Saturday, April 5, 2008
Can somebody please direct me to the chill out room?
I’ve recently found myself listening to a lot of ambient music. It’s something I’ve long had a soft spot for; now that I think about it, it actually predates my interest in dance music.
When I’m in the mood for ambient music, I’m usually not in the mood to play DJ. I don’t want to dig through CDs, vinyl, and MP3 files; I’d much rather someone else do that for me (preferably while I lounge about in a beanbag). As a consequence I’ve been searching about online for mixes of ambient material, but I’ve come up almost empty-handed.
As well as making me a little annoyed, this has gotten me thinking about the relationship between ambient and dance music. Once upon a time they held hands quite comfortably. Remember the days of the chill out room? It used to be de rigueur for parties to have a side room dedicated to relaxing soundscapes. Now they’re gone.
In a recent interview over at the Mutek site, Stefan Betke (better known to you and I as Pole) said something very similar as he lamented the lack of diversity in electronic music.
“For me, the electronic music scene and how it was ten years ago there was a lot of diverse places and different things. Even in the same club you had a main room and an ambient floor where you heard something totally weird, and I have no idea why this isn’t existing anymore.”
The man has a point. Remember when dance labels and producers released ambient records? Remember Mille Plateaux releasing ambient albums by Wolfgang Voigt (the sublime Gas releases, which set the blueprint for the Kompakt Pop Ambient sound), Robert Babicz, Donnacha Costello? (“Together Is The New Alone” still ranks as one of my favourite albums … I could listen to “Dry Retch” on repeat endlessly.) Remember Richie Hawtin teaming up with Pete Namlook for the From Within albums?
Looking back, it appears that the relationship between ambient and dance music was largely a 90s thing, with a slight carry-over into the early 2000s. Today, Kompakt is one of the few dance labels that still flies an ambient flag. For the most part, ambient has become somewhat distanced from dance music, with such music mostly appearing on ambient-only labels, or on "home listening electronica" labels such as Type, Leaf, and City Centre Offices.
Why did ambient and dance music fall out of love with each other? Why are there so few ambient mixes to be found online? What happened to the chill out rooms?
In honour of the chill out rooms of yesteryear, and the first step in creating a virtual chill out room of our own, I’d like to present two ambient mixes that have caught my attention.
A little while ago I mentioned how much I was enjoying Bvdub’s productions. When I wrote that I had only just stumbled across the mixes on his site. I still haven’t listened to them all, but one that I’ve been listening to repeatedly is the final mix, “A Willing End.” A little over an hour long, it’s a gorgeous mix that starts with warm static (bringing to mind Tim Hecker), moves into some lovely sombre strings, and finishes off with some delicate piano. Overall a very warm, comforting mix.
The second is a 2006 mix by microsound artist Richard Chartier, which you can stream from the WPS1 website. Where the Bvdub mix is warm, this mix is a little colder, mostly using artists from the 12K and Raster-Noton labels, such as Fourcolor, Motion, Sogar, Taylor Deupree, and William Basinski (although he also uses artist such as Laurie Anderson, Chris Carter, Nurse With Wound, and Zoviet France). Some may find this mix a touch too eerie at times, but it’s sublime listening for those who want a hint of darkness to their ambience.
Consider this post an open call. If you know of any ambient mixes floating around that you think are particularly good, please let us know. Let’s carve out a virtual chill out room together.