Soothing, abstractThe most agreeable and typical kind; may include some unintrusive rhythms and melodies, or just nice soothing drones and atmospheric sounds.⇡
| Also features tribal ambient elements. A great album all around, and a good choice for getting into the genre.|
| Soft but not too sweet, gently rhythmic and textured, sounds like a pleasant morning. Especially if you like ambient techno.|
| Subtle and contemplative, but with many facets and details — some tracks are warm, melodic and immediate, some only reveal themselves after a few listens. Really impressive album — goes beyond the frontiers of the genre too.|
| Psychedelic yet ambiguous, with interesting shifting harmonies and percussive, almost concrète sounds.|
DreamThe digital reedition on Comatonse includes bonus versions of the first two tracks before Laswell reworked them — they hold up very well as alternative versions, and are an interesting way of hearing who did what. Bill Laswell also has the original 3-track edition available at a cheaper price. (L)
Bill Laswell & Terre Thaemlitz
| Half soothing post-rock, half trippy electronic ambient. Thanks to space_ritual for the discovery!|
| Also fits the “electronic/trippy” category.|
Everything I’ve heard by these guys (Outland, Aestrata, the Quiet Calling trilogy, North Passage under the name Nautic Depths) comes very recommended; they also have a label called El Culto which is worth looking into.
Mathias Grassow & Tomas Weiss
| Very warm, rich and beautiful, close to post-rock at times; almost too lively to be considered ambient. Try this if you find other ambient releases too uneventful.|
| Very soothing loops. Also fits the “urban atmospheres” category thanks to the interludes.|
| A collaboration between Mark Pritchard of Global Communication (see 76:14 in the electronic/spacey category, it’s a classic) and Kirsty Hawkshaw of Opus III (a trance/ambient band I also enjoy very much). Short but great, I wish they had released more.|
| Somehow straddles the gap between droney, minimal ambient and warm, rich, almost song-like ambient without stepping foot in between.|
Grapes from the Estate
| Keith Berry’s previous album, The Golden Boat, was lowercase music; here he makes a very beautiful and calm ambient album that is more accessible but still has a lot of subtlety. (Some listeners will dislike the high-pitched frequencies though!) Each track title is a paragraph of a poem by Massimo Ricci.|
Another recommended album between ambient and lowercase is The Illusion of Infinitesimal by France Jobin (1).
If you are interested in lowercase music proper, The Golden Boat is sublime.
The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish
| “The Healing Music of Rana music series developed gradually during a fifteen-year involvement with classical electronic music technique, the study of esoteric mystical traditions and personal practice of North Indian vocal music between the years 1966 to 1985. These improvisations were created in live performance while seated on the floor behind a Moog Prodigy and Micromoog synthesizer.”|
The Healing Music of Rana
| Part of DJ Olive’s “sleeping pills” project (which also includes previous albums Sleep and Buoy). The artist is known for being a major artist in the illbient scene (check out As Is by We™), but these are ambient works especially made to help listeners sleep. |
| Released on the Silent Season label, “influenced by the natural surroundings in British Columbia”.|
(See also Stillpoint by Purl below.)
| The first half is close to arctic ambient (though not quite as cold), then it gets warmer, borrowing elements from other styles depending on the track (e.g. “Lily’s Dream Fountain” is a bit new agey, “Any% Teardrop ASMR” reminds me a little of Mileece’s Formations (also on this page)).|
| Soft and mysterious. Takes some inspiration from progressive electronic, I think.|
| Literally “audible lights”; the artist created his own instruments, including one with translucent spinning discs that generates harmonic sounds from light!|
Droney, minimalThe most abstract and minimal kind — but still soothing or evocative enough to be distinct from drone.⇡
| Pure ambient drone; not austere nor truly minimal, in fact it’s sonically quite rich, but it’s really all drones and overtones — no melodic nor neoclassical elements here. One of the best I’ve heard in this style, very soothing, elegant, multifaceted. This will resonate with any feeling you might have, happy, sad or simply contemplative, as long as it’s calm and slow. |
| Stars of the Lid blend drones and melodic, neoclassical elements, often repeated, giving the music a soft, soporific effect. |
Stars of the Lid
| Featuring one of the members of Tu M’. Surprisingly minimal considering the sounds that went into it (laptop, piano, synth, electric bass), in a good way. |
| One of the only artists to feature both in my ambient list and my drone list (D). Very organic-sounding drones. Note that there are two significantly different versions:|
Hic Sunt Leones version:
1. “Winter Arc” (49:12)
2. “The Plain” (13:43)
Faraway Press version:
1. “Winter Arc” (29:56)
2. “High Water” (28:10)
(The Faraway Press version (L) is expensive but the packaging is very beautiful.)
East of the Sun
| “A poet always has too many words in his vocabulary,a painter too many colors on his palette,a musician too many notes on his keyboard.”|
— Jean Cocteau
The Monochromes project also featured videos.Don’t expect volume two to come anytime soon as Tu M’ has unfortunately disbanded, but the Triac album (left) features one ex-member.
