Ambient techno, like its name implies, is a genre of music which
combines some of the elements of ambient with some of the elements
From ambient, it takes the idea of making music which doesn't crave
to be the centre of attention. Slow, simple melodies only a few
bars long are often repeated hypnotically using gradually evolving
sounds. String, pad and choir sounds are popular because they can
be sustained for long periods of time, and fade in and out very
slowly. Their subtle entries into the soundscape, and departures
from it, have the essential quality of being as subliminal as possible.
Ambient music always sets a mood, and that mood is usually calming
From techno, it takes the idea of getting stylistic cues from the
technology used to make modern music. Sounds are generated
synthetically, and notes are often step sequenced. Unlike regular
ambient music, rhythms can feature predominantly, and they can even
be somewhat loud ones. Analogue drum machines are the natural first
choice for creating the rhythms due to their synthetic timbres and
step sequenced playing. As with techno in general, step sequencing
is common in ambient techno, but certainly not necessary - unlike
most regular techno, the occasional track consisting of beatless
music played by hand is present on many ambient techno albums,
although it is more likely to be an intro or breather than the focus
of the album.
The sounds themselves are an important part of ambient techno.
Synthetic sources are generally preferred for most sounds, such as
leads, pads, strings, choirs, basses, percussion, and sequenced
arpeggios. These insruments can often sound more creative than in
most genres of music, bearing less resemblance to their acoustic
equivalents. Often several sounds are present which verge on being
sound effects or background noises, giving the listener the impression
of being in some exotic alien world. As with techno in general,
this ties in nicely with the science fiction aesthetic of the genre.
There are perhaps several reasons why synthesisers lend themselves
so well to ambient music: firstly, step sequencers are ideal interfaces
for cooking up repetitive, hypnotic melodies such as simple arpeggios;
secondly, synthesisers can sustain notes indefinitely, and fade each
note in and out much slower than any acoustic instrument; and thirdly,
synthesisers are the best instruments at changing their timbre
drastically while being played.
Perhaps the main reason, however, is that synthesisers are the most
diverse sounding instruments (with the possible exception of the
sampler, which can't generate its own sounds but can emulate any
other instrument). This is an important consideration when you're
making music that's stripped of all but the barest rhythm and melody,
relying more on harmony and timbres to invoke emotions.
All in all, ambient techno is a sublime, peaceful genre that evolved
into other genres like so-called intelligent dance music before much
had been released in its name to begin with. It's for this reason
that I have written some music in this style, and I hope that other
producers will do the same to revive this often overlooked soundscape.
As is the case with all genres of music, it's often hard to draw the
line between ambient, ambient techno and techno. All of the following
albums can safely be said to belong to at least the ambient or techno
genres, with most using elements of both:
Various Artists: File Under Ambient This compilation showcases the
best offerings of Apollo Records' artists circa the early nineties,
many of whom went on to create even better works. It has sublime
offerings from the likes of Aphex Twin, Biosphere and even the founder
of techno himself, Model 500. Surprisingly, however, David Morley
steals the show, providing two original songs and a remix that, in
large part, make this compilation what it is. Regardless of the
prestige of the people who contributed to this release, its diversity
alone makes it a good example of the various aspects of the genre.
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 Pounding drum machines
and bleeping synthesisers drenched in delays and reverb play sweet
little tunes. A classic of the genre, if not the classic of the
B12: Electro-Soma Four-to-the-floor drums subtly hypnotise you as
various melodies play off each other. Note the sample from Brian
Eno's ambient classic Apollo.
Global Communication: 76:14 Sublime, chilled, dreamy electronic
music. Deceptively simple, it's a shining example of just how
beautiful music can be.
Pete Namlook and Richie Hawtin: From Within Epic, sprawling
tracks featuring playful rhythms and deep sub-bass that captivates
you as spaced-out sounds and sequenced melodies gradually fade in
Pete Namlook and Mixmaster Morris: Dreamfish Enchanted underwater
music soothes and unsettles you in turns.