40 years ambient in 10 rippling, but brilliant plates

In march the ambient forty blowing out the candles. Too woolly for you? We selected ten servings of superior background music for beginners.

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Erik Satie – Gymnopédies (1888)

The Godfather of ambient, with its minimalist piano pieces the foundations upon which the Brian Eno’s of this world later eagerly to build. Of his lack of theoretical knowledge made Them his starting-point: a lot of repetition and little emphasis on melody.

His Gymnopédies are three short, atmospheric pieces, each with its own theme: pain, sorrow, and gloom. A source of inspiration for, among others, Aphex Twin, listen to the album Drukqs. The meaning of the word Gymnopédie remains uncertain, already described by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau as ‘a sound or song in which a young, female Spartans naked danced.’

Miles Davis – Get Up With It (1974)

The imagination of trumpeter and composer Miles Davis reaches too far for some jazz. Just listen to the compilation album Get Up With It, which the grand master eagerly experimenting with electronic sounds. The album contains songs from different sessions between 1970 and 1974, culminating in the immersive He Loved Her Madly. The track rubs but no less than a half hour against ambient, jazz and funk.

Edgar Froese – Epsilon In Malaysian Pale (1975)

The guitarist of the German krautrockgroep Tangerine Dream, had not more than two compositions need to be a whole album to fill. For the title track, he drew inspiration from the Malaysian jungle and he made much use of the mellotron, a keyboard instrument that popularized by The Beatles on Strawberry Fields Forever. The B-side is Maroubra Bay, an ode to the synthesizer and a place in Australia.

Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians (1978)

Who minimal says, says Steve Reich. The career of the master of the hypnotic classical music goes back to the 60’s, but reached its peak in the middle of the seventies.

The minimalist approach of Reich is both for Brian Eno as for art rocker Robert Fripp (King Crimson) a huge influence. His best known major work is probably Music For 18 Musicians, a trip of an hour that is built around a sequence of eleven chords, and at the end comes out where that started.

Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

The man who ambient popularized and a name provided, shook in his still ongoing career, some of the classical ambientplaten out of his sleeve. Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks is one of them, and also a collaboration with his brother Roger, and musician and producer Daniel Worthy.

The music was written for the documentary and Apollo which was later renamed For All Mankind. Since the film only consisted of footage of the Apollomissies to the moon was the response from the public on the lukewarm side. But Eno’s album belongs undeniably to man’s best work, with a mix of dark Under Stars, the Secret Place) and rather soft (An Ending (Ascent), Drift) electronic documents.

Also read: Brian Eno, or how an art student is the secret weapon of Bowie and U2

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Green (1986)

“A piece of music becomes real for me when it seems to become a place, when I can sort of feel what the temperature and light and colors would be.’ A quote of Brian Eno, but he still had from Hiroshi Yoshimura. The Japanese wrote albums with a certain environment in mind. The thin synths, and beautiful, simple melodies are the perfect exponent of the peaceful, plant-covered place that he Green had in mind.

Together with Midori Takada and Satoshi Ashikawa, he was one of the standard bearers of the bustling Japanese ambientcircuit, but in contrast to the pop of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, they could not break through in the overseas force. Let it be a comfort: the interest for the former Japanese scene in the last few years to a strong advance now.

The KLF – Chill Out(1990)

The third album from The KLF called Chill Out, a title very literally. The sound of the British duo stood at the basis of the ambient house, a genre that -yes – house and ambient with each other merges into a psychedelic and relaxant completely.

The album was recorded in one take 44 minutes and it is a trip full of dreamy synths, and samples of, among others, Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen. A strange combination, but it works.

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)

Aphex Twin, the alter ego of Richard D. James, has many faces. You know a man’s electronic music, most likely due to the hyperkinetic single Windowlicker, but James his beautiful, ambient-inspired albums are the real highlights of his oeuvre. Selected Ambient Works Volume II is such a classic: minimal percussion, dreamy soundscapes and a suffocating atmosphere make you almost three hours long breath.

James imitated the sound of the lucid dreams where he is during his sleep, and often ended up. He described it as ‘standing in a power station on acid’. Crazy or genius? The choice is yours.


William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops (2002 – 2003)

Blessing in disguise for William Basinski. When the American composer’s recordings from the eighties wanted to digitize it, he noticed that his old tapes systematically went. The tape loops (short pieces of tape of a tape recorder, glued to a repetitive pattern, to create) brokkelden off slowly, making the sound of it gradually declined. With result: Basinski was so impressed by the strange effect that he is a series of four Disintegration Loops released.

Basinski completed the process in the aftermath of 9/11. From his apartment in Brooklyn he shot that day, the sunset. He looked at the images the day after, and back while looking at the first finished pieces of music listened to. The meaning of z’n tapes went suddenly deeper than just music, it was a treurzang for the excited New York.

Ryuichi Sakamoto + Fennesz – Cendre (2007)

A legendary Japanese composer and a German electronics wizard, under one roof: the abstract universe of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz consists of heart-pumping piano pieces and nervous klanktapijten. A long, intense journey with a tension for you to say.

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