The Best Dark Ambient Artists and Albums You Should Know About

 

Ah, you’ve come.

Welcome.

Your nostrils tingle with the scent of misty roses in the hour of the gloaming. Lurking in the trees, stalking the rows of the cemetery, the hunger of a humid night under a full moon in June.

We have gathered for you creators of the perfect visionary soundscapes to accompany you on this journey.

For that is what dark ambient is all about: the journey. There can seem to be no beginning nor an end; there is not a climax. Only the atmosphere. Ambient music is soothing, with few instruments, and sounds with large gaps in between.

The kind of music that plays while you get a massage: music that calms you, relaxes the breathing and frees the mind.

Dark ambient is the atmosphere of a lonely nightmare, soft violence, utter fear. And in facing this fear through listening to the music – through bearing that exact experience – one comes out the other side feeling rather liberated, risen, freed. For in facing fear we conquer it.

Generally speaking, that’s a very important theme to appreciate about dark music: that shared experience between creator and listener, the cause and effect of having put that emotional work into the music and then effecting the same responses in the listener.

One could argue it is a spiritiual experience for through endurance we grow stronger.

Endurance is another big theme in dark ambient music: the notes and beats and frequently repeated, suggesting endurance in both the repetitive, machinelike motion and pain evident in the vocals. But there is always sensuality in this music, for in its ghostly state it feels so very and truly alive.

Dark ambient music is about the experience of feeling while listening. From guttural, deep and quiet vocals just a bit offkey, to muffled horror sounds, there are elements some find disturbing and others find calming.

Personally I find them to be a bit of both, as per that aforementioned liberating experience.

Early Ambient

Ambient music as a genre took root sometime in the 1960s, when synthesizers were becoming more affordable to the average consumer.

It is true that the accessibility of the synthesizer led to an ever-increasing presence of the instrument in music from the 1960s and 70s, but – as with most genres of music and art – the group or artist who invented or began the genre shall forever be argued upon.

The synthesizer opened up endless doors to new sonic possibilities, with its myriad sound effects and capacity for programming and recording. In the late 1960s music took on rather a psychedelic and fantastical sound in the form of prog rock.

Bands like Genesis and King Crimson were experimenting with synthesizers and creating an entirely new atmospheric experience for the listener. The length of songs extended to make room for instrumental parts that sounded otherworldly, ethereal, sometimes downright haunting.

Into the 1980s, synthpop is very popular and mainstream, so following Einstein’s law of universal relativism, we begin to see dark branches splinter off into goth and industrial music, with both sounds and words often containing strong and slow beats, injury to the body, minor chords, haunting sound effects, machinery, heavy emotional content and response from the listener. With every technological advancement, music becomes heavier.

And so, naturally, this led to the experimentation with an exploration of instrumental ambient music to suggest the so called dark themes of confusion, feeling lost, melancholic, haunting, horrifying or mysterious, to name a few.

<Read our more detailed history of Dark Ambient music here>

Here it is: a collection of the names of dark ambient artists you should know about.

  1. Nocturnal Emissions
    https://nocturnalemissions.bandcamp.com/

Nocturnal Emissions has been around since the late 1970s, initially as a sound art project by art student Nigel Ayers and a few other members. He is based in the United Kingdom. 

Since the mid-1980s, it has primarily been Ayers’ solo project. As you go through the bandcamp page, you will notice quite an extensive discography.

The sounds primarily orbit about dark ambient but venture into electro techno stuff, post-industrial and noise music. He avoids the music industry and has rather a big cult following.

Since the early 1990s Nocturnal Emissions contains a lot of sacred, magic and ritual elements.

 

  1. Controlled Bleeding
    https://controlledbleeding.bandcamp.com/

This American band has also been around since the 1970s, but released their first full-length album in 1983. To this day they have released more than 30 full-length albums.

With such a large output, they have of course experimented with progressive rock, metal, classical, sacred music and jazz, all in addition to ambient.

They have received their best critical response to their industrial dance. In this phase they began using lyrics more prominently in the 1990s, as a change from their previously mostly instrumental music.

3. Zoviet France
https://soundcloud.com/zoviet-france

Little is known about the members of Zoviet France, other than their names. The musical group has been around since 1980 and gone through several personnel changes in that time.

Their music incorporates some industrial elements but is altogether out of this world. We link to a rather profoundly disturbing track of theirs: the 20-minute long Shamany Enfluence from the 1988 album Looking at the Ground.

  1. Lustmord
    https://soundcloud.com/lustmord

Lustmord hails from North Wales and has been active since 1980, releasing at least one album each year since. He is a musician as well as a film score composer, known for having worked on The Crow.

His work is exceptionally dark, as he combines all kinds of clips from field recordings in crypts and other such creepy places where death lurks and mixed them into his work.

He is in fact widely recognized as the founder of this genre. One of the elements unique to Lustmord is the expanded bass lines that remind one of the darkest depths of the ocean.