Monochromes Vol. 1
| Formerly known as ᴷ (I guess the artist changed because it was ungooglable?).|
| “Blue.Hour explores the high contrast colors created in the landscape during “l’heure bleue,” the period of twilight each evening when there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. Directly following the ‘Golden Hour,’ know for its diffused yet powerful light, the Blue Hour retains the diffusion but lacks the strong light source giving this period of the day an especially melancholic and meditative atmosphere.”|
A very nice 21-minute EP, which is also part of a video installation (I); more soothing than the few other releases I’ve heard from the artist so far (which are also really good, closer to drone).
| Actually a drone album, but a very soothing one. Kevin Drumm’s other works cover the whole spectrum from drone to noise to rhythmic noise to lowercase to electro-acoustic etc. I’m a fan of his; very few of his releases would qualify as ambient though.|
(If you’re interested in these genres, check out my drone (D) and noise (N) lists below too!)
| A collection of concise, beautiful tracks with interesting textures, sometimes from field recordings (a bit reminiscent of Toshiya Tsunoda’s works, but layered). Some are closer to minimal drone, some to ambient.
Substrate / The Garden
A dark yet serene loop repeated for 38 minutes, giving the impression of floating in a forest maybe. No progression is needed here, though the second track (a reworking of the first) provides just a hint of it.
To Those Who Dwelt in a Land of Deep Darkness
| Two long pieces, surprisingly emotional for drone ambient; the first one is melancholic, the second more peaceful, both evoke fragility.|
| Short, serene, multifaceted, very beautiful. Thanks to Zograf for the discovery!|
| A long hypnotic/soporific ambient track, somewhere between the near-nothings of, say, Haptic (including the ambient noise) and very warm drones to lull you to sleep, with soft glitches that remind me of another kind of surface noise and a few sparse neoclassical touches.|
Do The Boats Dream of Electric Fritz Pfleumer?
Acoustic Instruments (Ambient)No electronics there, but warmer and more “natural” sounds.⇡
| Accordion, voices, trombone, digeridoo, conch, pipe... recorded in a huge empty cistern. Fantastic album.|
+ Two other ambient or drone albums recorded in a cistern: (1) Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel by Stuart Dempster; (2) Cistern by Doublends Vert.
Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis
Deep Listening (I) (1) (2)
| Soft, beautiful and just a little dark. One of the most inspired and effective “neoclassical” ambient records I’ve heard.|
| Very warm-sounding, with vocals. Could fit the “soothing” category as well.|
| The sounds here come from Aeolian harps — instruments played by the wind.
Aeolian String Ensemble
| Based on Debussy’s orchestral works. Much warmer-sounding than most of Biosphere’s other albums — I like playing this one on quiet summer nights.
| Music made entirely with metal sculpture-instruments built by the artist.|
… Actually not that soothing, it’s closer to drone in spirit and better suited for night-time listening. Maybe I should include it in the dark section instead? I’m not sure.
Anyway, click (I) to get more information about the project and (V) to watch the artist play his sculptures!
Sonambient Complete Collection
| Beautiful EP featuring field recordings (Yannick Dauby’s specialty) and Tibetan bowls.|
(Had the title been Descendre Cinq Lacs au Travers d’Une Voile, without the accent at the end, it would have been strange but grammatically correct French meaning “to sail down five lakes through a sail” or “through a veil”. With the accent, though, it’s just incorrect. Yes, that “é” bugs me.)
Alio Die & Yannick Dauby
Descendre Cinq Lacs au Travers d’une Voilé
| An audiovisual project featuring two hours of ambient and minimalist compositions, with accompanying short films for each track. It's a personal project too, as the composer documented his feelings when he was diagnosed with cancer. Which he fortunately survived — there are anxiety and dark thoughts here, but also healing and hope.|
Kasper Bjørke Quartet
The Fifty Eleven Project
Acoustic Instruments (Atmospheric)These may border on other genres than ambient and do more than simply soothe.⇡
| “[…] The composition of each single track started from the note D#, obtained from the natural pitch of a reference cymbal, and from other notes related to some acoustic percussion used in the live set (a cowbell, two vietnamese gongs). This notes were then orchestrated using several compositional and artistic choices:· a reductionist character of the sound and the dynamic’s range;· a “minimal techno” feeling of the acoustic drums’ rhythms;· the use of odd time beats (7/8 on “Parte Prima” and “Parte Quarta”) and dub (Parte Seconda);· the use of the recorded voice as an phantom element;· the use of different layers of the sound diffusion […]”|
| Beautiful spiritual/psychedelic ambient with folk elements, a bit of an early Popol Vuh or Constellation Records vibe too. These guys deserve more popularity. |
| “[…] A fever dream of blurred harmonics and ethnomusicological spelunking, Relief repeatedly returns to variations on a peculiar yet beautifully serpentine drone, whose twinkling acoustic properties meld the hallucinatory mouth-music of the Bangladeshi Murung people and the curved air hypnosis of Terry Riley. Millis bookends and interrupts his mysterious miasma with comedic interludes snatched from his lauded collection of antique 78s, maudlin piano tone-clusters, and teleported crescendos of spectral ballroom waltzes. […]” |
| Ambient/“neoclassical” or however this genre should be called.|
Verse of Birds / Véarsa Éan
| Breton pipe, hurdy-gurdy and electronics.|
Coil also have great ambient pieces on Astral Disaster and A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room among others; if you want to get into their discography, I’ve made a chart/guide (click on (C) below)!
