Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger / Unsplash

Music has a way of directly affecting our feelings; listening to upbeat, fast songs could make you feel happy and energetic, while listening to melancholic, quiet songs would make you feel contemplative and somber.

What if the music you were listening to went beyond that, changing the entire environment around you? The change itself would be subtle or “…as ignorable as it is interesting.” That’s how musician and visual artist, Brian Eno describes ambient music in the linear notes of his album Ambient 1: Music for Airports.

Beginnings of Ambient Music

In 1978, Brian Eno pioneered the term ambient music with Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Ambient music can be characterized as instrumental, atmospheric songs that lack a defined structure. Although ambient or meditative music had existing before the album’s release, Eno’s work was the first to be labeled under the category of ambient music.

Eno’s album was created by arranging tape loops of various lengths into 4 compositions, and was intended to diffuse the tense and hectic atmosphere of airports. Eno came to develop his interpretation of ambient music through an accident that left him immobilized in bed. His friend brought him an album of harp music, but left the volume so low to where he could only discern the loudest moments in the compositions.

Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports was first released in 1978. / Flickr

The faint sounds blurred with the sound of rain from the window, leaving him immersed in a gentle, musical experience. This led him to see music as a tint or layer of fog that would exist simultaneously in an everyday moment.

Eno continued to experiment with “infinitely” looping compositions which eventually helped popularize generative music. Breaking away from more structured music, generative music brought an element of chance into a composition. Technology became a key tool in producing randomized music as Eno collaborated with developers on the SSEYO’s Koan Pro, the first music generation system in 1995.

The element of chance gives room for experimentation even today. Modern music production software like Raspberry Pi or Ableton Live help create endless possibilities for varied, sonic creations.

Create Your Own Ambient Music Track

You can recreate your own version of Eno’s compositions with Ableton Live.

Start by loading some MIDI or Audio clips into your timeline while you are in Arrangement View.

Take the end of the clip and drag it outwards to loop the track to any length you desire. The tracks themselves do not have to line up, which helps to bring out more spontaneous, chance compositions.

To add some more variation to your composition, you can adjust different parameters within each track. Those parameters can include track volume, reverb, or any other MIDI and Audio Effects. Click on the red line to create a node, or hold down the Option Key while in Draw Mode for more free-form adjustment.

Reversing your track (reverse or inverse options found under the Notes window on the bottom left), shifting the pitch (Pitch can be found under MIDI Effects), or changing melodies can be other ways to add variations into a song.

You can also arrange chance compositions within the Session View through Follow Actions, which can be found here.

Eno’s Music for Airports has actually been played inside airports from New York to London, making life imitate art, or maybe it’s the other way around?

Want to build a foundation in sound production techniques and learn to add depth in your musical compositions? Enroll in the course Loop: Repetition and Variation in Music below:

Loop: Repetition and Variation in Music

University College Cork, Ireland