State of the Ambient Union 2014 


Blake Gibson 

Blake on the web:  

Broken Harbour Home


Geometry of Shadows
by broken harbour
aka Blake Gibson

State of the Ambient Union (2014) - Blake Gibson

On the Importance of Physical Product: 

As we look ahead to the rest of 2014 and the years ahead, we may wonder about what the coming changes to the 'mainstream' music industry will mean to the ambient community.  Much has been said about the demise of physical formats and distribution, much has been said about legal and illegal downloads, and lately, very much has been said about music streaming, causing some to claim that 'the future of music' (and all entertainment) is streaming.  This type of thinking is short sighted.  When Cassettes and Compact Disc's came to prominence, many 'experts' claimed Vinyl was dead, when downloads became the main way listeners enjoyed their music, these same experts claimed that CD's are dead.  Now that streaming is starting to pick up steam, they are now claiming that downloads are dead. 

This simply isn't true, and it never will be. Vinyl is in the middle of a huge resurgence, and an ambient artist I know recently sold out of his entire print run of a cassette release! Sure, streaming will become a preferred way for some to listen to their music, especially if that person listens exclusively to the cold, manufactured, overly disposable ringtone-pop that passes for popular music these days.  But for those that truly appreciate, and wish to support real artists, this will never be an option.  

Music streaming, and to a certain extent, downloads from certain distributors (iTunes, etc...) means 'no ownership' for the listener. That's right, it's not yours, you have no rights.  You can't listen if it's de-listed, can't listen in the first place if it doesn't pass the spotify gatekeepers, and even if the experimental artist you want to hear does in fact make it onto your streaming service of choice, they will hardly get paid.  People aren't stupid, most non-musicians I talk to about the subject understand the consequences of adopting a streaming-only music environment, and they reject it for the reasons stated above.  Most of the people I talk to have already been burned by movie and television show streaming services like Netflix, where they start getting into a show, and halfway through say, season 3, the show gets delisted for any number of reasons, licensing, politics, or lack of perceived popularity.   

Streaming isn't ownership. Streaming isn't forever.  Streaming is just a way for large corporate entities to control what you listen to, when you listen to it, and how you listen to it.  It is no different than what major record labels have been doing since they started, and it's the reason they are dying.  People all over the world, not just musician, are rediscovering real ownership, without control or limits.  I have a dear friend, named Horatio. Horatio is 17 years old.  Horatio, has never once bought music in a physical format, not a CD, cassette tape, Vinyl Record, nothing, as is typical of his generation, he's never seen the point, why would you when iTunes is so convenient, and torrent sites are so easy?  Recently Horatio was hanging out in my newly renovated living room, where I now display all of my CD and video game collection.  I wish you could have seen how his mind was blown away by what he saw.  He never before appreciated the work and care that goes into artwork and special packaging, to him, album artwork has always been a tiny jpeg on the screen of his iPhone.  His experience in my living room, getting fingerprints all my CD's and records, appreciating how integral art and packaging is to the experience of enjoying music, and finally realizing how permanent, how real that physical object he held in his hands was, is likely (hopefully) being played out in living rooms all across the world. 

As any ambient musician that bothers to produce a physical product will tell you, if you build it (in this case print it), they will come. 

I create, ultra-niche, very un-mainstream ambient and drone music. I sell everything through my Bandcamp site, I am tied to no traditional business model record label. Guess what my ratio of Downloads to CD sales in 2013 was... 50/50? 70/30? 

It's 20/80. 

The reason?  That CD I send in the mail, is forever.  Unless you burn it, abuse it, fire it into low earth orbit or lose it, it will always play in a CD player, wherever you have a cd player. You can rip it onto an iPod or other device.  You don't have to worry about losing it in a computer crash, or if you don't have internet where you are at the moment.  That CD I send in the mail, came from me personally, from my apartment, where I created the music, it came with a note thanking the listener for their support, that CD represents a relationship I now have with that person, there's a real, physical, tangible connection between artist and listener that cannot be replicated by a faceless streaming service.  This is the future, community between artists and listeners alike is what matters. Not a cold, mechanical interaction between someone and their computer, or huge corporate entity. 

