State of the Ambient Union 2008 


Pete Kelly 

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by Igneous Flame


State of the Ambient Union (2008) - Pete Kelly (Igneous Flame)

Personal – my plans for 2008

In 2008 (and beyond, hopefully!), I’d like to carry on creating music that I think is sufficiently good enough to release.
I’m not hugely prolific - my albums take quite some time to complete, I like to think there’s a strand of improvement in my work over time. 

I am currently nearing the end of a collaborative project with UK based artist Michael Stringer AKA ‘Achromus’. We will be releasing two albums that have come out of the project - ‘Flicker’ and ‘Halo’. ‘Achromus’ gave me the raw compositions and source sounds from a pool of material that he had been working on and I added guitar parts, transformed the sounds and generally re-worked the material. 

‘Flicker’ is the more sonorous album if the two, synth and guitar being the primary sound sources. ‘Halo’ is something of a departure for me, it’s a single-track album. It’s a dark and experimental drone based work, with lots of variation and ‘vivid’ spatial processing throughout. 

After the release of these two albums (which should be relatively soon), I will be producing and adding guitar parts to
‘Achromus’s debut solo album. Other collaborations may well follow later in the year and I’m working on collating a pool of material for the next solo Igneous Flame release.

The Bigger Picture

Things have certainly changed from when I started looking up ambient resources on the web a few years ago, some established sites and forums have come and gone, but I think the main change is that the ‘ambient world’ has become wider. Certainly for musicians, MySpace (in particular) has really opened things up. While it has a lot of rubbish attached to it, the networking side really does work. The correspondence I've had with other ambient musicians has been very encouraging (the private messages thing that goes on behind the scenes), as has been the comments and messages from fans and 'friends'.     

I would say that the vast majority of previously unknown artists' music I've come across recently has been from MySpace and the 'viral' nature of it leads to a degree of 'cross-pollination' that I don't think exists anywhere else. I get friend requests from people outside of the ‘ambient world’ and I find this very refreshing. It’s the whole social-networking element, which has brought about this diversification. 

Another site I’ve come across recently is the Atmoworks ‘Ning’ site, this looks to be a really promising web 2.0 ambient community site. The integration of blogs, music-players, profiles, images and videos really works for me.  

Lastfm is also an interesting one, I don’t use it’s ‘audio-scrobbling’ facility, so I can’t really comment on that, but again the social networking element is very interesting, if nothing else to see what other music the people who are listening to my material are also listening to.  

Regarding Internet airplay, sites like Soma FM’s ‘Drone Zone’ and Stillstream are great for musicians and listeners alike. For example, my ‘Oxana’ album has had tracks played on Drone Zone almost every day for at least 3 years, that’s some exposure!  

Naturally, other ambient music web resources (such as Ambient Visions, the Hypnos forum and many others) are still very useful, for musicians and fans alike. 


I feel that technology has had a direct impact on the volume of ambient music that is being created - freely affordable tools have allowed anyone who wants to, to be able create music and ‘release’ it. Primarily as downloads on the net, as opposed to making up CDs and trying to sell them. On one hand this is wonderfully empowering, but on the negative side, I see little in the way of self-editing and consequently, there’s an awful lot of music out there and finding the ‘good stuff’ gets harder.  

Net labels are an interesting recent phenomenon. I see these more so in Electronica / IDM circles, where free mp3 albums / compilations are regularly released on the net. I wonder if they are really helping artists expose their work, or are they the modern equivalent of ‘vanity labels’? However, from an artist’s point of view, it’s certainly one way of getting their material ‘out there’.

I have no problem with artists deciding to give their material away for free (under Creative Commons Licenses and the like) but personally that’s not the route I take.

I choose to sell it – even it means it’ll probably get pirated at some point! 

CD versus Downloads:

Regarding CDs – I think they will hold their own, there are still people who want a physical CD (and the artwork) rather than a download.

For most people, 256/320 kbps mp3s are indistinguishable from CD quality audio. I'm not making any judgements on this, but I think that for a download-only ‘store’ a higher quality option would be a welcome option for the people who are more concerned with fidelity. Ian Boddy's download-only 'Musiczeit' venture offers Flac downloads as well as mp3s. I’m interested to see how the download-only route pans out in the future. 

