[LAU] RIP the inventor of ambient music

Paul Davis paul at linuxaudiosystems.com
Thu Dec 10 20:32:41 CET 2020

On Thu, Dec 10, 2020 at 12:04 PM Andrew A. Grathwohl <andrew at grathwohl.me>

> Yeah, yeah, I know. Once again, you reveal yourself unable to be even a
> little imaginative, elastic, or thoughtful in your responses to other
> people on the internet.

I have no idea what this is in response to, but it seems unnecessarily ad

> He said it right here in your quote, Mr. Davis.
> "This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music – as part of
> the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and sound
> of the rain were parts of the ambience.”
> A new way of *hearing* music. In a religious ritual, the gathered faithful
> practicing their _religion_ is absolutely a part of the ambience. Even as
> an atheist it is totally possible for me to comprehend that for some,
> religious ritual can occur assisted by music, and then that music can
> entirely fall out of primary sensory comprehension once reaching the
> appropriate state. Whether it is inside or outside of primary sensory focus
> is up to the individual in that space.

I wrote what I said based on multiple-days worth of listening to Eno talk,
not my own musical taste or compositional preferences. It's not by accident
that every release of Ardour is named after an Eno release. I would say
that it is you who are trying to mix in the way *you* listen to Eno-coinage
ambient as well as various religious devotional music, rather than what Eno
has actually said about it (and also what some performers of religious
devotional music have said too). Eno has been extremely clear that he saw
no connection between the way he imagined ambient music, or the way he
imagined ambient music being used, and any other form of musicking.

Now, it certainly is the case that many people who enjoy listening to
Eno-coinage ambient also enjoy many other forms of music that do not
obviously require the foreground experience that many would assume was
present for lots of other music. Gregorian chant is a good example. And I
see nothing wrong with that - I do it myself. But that's just a personal
preference, a personal approach to musicking, and has nothing to do with
how Eno saw what he was doing. It's also very disconnected from the way
that the practitioners of religious trance music have historically seen
their own practice and art form, which is intended to fully immerse the
listener and engage them with the wonders of god's creation (however they
might conceive of this).

I know two Benedictine monks, and although I know they would be humorous
and offer a wry smile if you suggested to them that their morning chanting
practice was "as ignorable as it is listenable", they would almost
certainly at some point try to correct you and make it clear how important
the words are, and how much you are intended to be overwhelmed by the form:
in short, by how you should never, ever be "ignoring" chanting.

> The Qawaal musics in Pakistan achieve the same thing for the Sufi, but
> people would not call it ambient, I suppose, due to the rhythmic and
> melodic nature of the practice.

The lyrics in Qawaali music are absolutely central to their intended
musicking. The pieces are not intended to be listened to as "pure sound".
The most famous Qawaali singer of the 20th century was extremely clear
about this. Like Gregorian chant, the music is not intended to induce a
state of disconnected trance or even just a pleasant state of mind. It is
music that sings of the glories of god, vigorously, and however
"trance-like" someone outside of the tradition may find it, there is no
sense in which this music, either, can ever be considered "ignorable" by
its composers or practitioners. Even the Sufi dancers are quite explicit
about *not* entering a "trance" state during their practice, but becoming
more focused and more clear on god's glory.

> It's clear you've never had such an experience in your life - the kind
> that the Gregorian chant people were going for. There are many ways of
> getting there, and I hope that you have access to at least one of those
> means in your lifetime.

How on earth do you know this? You know absolutely about my personal
history, least of all my listening experiences. I do not understand why you
would choose to throw in such a personal remark to what I see as a
fundamental disagreement between Eno's clearly stated take on what
"ambient" is and how the long history of religious ritual music is seen by
those involved in it.

You are, as is everyone else, entirely free to listen to whatever music you
want in whatever way you want, and to draw connections between your
experiences of listening to different kinds of music. But that doesn't mean
you can just hand-wave away the core differences between centuries of
religious ritual and the very specific idea that Eno had in a very specific
moment a few decades ago.
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