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Inconspicuous Ambience from the Foundry, Projekt, and Studio Seventeen

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Contrary to general opinion, modern ambient music exhibits more than a barely noticeable background for New Age ceremonies. Granted: the intent of most ambient music is to lull the listener, but this does not preclude the presence of depth and character to such compositions.

Here are some lesser known examples of ambience that stimulate such engaging torpor.

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ALIO DIE & AMELIA CUNI: Apsaras (CD on Projekt)

On this 59 minute CD from 2001, renowned Italian ambient synthesist Alio Die (aka Stefano Musso) applies his drones and moody samples in collaboration with the dhrupad singing (the traditional music of North India) of Amelia Cuni.

Possessing distinct liquid overtones, this music fuses the unconventional (as far as Western ears are concerned) stylings of the ethnic human voice with the strictly electronic airs of ambient technology. The presence in this music of the environmental sounds of nature lends an earthly edge to this fusion of organic and artificiality.

Cuni's vocal qualities are rich yet subdued, pursuing foreign scales with her lyricless chant. While the electronics are peaceful and epicurean, all the while accompanied by aquatic gurgling. Elongated tones conspire with haunting atmospherics to generate mild melodies that sway like ancient surfs warmed by the summer sun.

The music is soft and unintrusive, but intended to uplift rather than sedate.

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BINDLESTIFF: Live at the Sonic (CDR on Studio Seventeen Productions)

This 65 minute CD from 2001 features the band's entire live performance at the San Diego Sonic Arts Gallery from 1994.

Bindlestiff is Bryan Helm and Dave Stafford.

These compositions are extremely ethereal with languid and dreamy electronics establishing moods of deep contemplation. These soft textures often tinged with guitars caught in infinite sustain. There are passages in which those guitars resort to more traditional strumming, lending a decidedly sunset nature to the ambience. There are some nice bits which blend that vaporous sustain with nimbly plucked strings, producing an interesting duality of guitar potential. For the most part, however, the music is comprised of drifting, sparse electronic tones that instill the audience with drowsy inspiration tailored to sedate and produce a deep calm.

While rooted in the ambient legacy of Brian Eno and Robert Rich, Bindlestiff's opening tracks in this set are augmented with a modicum of edginess as shrill tones and sweeping harshness erupt without warning. Even with these jarring instances, though, a stability of atmospheric disposition is resolutely maintained.

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eM: All the Stars Burning Bright (CD on the Foundry)

eM is Michael Bentley, who dedicates the 60 minutes of cosmic ambience on this 2001 CD to: Iain M. Banks, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, and, most especially Brian Aldiss and H.P. Lovecraft.

Rarely does an ambient electronic recording so faithfully embrace the interstellar medium as the subject of its soundscapes. Blending digital electronics with recordings generated by various astrophysical phenomena, these non-melodic compositions flourish with unconventional tonalities and the heartbeat of stellar masses. Passive electronic foundations feature punctuations of quantum nature, as X-ray bursts and pulsar bleeps filter calmly through the human-instigated electronic soundscape. Abstract passages are enervated by hints of harmonies that fluctuate amid the astral soundtrack. There is little trace of humanity or emotion in these tracks, as they loyally exemplify the cold void found between stars while establishing that this void is neither empty or without voice.

Without doubt, this is an entertaining approximation of the music of the spheres as viewed from a scientific perspective.

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MOLLUSK: Accretions (CD on the Foundry)

This CD from 2001 features 62 minutes of electronic soundscapes constructed by Malcolm Bly utilizing sampled sounds and field recordings using entirely digital means (except for a single track in collaboration with Jonathan Hughes).

These generally atonal compositions display gritty and seething qualities, tempering their meditative mood with a degree of quasi-emotional agitation. While the source noises are natural, considerable digital manipulation has transformed these sounds until they flow into each other with fluid demeanor, stimulating the human brain with their unearthly qualities. There are passages that defy analysis, resounding like traditional electronic tonalities to produce contemporary comparisons.

Each of these tracks investigate the life and cellular pursuits of mollusks, delving into the oceanic mysteries of barnacles, nautilus, and the evolution of a snail's brain.

For those interested in more of this sort of ambience, there are further tracks waiting to be downloaded at Mollusk's Website.

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RAJNA: Ishati (CD on Projekt)

Fans of Lisa Gerard and Dead Can Dance will thrill to this 50 minute CD. Originally released in France in 1999, Projekt brought this mesmerizing ethnic environmental music to the USA in 2001.

Various instruments from India, Tibet, and Nepal (tampuras, singing bowls, balalaikas, mandolins, dulcimers, wind chimes, shakers, gongs, bamboo flutes, frame-drums, and more) blend with female ethno-gothic voice to achieve a haunting soundscape of exotic quality. Far Eastern moods are given Medieval overtones with the heavenly vocals; this mixture of different cultures and epochs lends this music a unique sound.

Passion runs deep and often subdued through these compositions, as the strings, percussives, and flutes blend with synthesized tonalities. Throughout this frequently occidental soundscape, non-lyrical vocals warble and chant and croon and tremble with almost cloudlike nature.

The melodies are generally atmospheric and light, striving for wisdom through passive application of textures intended to soothe while inspiring the listeners.

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SEOFON: Zero Point: Lessons in Being Nothing (CD on the Foundry)

On this 70 minute CD from 2001, Seofon (aka the Ambient Temple of Imagination) is joined by Vidna Obmana, Steve Roach, Stephan Kent, Robert Rich, Not Breathing, and Thermal. These "collaborations" consist of taking material from ATOI's "Planetary House Nation" CD and recycling those themes and sonic motifs, filtering them through the collaborators own styles and musical sensibilities.

The results of these displaced intersections are thoroughly ambient and distinctly engaging, molded in the styles of each collaborator. A significant difference between the normal moods of these collaborators and the tracks featured on this CD involve the spaciness of these musical remixes. Normally, these collaborators are known for the earthiness of their ambient compositions, while here their music is infused with cosmic airs, subjecting geological atmospherics to the rigid effects of vacuum and interstellar radiation.

Overall, languid electronics predominate, peppered with distant tribal rhythms and drifting clouds of tonal hiss. There are also hints of machinery laboring to maintain endless function utilized as a mechanical rhythm track behind certain soundscapes.

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DAVE STAFFORD: Transitory (CDR on Studio Seventeen Productions)

This 1996 release features 67 minutes of dreamy ambience by Stafford, who also functions as one-half of Bindlestiff.

The music on this CD was basically generated with a single electric guitar fed through custom-designed digital delay looping system. The result bears striking resemblance to Frippertronics, except that Stafford adds a subtle whimsy to these droning soundscapes. The otherworldliness is tempered with an underwater quality that displays a hypnotic wavering intended to softly stimulate the listener at the edge of sleep.

As Stafford primarily triggers the guitar strings with an energy bow, the sounds possess traits of a violin or cello, sweeping and liquid rather than distinctly individual notes. As he arranges these strange textures in overlaying sheets, the music adopts a continuous quality with sounds melting into each other.

These swaying classical overtones are especially prevalent on the "Quartet" track, while such pieces as "Pulsar" explore more cosmic territory with astral treatments of an electrically fluid temperament. Tracks six through ten were produced over the span of two days, and evoke more arid sentiments with their pleasant sustains and swooping arcs of sound.

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