Introduction to Ambient
May 17, 2019•563 words
During the summer of 1991, I was a typical 18-year-old, recently graduated from high school, excited about attending college for the first time, and had a job waiting tables for a family-style restaurant in my small hometown. On Sunday nights, from 10 pm until closing at midnight, the restaurant's usual soft rock radio station wasn't playing Sting, Bette Midler, and Whitney Houston. It played this weird-sounding, spacey music. I kind of chuckled and raised an eyebrow as I listened to the music while cleaning tables and serving food, wondering what the customers might be thinking as they were enjoying their late-evening meal. I eventually learned that spacey music was a syndicated radio show called Musical Starstreams. "The exotic side of radio." Uh, okay.
A few months later, on a particularly frosty fall quarter morning as a freshman at a nearby community college, I had an extended break between classes. Didn't have much on my task list that day, so I drove down to the local music store to check out some CDs and cassettes. I ambled over to the "new age" section and saw Patrick O'Hearn's new album at that time, Indigo. His name sounded familiar. As it turned out, Indigo was a featured album on Starstreams during the summer. I decided to give this guy a try, bought the cassette, popped it into my car stereo, and drove back to campus for my afternoon classes. My driving soundtrack turned into a tense layering of synthesizer waves, sparse piano melodies, and soft percussion accents. And an airy trumpet in some parts. No vocals; my mind created the lyrics. It created quite an exciting sensation inside me as I'm driving around the city streets headed back to campus. I actually took a longer route because I didn't want to finish driving yet.
"So THIS was new age music?" I thought to myself. Sounded like the soundtrack to a science fiction movie and I was the lead actor. Needless to say, I developed an emotional connection with the music, much more in my car than in the restaurant. I really liked it!
Gradually, I found myself listening to Indigo more and more in the evening towards bedtime. Seemed to help mellow me out from a busy day of classes and studying. I chose this music during my weekend naps; it was quiet enough to not jar me awake from unconsciousness. As the weeks passed during fall quarter, I started paying more attention to Musical Starstreams on the radio Sunday nights, recording the shows on my stereo cassette boombox, and writing down the featured artists to research later. Started buying more CDs and cassettes of this new interesting genre of music. And started listening to more and more spacey music.
Let's fast forward 25 years. I stopped using new age (sounds like crystals and incense) to describe this soft, flowing music experience. I now choose ambient as my catch-all genre title. All my cassettes and CDs have been replaced with mp3 music files and online streaming. However, Patrick O'Hearn is still one of my most-listened to artists. In fact, So Flows the Current and The So Flows Sessions are two of his best albums in my collection. It's perfect at work, at home in the evenings, and especially during naps.
Ambient music brings me great joy. Wanted to share the joy it brings me with you.