The Remote Viewer
| Based on guitar loops, by two members of a space rock band also called Loop.|
A bit similar to Nocturnal Emissions too.
| Minimalist ambient jazz. Might be a bit of a stretch to include them in an ambient list, but they’re a really great band!|
| Very low-key, moody, sparse and intriguing music. Piano, kalimba and some discreet rhythmic loops — no drones except for the background hiss (which somehow fits and doesn’t disturb me like it often does). Interestingly, Turman was a member of the industrial project Non, though you would never tell by listening to Flux.|
Thanks to snow_over_mongolia for the discovery!
| Another drone-less album, this time with a dreamy and exotic mood; ocarina, cowbells, marimbas, harmoniums, etc. All four tracks feel quite different, one takes obvious inspiration from Steve Reich… actually this could be more of a minimalism record than an ambient one, but RYM tagged it as “ambient” and it’s really good, so whatever.|
Thanks to Paul Bilger for the discovery!
Through the Looking Glass
| One foot in beautiful acoustic melancholy, the other in more mysterious waters… and dipping just the tip of one toe in noisier, more violent territories. It’s not dark ambient, but I recommend listening to it in the dark — preferably in autumn or winter.|
Daniel W J Mackenzie
Every Time Feels Like the Last Time
Robert Rich & Markus Reuter
| A single half-hour track, featuring hurdy gurdy, vocals, bodhrán and drums; evokes traditional, even ancient music. The artist is also known for his work in metal band Amenra.|
Also exists as a live version, 10910, where the track turns into a cover of Nico's “Le petit chevalier” then into a third track named “Charon” (1).
| Inspired by traditional Mongol music and belief systems. Experimental, tense, mysterious, powerful.|
| Great “neoclassical” ambient; sounds a bit like a movie soundtrack.|
| Short, poetic and evocative, with piano and glassy, mechanical, slightly glitchy toy-like sounds.|
| Very cinematic and dramatic, has ties to industrial music (though less than on his previous album).|
Electronic, Spacey, TrippyI didn’t mean to jumble ambient techno, ambient house and Tangerine Dream together initially, but… well, I guess it just happened!⇡
| Space ambient to ambient techno. “8:07” and “5:23” are based on “Love on a Real Train” by Tangerine Dream (the fact that they didn’t credit them in the liner notes is the only thing I dislike about 76:14, the album itself is a classic).|
| By Kim Cascone. Reminiscent of psybient in spirit, with a feel-good psychedelic vibe; composed for St. Giga, a (now defunct) Japanese radio station which transmitted ambient music 24 hours a day and whose programmation was based on tidal movements.|
Heavenly Music Corporation
| FSoL really have a sound of their own — very organic-sounding IDM. Lifeforms is one of their most ambient-oriented releases (along with the Environments series), though I think their best work is the darker, tenser, more beat-oriented Dead Cities.|
The Future Sound of London
| Also check out their albums if you’re interested in techno and haven’t heard them already! Momentum and Cinemascope are fantastic.|
Gobi. The Desert EP
| Mostly cold and stripped down but with some seductive warm rhythms and melodies (a bit tribal at times), plus some sparse spoken word in French.|
Air II: Travelling Without Moving
| One of many solid psybient (ambient trance) albums released on the Ultimae label (L). I’m only including one here, but their catalogue is worth exploring — Solar Fields is very popular, I like Aes Dana (1) and Connect.Ohm (2) very much too.|
Carbon Based Lifeforms
(L) (1) (2)
| Released on Pete Namlook’s Fax +49-69/450464 label.|
| Ambient house. This one will make you feel good.|
| Berlin School. Tangerine Dream had some very good releases and some very kitsch ones — this is one of the very good ones.|
| A shame it’s only one track… But get the Starethrough EP (featuring the original track) and the Quique album if you like it!|
Seefeel / Autechre
Autechre Remix of Spangle by Seefeel
| Excellent ambient techno album that goes very progressively from austere to melodic, then back again into the depths. Nearly too beat-oriented to fit on an ambient chart, but too good to be ignored.|
Voices from the Lake
Voices from the Lake
| Ambient techno, but close to arctic ambient at times too. Somehow this music reminds me of glass (maybe this will make sense to you if you listen to it, maybe not). Released on :zoviet*france:’s Charrm label, with no information at all regarding the artist or the project.|
| Sunny, slightly psychedelic, really good ambient house by Youth (Killing Joke’s bassist) and Paul McCartney. Nice use of guitars and other acoustic instruments.|
| Ambient techno. Released on the Silent Season label, “influenced by the natural surroundings in British Columbia”.|
(See also Fervent Dream by ASC above.)