The Genre itself

I have to say, there’s whole sub-genres/artists that I know very little about and new artists appear all the time. I’ve stumbled across some of the new ‘hepsters’ (William Basinski, Tim Hecker et al) through mp3 compilation mixes, which are usually themed or someone’s ‘best of year’ selection. I’ve found them to be an interesting way to pick up on new (to me) trends.  

I think in general the whole ‘scene’ has changed, I think that if an artist with real talent were setting up now, they may be hard pushed to make a name for themselves in the way that this happened in the past. On the other hand, people who would have never been able to release their material before, now can. I really can’t predict where it will go, now that the download genie is well and truly out of the bottle and that the whole ‘free culture’ and piracy are now so prevalent on the net.  

Interesting times though… 
Thanks for reading

Pete Kelly (Igneous Flame) June 2008

Robert Rich 


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by Robert Rich
and Ian Boddy


Can I rant in an unfiltered way? It might feel refreshing to vent some complicated thoughts. Please bear with me as I bare my doubts and affections for a few paragraphs. I need to express some things that might not make sense immediately - perhaps even to me until I manage to say it in print: 

To quote a poem by Daevid Allen of Gong "We are a community of hermits!" which is to say, that I don't want to speak for any concept of a movement or overarching direction in "style" that I have trouble believing exists. I mean this in the most optimistic of ways. I simply don't see music in terms of categories, and I don't picture those people who make slow atmospheric-sounding music as any different from a person up on stage singing their songs with an acoustic guitar, or a pianist practicing arpeggios to strengthen their fingers, a dance DJ triggering loops on Ableton Live, a cellist playing Bach, or a shaman in the Amazon rainforest trying to heal someone with yage while journeying to the spirit world.   

Having said that, I think we can't ignore the continuing splatter of the baby-boon record biz (yes, I meant to type 'n' not 'm'). Our info-world becomes an increasingly self-informed polyglot idea-farm. Splintering constantly occurs, and I doubt that we'll ever see (in our lifetimes at least) a time where only a few artists manage to state the thesis that captures the zeitgeist of a generation, as rock music did in the late '60s. I think many of us late era baby-boomers yearn for the imagined purity of a sociopolitical-mystical-psychedelic art; and much of the vocabulary of space-music derives from that longing. I certainly consider myself guilty of that cultural vocabulary. So, we mystics struggle on in obscurity, mostly ignored by the mainstream media culture, Quixotically tilting at our aural windmills.   

As an aside for context: When I started making music, I was trying to come up with something that sounded individual and truthful to a shamanic destiny - but not blindly copying the composers who influenced me. That's partially because I was influenced from such a wide range: everyone from Harry Partch and John Cage to Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros, Popol Vuh, Tangerine-Klaus-Kluster-Caberet Voltaire-Wire-Throbbing-Residents-TuxedoMostanythingthat sounds cool -GongYesCrimsonBlahBlahBlah - whatever sparked my plug, in other words. I think a lot of new music makers resemble that confusion of influences, and I applaud it! I don't want to hear things that sound too worshipful of their heirs. I want to hear things that blur lines we never knew existed.  

As I look into my crystal ball, I see - not a fog - but a chaos of colors and multiplicity. I see a world where people can search for what they like, and possibly find someone who might surprise them. I hope that boundaries blur to the point where nobody knows what a "style" is; where the techno-dance folks don't feel compelled all the time to come up with a new hybrid term to define their personal style ("Dude, like, this isn't Jungle because it's not 150 BPM; we're doing GahGahHouse, which is kinda like Jungle but with funny hats and samples of laughter and pre-Columbian native instruments, dude.")   

So speaking to the outside world - I hope to see crazy new surprises that sound incredible, beautiful, personal, thoughtful, meaningful, private, Hermetic. I want to be flummoxed when I hear it, like I felt when I first heard Sufjan Stevens, only a couple years ago. Surprise me! I don't want to recognize a source, nor a sample, nor a riff, nor a genre. I think new ideas are unstoppable, especially now, because everyone has access to everything. When everyone starts getting bored with the status quo, we can hope that everything will get broken and rebuilt with new surprises, new flaws, new humanity. It's all the same, over again, every time new, hopefully crazy and ever-so-personal. (Reminded just now of the lyrics to the Who's "Baba O'Riley", and thinking that song's title source was also one of my big inspirations - Terry Riley... funny how that works...)   

