment. "Troposphere" is great for those who like drones. It is a sonic description of the layers of the earth's atmosphere.
Vir Unis is a remarkable ambient composer who has done some impressive work with Steve Roach. Their recent, "Blood Machine," disc is an extremely complex collaboration featuring subtle techno-ambient grooves under intriguing swirling textures. Their previous, "Body Electric," is similar and a good companion. Unis' solo work is quite savory, particularly "The Drift Inside," which is recommend listening for all Enophiles. Check also his on-going collaboration with James Johnson, the "Perimeter" series, which is astounding to say the least!
I should mention James Johnson here. He is a modern master of drift music and his collabs with Unis are first rate "Linger" is a solid drift outing. Go to their website and check out all the cool stuff that is there.
Vincent Clarke (of Yaz and Erasure) & Martin Ware (of Human League, Heaven 17 and the British Electric Foundation) have created an ambient recording which is nothing less than a TOTAL STOKER! "Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle" is a quintessential ambient recording which just about has it all: Radical Beauty, harmonic resonance, chakra- specific tunings, binaural sound which allows hemi-sync brainwave effects, sculpted natural sounds, and intriguing thematic contexts. Made with state-of-the-art digital processing equipment, this recording achieves a level comparable to "Music For Airports" by Eno, "Structures From Silence by Steve Roach or the first Heavenly Music Corporation disc! Connoisseur's Choice.