| Ambient techno / dub techno. |
Evan Marc + Steve Hillage
| The artist is also known for his lo-fi house works as Huerco S., but I much prefer this — beatless ambient techno, also “fuzzy” in the way it hides its details behind lo-fi and pads. Somewhere between waiting rooms and alien biotopes?|
Make Me Know You Sweet
A Perpetual Point in Time
| Narcotic and beautiful ambient by Uwe Schmidt (a.k.a. Atom™), reminiscent of Pete Namlook or Tetsu Inoue’s works.|
| Never mind the drab cover, this is great. 2½ hours of deep, slow, hazy modular compositions fading into each other, progressive electronic turned into ambient. Towards the end there are a few stylistic changes, like the couple of breaks and dissonances on “Pinnacle” and the fantastic “Irwin”, less ambient and more progressive electronic, with a truly mystical sound. Thanks to hoenir for the discovery!|
M. Geddes Gengras
| Space ambient with strings, subtle dissonances, complex arrangements — observing strange phenomena, mapping the movements of stars and nebulae. The richness of the sound design and the fact that it’s not all synths make this one of the best I’ve heard in the genre yet.|
Colder: Arctic AmbientExactly what the name implies: cold, vast, beautiful and quiet soundscapes.⇡
| An all-time classic.|
The Substrata² edition also includes The Man with a Movie Camera, a surprisingly dark and eerie bonus disc.
| Pjusk’s other albums also qualify (I like Sval (1) very much, released on Taylor Deupree’s 12k label).|
Pjusk / Sleep Orchestra
Drowning in the Sky
| Inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic (samples of a movie are used on several tracks). Found on Samourai1978’s Cold, Arctic Ambient list (L) — check it out if you want more recommendations!|
| This one is also pretty dark.|
Ambient GlitchRelax to the sweet sounds of computer and machine errors.⇡
| Truly beautiful, with warm acoustic instruments contrasting with glitchy textures. This is the first part of a series of five.|
Click on (N) to listen to samples / buy a digital copy.
Xerrox Vol. 1 (N)
| The EP that made me want to create this category. (The vinyl reissue has a bonus track.)|
Open Close Open
| Not purely ambient, but drifts in and out between ambient glitch and rhythmic — sometimes chaotic — passages. Avoids clichés. Rewards repeated listens.|
| Not your typical “ambient glitch” album; there's a lot going on here.|
Power AmbientI.e. ambient that sounds like Tim Hecker or Fennesz. (I used to name it “fuzzy ambient”, but Fact Mag came up with “power ambient” and I like that term better.) It's a paradoxical kind of ambient music: busy, abrasive, sometimes inducing a sense of drowsiness. Some of it bridges the gap between ambient and noise.⇡
| Noisy, melodic, droney and full of effects.|
Harmony in Ultraviolet
| Only twenty minutes long, but some of the best and most beautiful music I’ve heard in the genre yet. The second track is based on a looped violin sample from “Good Night” by The Beatles. (I don’t think John Cassavetes composed music — the record is an homage, not an interpretation.)|
I recommend getting the entire Plays collection (which has been compiled on CD), especially if you’re into experimental music and aren’t afraid of some dissonance.
Plays John Cassavetes
| An original sound, with ambient/dub techno elements but also dense and very organic.|
No Eye Has an Equal
Wilderness of Mirrors
| Surprisingly concise and sometimes abrupt despite its soothing sound. In a good way.|
| Ambient, harsh fuzz and piano melodies. Free download!|
| Another project by Richard Skelton; fuzzy, acoustic and very melancholic. Particularly recommended for autumn and winter.|
The Inward Circles
Belated Movements for an Unsanctioned Exhumation
August 1st 1984
Conceptual, IntriguingEven more paradoxical: these releases are ambient in form but contain ideas, have points to make, stories to tell (and so contradict my idea of ambient — I knew I should just have quoted Eno’s…) or will more simply puzzle you. Probably one of the most interesting categories.⇡
| All works by Terre Thaemlitz are laden with concepts, often having to do with gender/sex studies, sociology, power relations etc. While this album is mostly great ambient, some parts can be disruptive or surprising — making it a paradoxal but very interesting album.|
Tranquilizer is in the same vein but quieter. Terre’s other albums belong to different styles (electro-acoustic/glitch, solo piano, or house music under the K-S.H.E and DJ Sprinkles aliases).
| A night-time road trip from Texas to Louisiana, all recorded/mixed in one take. Doesn’t sound like their other works at all. (Which isn’t a bad thing — their dance music releases haven’t aged very well. The KLF are a funny and interesting band to read about though.)|
| Mostly pieces created for installations. Contains extracts of texts by Paul Auster and Samuel Beckett.|
Sound for Spaces
| Each track is inspired by a twentieth century painting. |
| An electroacoustic neo-impressionist monthly diary. Introspective and subtle.|
“Working through a circle of fifths, each one of the twelve tracks [was] written and recorded within one month. The work [also incorporates] sounds and images recorded during that month to capture the change of seasons.”