On The Importance of Ambient Music: 

Many of my contemporaries are currently in a funk, musicians love more than anything, to complain on the current state of music. 

"Nobody's buying music, everybody steals everything!" 

"Nobody appreciates art anymore!" 

"Modern Music Sucks!" 

"Ambient is under appreciated" 

Maybe... but that's changing. 

Right now is a great time to be an ambient musician. Sure, only a few of us are lucky enough to be able to do what we do on a full time basis, without need for a day job, and even fewer are able to do so and eat well at the same time.  But I've noticed a change in the last few years, people are tired of 'normal' music, they aren't satisfied by shallow, easily digestible ear worms anymore.  When I think back to when I first heard, and got really interested in ambient music, it was because I was burned out on what the western idea of music is, I was searching for something that meant more, something to not only challenge my sensibilities, but to satisfy me in a way that corporate radio couldn't.  Nobody handed me an ambient album and said "Prepare thyself for the mind blowing!", I stumbled upon it by accident. So many others are having the same experience, stumbling across what we do by accident, and  the reaction I get from new fans is always incredible, "I didn't even know this kind of music was possible! I love it!" and "Ambient music is all I listen to now!" are reactions I get consistently. 

It's what people are looking for, they need it, on a spiritual level, they hunger for it.  They might just not know it yet.   

Ambient and drone music is well on it's way to becoming a movement, and you, either artist or listener, are a part of it. 

Enjoy it, I have a feeling, this is only beginning...

About: Mix an unnatural obsession with 2001: A Space Odyssey and a need to communicate without resorting to words and you find yourself in the aural spaces created by Broken Harbour. Canadian musician Blake Gibson takes his sounds from sources as diverse as worn-out cassette tapes, scratchy CDs, vast synthesizer constructs and mellotrons, then filters them through influences ranging from Debussy and Holst to vidnaObmana and Stars of the Lid. The outcome is a new sound unfettered by convention or expectation, interested only in the purity of expression. "It's not really a choice or a decision to create," Gibson says. "The music has to come through. You just have to be listening." 

Listen to Broken Harbour. 
It's time.
-John Shanahan - September 2011


Steve Brand 

Steve's artist page on the
relaxedMachinery website

relaxedMachinery Label


by Steve Brand

State of the Ambient Union (2014) - Steve Brand

First, thanks to Michael Foster for asking me to contribute to this State of the Ambient Union 2014, or as Michael put it, ďChanges over the last decade and where ambient music might be headed in the near future.Ē Iím honored that he would think of me.

Predictions and Potentials:

Let me say right off, Iím not one for prognostication. I donít claim to have an overview that would allow me to make those kind of predictions. Overall, I think predictions are sort of useless, in so far as we as humans are always making choices, and as a result, there are multiple potentials available at any time on a micro and macro level. In short, the future is fluid. That said, I suppose there are cultural and interpersonal trends and changes that indicate the general direction that things might be heading in...and perhaps, ambient music could follow those trends. We have this sort of discussion from time to time on RelaxedMachinery.ning, and as with any subject, there are multiple points of view (all of them valid), but some to me, are very dim and focused on scarcity of resources (listeners, their bandwidth, attention span, etc.), some seem to me to be focused on preserving a past that Iím not sure ever existed, and others are very hopeful, forward-looking and self-directed...I hope Iím more in the last category.

