Summary · Ambient music · Who invented ambient music? · The relationship between baroque and ambient music · How music is listened to today Articles

The invention of ambient music

The evolution of music listening

We are always surrounded by sounds that change from place to place, from time to time, from season to season, we are not used to paying attention to them and we mostly hear them passively.
On the contrary, a composer would like his music to be listened to actively and with maximum concentration, but there is music that is created specifically to be ignored and this, in some ways, is absolutely brilliant.

Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, to quote Brian Eno, ambient music can be listened to on many levels, it can be as interesting as it is ignorable.
But what is it like? It's a particular kind of music because it's based on the repetition of very simple cells and usually over a very long period of time, these pieces are very long, even 15 or 20 minutes. This is because one of the goals of ambient music is to enter another state of consciousness. In fact, to have a certain effect on us, it needs a long exposure. For example, the pieces on Brian Eno's album Music for Airports last on average about 13 minutes each.

Who invented ambient music?

This musical genre was theoretically invented by Brian Eno, but practically not. In fact, the concept of music serving to create an environment, an atmosphere, is actually much older. In particular, if we think of the first similar examples, we can go back to the music of Satie.
Erik Satie was one of the first to specifically write furniture music ("Musique d'ameublement"), and then there was Muzak music, or as this music genre was defined before the arrival of minimalist and ambient music. We will see how these styles are quite related to each other, at least on a cultural level.

Muzak is therefore music that we can think of as lift music, very simple, without moments of particular tension and with the aim of getting us into a mood, making us feel like we are in an environment that has, however, a certain type of characteristics.

A very interesting book that explains the idea behind this genre is Repeating Ourselves by Robert Fink..

Cover of the book "Repeating Ourselves" by Robert Fink

The relationship between baroque and ambient music

According to Brian Eno and Steve Reich, ambient music is a direct consequence of baroque music, as baroque music is based on the repetition of certain patterns, while minimalist and ambient music is also based on repetition, but focusing more on sound than on themes or polyphonic construction.
So, according to Steve Reich, this idea of repetition was already there in baroque music and has simply been actualised. Actualised because ambient and minimalist music are genres based on a new way of listening to music, a modern way.

How music is listened to today

The great revolution of the 20th century in music technology, as well as in music itself, was to have made music reproduction, in the most practical sense, accessible to everyone through media such as LPs, audiocassettes, vinyls, then CDs and digital music.

photo of a turntable and a vinyl record player

This has changed the way people listen to music so much, because it has become something increasingly simple and portable, you can do it in the car, on the train or while doing other things. The invention of headphones, for example, was a very special thing because they allow us to listen in privacy, without anyone else hearing what we are hearing, thus creating a much more personal and direct relationship with music. Just think that, not so long ago, to listen you had to go to the theatre for collective listening.

Now does all the freedom we have to listen to what we want, in whatever form and in whatever way, have consequences? Quite possibly, yes, it all leads to a kind of deterioration of music listening, but that's where ambient music comes in.

The UNESCO battle
When music started to be used in shops, which is now very common for us, UNESCO fought a battle to ban the use of classical music commercially, i.e. 'background' music. The introduction of music in these new environments brought about a total change in its role.

The ambient genre is wonderful because it gives us another point of view on music, giving us the possibility to be persuaded, to feel emotions, to let ourselves go or to change our mood without paying much attention to it. This is really emblematic. We think that the strength of music lies in the depth of its message, but sometimes we realise that its strength lies in the sound itself, simple and repeated for minutes on end.
It is in fact the sound itself that has the ability to change our mood, our thoughts and activate our brain as only it can.

Finally, sound is that element from which music is born.

By Stefano Vivaldini
a vase: Attic hydria with red figures of ancient musicians
The origins of music

People have always wondered about the origin of music, from Plato to Rousseau and Darwin, and many have tried to find an answer. Darwin, for example, hypothesised that music is the evolution of a natural behaviour linked to courtship, so the better a specimen can sing, the more chance it has of reproducing, but is it really that simple?

manuscript by Johann Sebastian Bach
Musical forms: how music is made

Every piece of music, whether classical or popular, is composed according to a starting structure that we call "musical form". In addition to the forms discussed below, there is the simple form called Lied, that is that of a song, in fact takes this name from the German language and is structured in two or three parts: A, A-A', AB or ABA where B does not have a development and is therefore a new section.

portrait of the german composer Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach: life and works

In the musical landscape of the late Baroque, a great composer emerged: the german Johann Sebastian Bach. Although he led a sedentary life, always including permanent assignments at courts or religious institutions, he had the ability to introduce the novelties of the changing atmosphere into his music while remaining tied to his own German tradition.