| Recordings of old, worn out Dixieland jazz vinyl records. An illustration of the effects of time and memory damage.|
The name of the project is a reference to the haunted ballroom scene in the movie adaptation of The Shining.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
| “Pinkcourtesyphone desires to capture the sonic essence of some nicely dressed 1960’s housewife wistfully peering out her window while reclining on some lovely couch or divan, with, of course, a slowly sipped cocktail and perhaps half of a valium. Perhaps she is waiting for the phone to ring.”|
Project by Richard Chartier, founder of Line label (which is excellent if you like quiet electronic experimental music).
Foley Folly Folio
| An unofficial alternative soundtrack to a 1969 movie called The Colour of Pomegranates.|
| Strange and enchanting. Made from layered and re-edited damp, decayed tapes, so there’s some glitch involved — it goes from smooth to noisy, nicely veering between beautiful assonances and intriguing dissonances.|
Psychology of Colour
| Inspired by the story of Bronisława, a 13th century nun living in Poland who had to hide in the forest to escape invaders. Based on Russian and East European folk music samples, evoking phantoms and old tales, ghostly without sounding blurry.|
| Droneless ambient compositions with very nice organic patterns, a bit reminiscent of minimalism but “inspired by formations in nature; the rotating progression of sparse then condensed spouts of growth in plants, the changing hues and intensities of light, the sudden changing gusts to wisps of the wind, the unfathomably intricate structures of snow flakes, the random patterns of raindrops as they fall to ground”. Mostly electronic, though one track features singing and cello.|
Thanks to fighuass for the discovery!
| Strange notes and photographs, found artefacts, damaged magnetic tapes and warped records… a mysterious, half-comforting, half-disqueting album that uses both recent and reworked (up to 30-year-)old recordings from the band. Not that you can really tell what’s old and what’s new here.|
Close to :zoviet*france:, with whom they have collaborated. I recommend seeking out the CD version, which is longer and has a half-handmade packaging.
Fossil Aerosol Mining Project
| Acoustic, very contemplative, with subdued melodies and patterns; also spoken word bits in German. Beautiful and mysterious.|
Part of the “Sites” series, record based on particular places — this one is based on a thermal baths complex in Vals, Switzerland, designed by architect Peter Zumthor. (L)
Third Site (L)
| A mysterious, even mystical atmosphere, with plenty of esoteric vocal samples.|
Channelled Messages at the End of History (the previous album) was a bit eerier; this one is very close and still has dark passages but also more soothing and hypnotic ones.
Tongues of Light
The Myth of Separation and Selfhood
| Soft, experimental compositions — like stones, inside structures, membranes.|
The Soft Bit
| Very intriguing, as are all of Perila's works I've listened to so far (I'm picking this one for now but might change later). Somewhere between ambient and experimental.|
Attitudes to Senses in Reverse
Song-Oriented, WarmerFor those who like melodies and maybe a few vocals. There aren’t many full-fledged songs here (this is still ambient after all), but we’re close.⇡
| Perhaps the most moving ambient record I’ve ever heard. A very short album, with strings and barely-there vocal elements — as if these tracks were ghosts of songs, unheard but deeply felt. Heartwarming yet wistful.|
| Beautiful new age ambient by another artist who deserves more recognition. You might already have heard Gigi Masin’s track “Clouds” without knowing it, as it was sampled in many tracks including Björk’s “It’s in Our Hands” or Nujabes’ “Latitude (Remix)”.|
Talk to the Sea
| Pieter Nooten is better known as an ex-member of the goth rock band Clan of Xymox; Michael Brook is known for his ambient records and movie soundtracks. So this is a soothing album with goth vibes — several tracks are actually ambient versions of Clan of Xymox tracks Nooten wrote.|
Pieter Nooten &
Sleeps with the Fishes
| Sounds a bit like an ambient/dream pop version of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. One single track, with wordless vocals.|
| If ambient rock was a genre, this would be it.
| Sounds like being in a deep forest at dusk, in a story from the old days where animals speak and witches live in wooden huts. Soothing but melancholic and sometimes dark; occasional rhythms and singing.|
Thanks to kneeonkian for the recommendation!
Forest Is Not What It Seems
| Four nice, melancholy tracks that are close to the softest side of post-rock, with cello, subdued singing, tapes and acoustic sounds (few electronic ones).|
Thanks to snow_over_mongolia for the recommendation!
Ballads of the Research Department
Windy & Carl
| Blurry, echoey, charming and melancholy songs. This is a two-part work; one part is called Alien Observer (1), the other Dream Loss (2).|
(What does A I A stand for? Or is it A | A? I don’t know.)