Change, Music, Integrity, Sovereignty and Creativity:

Change abounds on all fronts: Change is the predominant note these days, we can see it on a macro level in all our systems, government, money, education, and we can even see it on a more personal and direct level in our relationshipsÖI certainly have. For me, these changes are all centered around the focus on integrity, sovereignty and increased need for creativity. If I donít have integrity in my actions and interactions, thatíll be brought to light. If Iím overly dependent on an outside entity for my well-being or sense of self, that will also be brought to light. If I have an interaction that isnít totally above board emotionally and intellectually, I usually get my metaphorical hand slapped. On the same path, if my creative expressions arenít reflective of my emotional state, things Iím passionate about, if Iím not open, honest, clear, straight-forward in my creative endeavors, I donít connect with them and I canít reasonably expect others to connect with them. I also find that working with outside entities to produce my music to be more challenging than I remember, so Iím being forced to be more resourceful, more open to knew possibilities, more self-motivated, more open to exploring new channels, more open to collaborationÖgenerally, Iím being asked to be more sovereign, to look inward for inspiration, to be motivated more by my own passion.

While there have been many examples in the recent past that I could site (most of them likely too personal to mention here), one that immediately comes to mind as an musical example of this call to passion, sovereignty, clarity and directness, was the live performance of Stephan Micus at Ambicon last year. Iíve been an ECM fan for decades, but for some unknown reason, Iíve never heard Mr. Micusí work, so I was totally unprepared for what I saw and felt as I watched the streaming video. While I was moved, fascinated and inspired by every single performance at Ambicon, I was reduced to a puddle of tears by Micusí performance. Not joking. I later asked myself,ďwhy?Ē Other than the radical difference of his performance from the other artists, and my being new to his music, I believe it was the utter simplicity and emotional clarity of his performance. For the most part, it was Stefan, a simple instrument and a mic. It was a humble display of sheer musical, intuitive and heart-felt mastery. His performance reached back into the roots of our impulse to make and listen to music. It was reminder of what connects us, our collective past, what moves us, what is really required to make something beautiful and profound.

The Future and Flowing with Change:

As Iíve already written here, itís clear that change is the predominant theme. Music, ambient music, wonít be immune to this change. More than ever, change is an inevitable part of life, so I just decided a long time ago to build that into my world view, into my creativity expressionsógo with it, rather than resist it, see where it takes meówhile still holding true to some core convictions. In my blogs and conversations, I have said many times, with these personal and systemic changes, more and more people are dropping out of those systems, out of old belief patterns that might have restricted them. As more and more people leave these systems, they will look for new structures and ways of being that will nurture them and facilitate them. I feel that ambient music can play a part in facilitating this shift. Itís certainly been a part of my own personal shift and of those I know. This music provides the opportunity for silence, for space, for stillness, for feeling that is needed in a world that currently values doing and having over being. Rather than seeing a shrinking audience, I can feel that there will be more and more people who will find this music, who will be drawn to this music. What we call ďambient music,Ē at bottom, represents a different kind of consciousness, a melding of influences, of epochs and traditions, an alternate way of being in the world that many are hungry for. Whatever changes take place in delivery, technique, instrumentation, or technology, in my opinion are dwarfed and rendered tertiary (at best) by considerations of where the music is ďcoming from,Ē our personal connection and investment in it, and our truthfulness in those expressions.

ABOUT: A lifelong artist and musician, Steve Brand originally recorded and released in the experimental realm under the name  ďAugur,Ē with more than 20 limited edition releases on various independent labels. In 2003, Steve began creating in the ďambientĒ genre under his own name. He describes this change in moniker and musical expression as ďPart of the process of moving out of my head and more into my heart.Ē Since then, Brand has issued a number of self-released disks, as well as a number of solo and collaborative releases on the esteemed U.S. labels, Hypnos and AtmoWorks, and the Italian label, Afe. Instruments used in Brandís music include keyboards, field recordings, various flutes, whistles, zither, ocarina, voice, medicine drum, shakers and rattles, various bells, kalimba, prayer bowls, kora, gongs. Along with John Koch-Northrup and Geoff Small, Brand helps run the relaxedMACHINERY label as Art Director/Designer and Ethustiastic Boat Floater.