Don’t call it a comeback. Ambient music – in the sense of immersive, long-form, abstracted, spacious sound designed to absorb passively or drift away into – has been with us for a very long time. Going right back to before electronic or amplified music, and running right through the best of the avant-garde, it’s always been something that musicians of all stripes tend to gravitate to as a way of cutting loose, escaping enforced structures, or just relaxing.
There’s no question, though, that it’s been having a bit of a moment lately, with influences from everything from grime to post-rock, classical to doom-drone blurring into a more generalised spaciousness. Today’s Local Action broadcast with Deadboy, Yamaneko, Mokona and Tom Lea is just one example of how much fun there is to have with textural head music, and this recorded discussion goes deeper into the whys and wherefores.
Mixmaster Morris‘s t-shirt slogan of the early 1990s – “I Think Therefore I’m Ambient” – sums up a surprising amount. Like so much of the music played in the chillout rooms of the time, it’s deeply silly, but kind of deep too, and sums up the fact that ambient is the music that does let you think. Not in the sense that it demands dour intellectual engagement, but in that it simply gives space for the mind to roam.
At the recent LEAF (London Electronic Arts Festival) at Tobacco Dock, just a couple of minutes up the road from the Boiler Room offices, I gathered together a panel to discuss the past, present and future of this music. This included Morris himself, space-grime pioneer and Local Action affiliate Mr Mitch, multi-faceted experimentalist Mica Levy (aka Micachu), and ambient party promoter, installation artist and WARP-signed musician Mira Calix. The first voice you hear in this recording is LEAF organiser (and no stranger to the chillout room) Rob Da Bank, then for 45 minutes the panel goes in deep on what it is to be ambient.
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