A I A
| Warm, slightly strange, in retro/sepia colours. One track includes dialogue from a French film out of context.|
Because of a Flower
Natural SoundsAmbient with field recordings from natural environments. (Yes, I still need more!)⇡
| “Makruna” features beautiful, peaceful riverside field recordings nicely contrasting with darker drones and a slow gong; “Minya” is a lot tenser and more abstract. Beautiful work.|
The artist also has free/name your price releases on his Bandcamp page (B).
Makruna · Minya (B)
| Melancholic neoclassical ambient (violin) with field recordings from Iceland and South Africa; subtle and very moving. “The word ‘Aven’ refers to an underground shaft that leads upward from the roof of a cave passage.”|
Also available digitally on Bandcamp (B). Check out the artist’s website for more information and recordings (A).
Aven (B) (A)
| Geir Jenssen = Biosphere.|
As the title implies, this is half (arctic) ambient, half field recordings; if you like it, you may want to get into field recordings proper (Jana Winderen (1), Francisco López, Chris Watson… click (L) to get a good list!).
Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings from Tibet (1) (L)
| A single track that’s more than four hours long, rather dark but soothing, with rain falling in the background. Great to listen to while working on a long project or reading. Free download.|
(In a sense, this bridges the gap between the “nature” and the “urban” categories…)
Inside My Room, Watching the Rain
| Quiet, short album of field recordings and piano. Sometimes it’s all you need.|
Granted, the recordings are partly from cities, but there are enough birds chirping to give it a more natural than urban feel (to my ears at least).
Resuming the Trail
| Or: Jungle by Chikyuu (“Earth”). A lush and peaceful track with jungle sounds; released as a split album with New Eden by Shinkou (“Faith”).|
| Long, subtle, slow, sometimes slightly dissonant ambient compositions that evoke nature in unfamiliar ways — not pastoral, not directly emotional either, to my ears it feels more like an evocation of all the shapes, textures, colours and details you might observe. There are new age elements but it’s mostly contemporary composition playing with field recordings. I like how the liner notes (L) warn you that “[a] great deal of what you will hear is illusory”!|
Sonic Seasonings (L)
| Comforting drones, with the sounds of distant rain and radio transmissions. I like to imagine this is what a trip back from the Arctic to civilisation might sound like.|
Thanks to Traz for the discovery!
Tribal AmbientAmbient with “exotic” sounds, most often involving drums.
(One or two releases here also have ties with tape music and hints of industrial, which isn’t typical of the subgenre but… I do listen to a lot of that too.)⇡
| Jon Hassell has also coined “Fourth World music”, which he defines as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”. Fourth World, Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya (4) for instance is pretty great!|
Power Spot (4)
| Has a beautiful “natural” feel, featuring field recordings, bamboo flutes, clarinet, guitar, voice samples from around the world etc.|
Part of a trilogy including also The Original Recordings (album) and The Kallikatsou Recordings (EP), available on the same label; I highly recommend all three!
The Chi Factory
The Bamboo Recordings
| Ties with experimental/tape music, with found sounds, makeshift instruments etc. Sounds like tribal music from contemporary England.|
If you like it, also check out Fossil Aerosol Mining Project (1), Reformed Faction and Troum (2).
Shouting at the Ground
| Muslimgauze is the project of a strange British guy who got obsessed by the Israelo-Palestinian conflict and released hundreds of albums inspired by it… Arabic atmospheres, tension, somewhere between ambient and ambient techno. This one is one of the most ambient-oriented albums (many are more techno-oriented). Another good album is Zul’m.|
The project is politically charged, thankfully you don’t have to buy into it to appreciate the music.
Dominick Fernow (Prurient)’s Vatican Shadow project is very much inspired by this artist.
| I really like Schütze’s experimental approach to “tribal” ambient (more interesting, darker and less new agey than most records labelled that, fourth world or ECM); this long album is a really good example of this style. The darker, hypnagogic 40-minute “Sleep” suite is amazing and could have been released on its own.|
O Yuki Conjugate
| Close to “fourth world” ambient, but with industrial elements in the background (what SPK was best known for, though their style has varied considerably from record to record).|
Zamia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine Flowers
Urban AtmospheresAnother very subjective category — including field recordings from cities but also ambient hip hop, ambient techno… anything that reminds me of life in a city.⇡
| By Rod Modell (cv313, DeepChord). A single hour-long track that feels like being half-conscious, half-drifting to sleep in the middle of the city. |
| Dark ambient/industrial (techno). For more like this, check out the Blackest Ever Black catalogue. (Quarter Turns Above a Living Line by Raime (1) is another good album.) |
Dark Pool (1)
| Low-key jazz + ambient techno.|
Nils Petter Molvær & Moritz von Oswald
| Very austere and dark (but beautiful in its own way) minimal ambient techno.|
| Illbient (experimental atmospheric hip hop beats with drum’n’bass)… I didn’t include this album at first because some tracks are definitely beat-oriented and even danceable, but the entire album is focussed on the atmospheres and very interesting in this regard. It’s more elusive than you might expect too.|
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
| A pleasant musical promenade through the city, featuring field recordings. (Both artists also collaborated on an arctic ambient album called Polar Sequences — recommended as well!)|
The Higher Intelligence Agency & Biosphere
| Fragments of field recordings from various cities around the world, all bathed in introspective dark ambient. Travelling without escaping your own thoughts and feelings.|
Thanks to Eoin23 for the recommendation!