Personally, I am trying really hard to slow down. I chide myself with how many albums I released in the last couple years, some of which were responding to external demands. I keep thinking we have too much music in the world right now, and certainly few people clamoring for more of my style of indulgence. I find myself fascinated by the fringes of musical possibilities, and I always poke around the edges  So, I want to take a longer chunk of time to make a new album that sounds complete and self-contained, and different from the past. I keep trying to do that, and I like it. Of course, I'll always have more requests to collaborate, or to make sounds for some visual element. Collaboration is fun and it inspires me. I guess I still think that music becomes more interesting on its own, rather than subservient to an image.  

"Ambient" music seems more and more destined to fill a subservient role underneath visuals, unless something resembling a new psychedelic culture arrives to appreciate the energy within that sparseness. I still love a rarified stimulus, but I tend to get it mostly from walks down the local creek trail, or up in the coastal mountains, listening to birds and water, even within the sound of nearby freeway traffic, airplanes overhead, all the noise of the urban world. If music can help people to appreciate that chaos, then it serves a purpose to condition us against the world we have created as we destroy the natural world around us. If we succeed in becoming comfortable with our artificial world, perhaps we have failed in our better mission to save the world from ourselves. Who knows? I just want to add something small and beautiful to people's life, because I doubt I can do much to change the world around me beyond improving it in small local environs. If I can help people remember one thing about why they exist, then I have done the best thing I know how to do.

Robert Rich 2008

David Helpling 

David's Website
David's My Space page

by David Helpling
and Jon Jenkins

"Well - I think it is fairly clear that the old lines between the genres have blurred across each other quite a bit in recent years.  We all just aren't so strict on what is what...elements of dance, rock and electronic music have happily found their way into these genres without any upset from traditionalists (not that the genre in question has enough history to have solid traditions).  There are virtually no rules for what is considered "Ambient" or "New Age" any is the artist's intent and his or her audience's interpretation that seems to most clearly identify the music.  Supportive public voices such as Hearts Of Space and Echoes are playing music that is vastly diverse within itself compared to 10 years ago.            

During this inevitable shift from one medium to another, (Audio CDs to wirelessly transmitted Audio Files) the core of Ambient/New Age music is what it always was.  I think the same artists that create this music out of an in-born passion for it always will because it is important to them.  If anything, the globalization of our communities has only broken the thin walls that separated listeners from each other.  We are gathering a much younger audience, individuals are sharing and promoting what music is most precious to them, and our music is finding it's most enthusiastic and intended audience!  This is a beautiful thing. is all about the music.  If we create inspired and wonderful sounding ambient music it will ultimately be embraced by those who are searching for it.  Yes, it helps to be in the company of other great artists in a supportive and respected Ambient record label (as Spotted Peccary definitely is) but that really only increases your chances to be heard and seen.  If the right music is falling on the right hungry ears, it seems to spread almost instantly and will end up seeing much more longevity.  

The hundreds of wonderful web entities (like Ambient Visions in fact) are gracious messengers to our audience.  These are the places that many fans of the genre will go to feed their lust for more of this great music.  Entities such as Echoes have been a huge force both on the actual air waves and on the web - interviews, top album listings, features and great podcasts...these are the people that are helpling to market the music...but only the music that they feel is important and exciting.  Once again - it is all about the music.  And it's not just having one great song that drives a record - our audience doesn't have to get the record to find out what all of the songs sound like.    

The biggest and most profound shift for myself as an artist recently is the ability to speak directly with the listeners and fans.  Through Our own websites and MySpace pages we can share news, music (sometimes only partial ideas of songs even) and events as things happen if not the same day they happen.  Through podcasts, email lists, blogs and news we can communicate how we are feeling, what we are doing, why we are doing it and let the listeners in on the process of creation.  I feel that 2008 is going to be a great year for all of us...our audience is growing and is growing older and younger at the same time.  Artistically this globalization it is a precious gift.  As for the monetary compensation for our craft and musical gifts to the world...that is now more than ever, in the hands of the artists themselves."

David Helpling   2008