| Or: New Eden by Shinkou (“Faith”). A lush and peaceful cityscape; released as a split album with Jungle by Chikyuu (“Earth”).|
| Things are happening outside, but it’s hard to tell what — urban, agitated, or completely artificial sounds. You’re safe in this circular room in the centre, where everything is soothing and familiar. (Or are you?)|
There are seven tracks here, all of them flowing seamlessly, but each one is based on the very same drone and slow melody.
Recurring Dreams of the Urban Myth
| Droney too. Like a dark but strangely soothing dream. Floating/falling, exactly like on the cover, especially the blue colour.|
DarkerFrom ambient to dark ambient; these are dark, but still soothing enough.
A note about dark ambient: depending on who you ask, the genre can get very broad, including pretty much anything that’s scary or disturbing and doesn’t fit in other genres… which would make it a different genre than ambient entirely. Still, this being an ambient list, I tried to avoid records that are really too intense and eventful throughout, such as Ben Frost’s By the Throat (even though I love that one).⇡
| Very different from Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which was more techno than ambient.|
The tracks on this album are designated with pictures rather than titles, and some versions have different tracklists — fans have come up with unofficial names for the tracks and it can all be a bit confusing, so I made a visual guide (G) to help you sort it out!
Not all tracks here are dark, but the mood generally is. One of my all-time favourites.
Selected Ambient Works
Volume II (G)
| Beautiful and intricate, close to power ambient; nocturnal, but this night is full of stars.|
A Fabric of Beliefs
| Ambient dub, hauntology, dark ambient. Compiles their three first LPs with a lot of bonus material.|
Elemental is good too, but darker and at times almost brutal (doesn’t really fit on an ambient list).
| Nocturnal, but peaceful and with a lot of space. Featuring synths, cello, singing bowls, gong…|
Thanks to wilczur for the recommendation!
| Yup, this is my favourite album by Eno yet — beautiful, subtle, perfectly meets the ambient ideal he presented in the text quoted in the introduction. And without the cheesiness that mars some of his other releases.|
(Another one I really like by him is Small Craft on a Milk Sea, I think it was underrated.)
Ambient 4: On Land
| Their first album Quique was a great ambient techno record with female vocals and a slight shoegaze influence; on this album, they keep these elements but take a dark ambient turn. (Their next one, (CH-VOX), is sparser and darker still but not quite as good.)|
| Creates a very special atmosphere while sounding very sparse; hypnotic, seductive and enigmatic, a lot of whispering and quietness. The text in the second track is taken from Max Ernst’s La femme 100 têtes.|
Also recommended by the same artist: Spellewauerynsherde (S), featuring only layers of ghostly voices. Look up “hauntology” (H) if you’re into this!
cxvi (S) (H)
| Very dynamic and cinematic, with rhythmic parts and climaxes.|
Thanks to wilczur for the recommendation!
The Long Dust
| Still partly based on guitar loops, but darker, stranger, with more concrete sounds. Initially released as a series of six EPs.|
| Solo work by Mark Spybey (:zoviet*france:, Reformed Faction, Download, Beehatch…).|
Dead Voices on Air
From Afar All Stars Spark and Glee
| Cold, dark and lonely semi-trip hop that sounds like it was recorded in a bunker in Siberia. Haunting and beautiful. |
Стук бамбука в XI часов
Лёгкое дело холод
| Ritualistic, song-oriented, with rhythms and vocals. “A Lefthanded Sign” is as close as I’ve ever heard dark ambient get to a hit song (!).|
The Incarnation of the Solar Architects
Allegory of Allergies
| An original sound, using phonography collages that seem to be sound sculptures. Her other releases, Msuic and Too, are really good as well! |
| Melodic and dark without sounding hostile; probably the most accessible album in this category.|
| Three albums, the first one focussing on “harmonies”, the second one on “drones”, the last one on “rhythms and pulsations”. A bit of a murky tribal sound at times.|
Troum is formed by two ex-members of Maeror Tri.
| Based on actual electromagnetic waves “recorded” by the NASA Voyager Probe! Edited by Jeffrey Thompson, but you can find unaltered recordings on Youtube too.|
Symphonies of the Planets 1-5:
NASA Voyager Recordings
| Definitely dark but also immaterial, all mist and shadows.|
Thanks to nokturnus / 6 No Fun 9 for the discovery!
| Space-themed, rather dark but not oppressive, with great textures.Neel is also a member of Voices from the Lake (see above). |
| A short, ominous twenty-minute piece evoking a giant squid rising from the depths… All ambient until the crashing finale.|
| (I hesitated to include Multiple Personality Disorder, which is both conceptual and dark, in this list too — but decided against it because one track is much too noisy/jarring for it to be ambient.)|
| A starkly minimal single-track album; much of it consists of an exploration of the cosmic vacuum, until some unexpected synths appear. It sounds a bit like a modern reinterpretation of Tangerine Dream’s Zeit.|
| U-R-I = Ure Thrall. The Bone Tree Soundtracks accompanied a sculpture/installation by Dana Albany (I) for the Burning Man festival, actually made of bones.|
The Bone Tree Soundtracks,
Volume One (+) (I)
| Has a very natural feel, both in the sounds used and in the way each track progresses; it’s rather dark, but only in the sense that it evokes dusk or a solitary place in winter — nothing scary or oppressive. Available as a free download!|
| Melancholic dark jazz (clarinet, guitar and harmonium), recorded in an old church.|
| From a psychedelic rock song to truly alien, experimental, dark and weird places, and back to a psychedelic rock song again.|
The other albums I’ve heard by them are good too (and more decidedly ambient), but this is my favourite so far!
Food for the Moon
| Four hours of post-industrial ambient, mysterious, beautiful, almost psychedelic — sometimes like a more electronic and dreamier :zoviet*france:. A whole city of sound architectures to explore. Released on Dominick Fernow’s Hospital Productions label; there is a little industrial harshness here but only as undertones.|
| Sleep Resarch Facility’s albums are often based on very specific samples; this one is about a stealth bomber plane, with source recordings taken in an army hangar. Elegant, dark, deceptively smooth yet also strangely menacing. There’s also a bonus disc containing a “pre-mix” versions — rawer, more aggressive at times, also a great listen!|
Sleep Resarch Facility
| Cool minimal synth ambient from 1979! Some parts are a bit like lo-fi electronic tribal ambient, others are dronier and darker, some are close to progressive electronic. Sounds a bit primitive but in a good way.|
| Tribal/dark ambient, but more experimental than most; actually includes a disclaimer that “extreme high and low frequencies, feedback and dissonant harmonies are intentional”!|
This is the second volume of a trilogy about Dante; Tremor is volume one and Legacy volume three. Spore is the most atypical. I recommend all three.
| Minimal, and it sounds like it was made by a single person with limited equipment (crude synthetic sounds, audible surface noise), but it’s so personal and intensely expressive. The melodies are beautiful, and it often takes unexpected turns too.|
Thanks to matty / lugubrious for the recommandation!
Before Twin Dawn
| Atmospheric doom metal without the metal = pure subaquatic atmosphere. No vocals, no rhythms, no progression, just murky underwater darkness.|
DarkestThe scariest, most macabre, most disturbing ones.⇡
The Empty Hollow Unfolds
| “Dark jazz” a.k.a. “doom jazz”.|
For more like this, check out Tartar Lamb II (1), The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (2), etc.
Bohren & der Club of Gore
| Eerie, otherworldly, minimal and quite different from most other Nurse with Wound releases. Close to drone too.|
I’ve listened to a bunch of Nurse with Wound releases over the years (between 25 and 30); if you want me to tell you more about them, check the (G) link below.
Nurse with Wound
Soliloquy for Lilith
| Originally conceived as a soundtrack for the movie of the same name, partially released in various forms over the years (in 1990, 2009…). The 2014 version is the first “complete” one, with track titles and cover art. It’s a sort of synthesis of Nurse with Wound’s eerie and atmospheric sounds. Maybe because it was reworked many times, it sounds more polished and cohesive than most of his other releases, even though it’s very varied.|
Again, see (G) for more Nurse with Wound stuff.
Nurse with Wound
| Fuzzy/noisy, with a breathtaking final track (which contradicts what I said earlier about not including anything too intense, but oh well). |
| Layered field recordings from abandoned rooms in Chernobyl. |
| Sounds like the soundtrack to a Japanese horror movie.|
| Takes inspiration (as well as titles and samples) from the Night of the Living Dead movie.|
17 Miles from Willard
| Released in the wake of the 2016 Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub (benefits are donated to charity).|
A very mournful piece; a contemporary lament. The sounds are abstract and the piece is rather short, but the feeling and meaning are all too real. No theatricals here — it’s heartfelt and spot-on. (I’ve been listening to it a lot… there hasn’t been any dearth of tragedies, violence and anxiety lately.) Even without context, it would be a great dark ambient EP — but as far as I’m concerned, no account of “what 2016 sounded like” will be complete without this piece.
| Dark ambient from the depths of the earth: edited recordings from the “Pozzo del Merro” sinkhole taken at different depths.|
(Note that there are two conflicting tracklists — one in which the tracks are ordered by depth, and another one which you can see on the CD scans over at Discogs. I don’t know which is the correct one.)
| Short, eerie, building up with electric tension.|
Spirit as Creature
| Based on field recordings taken in the city, but this city sounds like a monster in the middle of a black void.|
The City of Almost