His work is altogether ominous, haunting and calm, with just the right tempered balance of dark and ambient.

  1. Coph Nia
    https://cophnia.bandcamp.com/

Coph Nia is a newer band on the list, having founded in 1999 after the height of industrial music. They come, appropriately, from Gothenbug, Sweden.

The very slow beats in a lot of dark ambient music, combined with the ominous sounds, one is likely to associate with dark ritual and moonlight.

Coph Nia sounds like ritual music and is utterly empowering with spoken, monotone vocal style. Their name comes from a passage from Aleister Crowley.

Their songs contain a lot of western magical themes.

 

  1. Robin Rimbaud AKA Scanner
    https://soundcloud.com/scanner

Another fantastic artist from the United Kingdom. Scanner is the stage name of musician Robin Rimbaud and he has been making music since 1982. He works under this name because he uses cell phones, police scanners, radio and cell phone signals in his works.

These indiscernible hints at human life – and the broken communication – make for rather a profound emotional impact on the listener. In the early 1980s Rimbaud played with a band and released cassette tapes of their recordings. He debuted Scanner in 1992.

In addition to music, he creates artworks, plays classical music and helped develop a natural light and sound alarm clock with Philips Electronics.

He also creates performance and installation art and has been honoured with many awards over the years. Some of his compositions are utterly chilling.

  1. Klaus Wiese

Wiese passed away at the age of 67 in 2009. He was a fantastic multi-instrumenalist who made compositions using Tibetan singing bowls; he is widely known as being a master of those bowls, having created several full-length albums with them. His work is very spacy and meditative, but the slowed notes of the singing bowls add a slightly unnerving seriousness to his work (we mean this in the best way possible).

It is through this mood created his work falls into dark ambient. There are elements of drone presented through an ever-zooming, pulsing lens.

He studied Mysticism in the Far East for many years, the influence of which can certainly be heard in the songs. For example, his entire album Maquam is about the stations of enlightenment within Islamic mysticism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dmM_uPw2-c&t=807s

Beta Brainwaves 101

What Are Beta Brainwaves?

Beta brainwaves are created when we are doing something that needs active thinking. For example, students in a school will create many of these brainwaves, if they are concentrated.

On the other hand, people watching a movie are relaxed and will not create as much beta brain waves. This type of waves ranges between 13 Hz to 40 Hz.

Benefits of Beta brainwaves

Beta brainwaves are great for motivation as they can keep you focused and aware. If you are studying, I recommend you listen to audio tracks with beta brainwaves.

Beta brainwaves will improve your linguistic skills. Studies have shown that beta brainwaves can be great for children who are late when it comes to speaking. It is also good for people who are learning a new language, reading or writing.

Since beta waves keep you motivated, it is natural that they will keep you concentrated for long periods. Definitely listen to beta brainwaves when you are trying to focus on a task.

Beta brainwaves can be effective in treating ADD. Attention deficit disorder or ADD occurs in children that do not produce enough beta brainwaves or do not produce them at all.

Exposing them to this type of brainwaves will help cure them from this illness or at least improve their condition.

Here is a sample of beta binaural beats that might be of some assistance to you.

How to Increase the creation Beta waves

You can either listen to beta binaural beats music, such as the example given above, or dive in some activities that help increase their creation.

Those activities include reading, writing, playing games (chess games, poker, video games…) or debating subjects with people.

Beta Brainwaves and Meditation

Beta waves have a link to your conscious mind. When you are meditating, it is a great idea to make the experience more “conscious” by discussing it, writing it, etc.

While meditating, people experience many states of mind (ecstasy, contemplation, inspiration, calmness, etc.)

However, it can be easy to forget all of them. The reason is, right after meditation, we are still unconscious. We produce more alpha waves.

Talking about what we felt when we were mediating can help us produce more beta waves and make the meditation more conscious.

What Is Minimalist Music? History, Characteristics, Progenitors, and Innovators

what is minimalist music

Minimalist music, like any genre of music, has morphed over time to become a complex style of music that remains ambiguous and difficult to define.  Still, despite its ongoing evolution, many core traits remain the same, such as its strict emphasis on static harmony, uniformity of rhythm, and rigorously employed limitations set by its composers which help to define it as “minimalist music” from the outset.  

who created minimalist music

Indeed, calling it a “style” sparks a recurring debate, with many pundits agreeing that minimalist music is more of an approach or aesthetic than a style.  

That said, scholarly debate often falls on deaf ears and minimalist music has managed to enter the popular culture, appearing in big budget Hollywood movie soundtracks to provide stark and often unsettling sonic backdrops to grandiose visual feasts, not to mention video games and really anywhere that soundtracks are needed.

History of Minimalist Music

This music came about as a response to other more regimented musical iterations, such as Serialism, which itself is a compositional technique based on Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique from the late 1940’s.  

Similar to Serialism, Minimalism at first began as a compositional structure for creating music. It came about in the late 1960’s, in downtown New York, and was called New York Hypnotic School.  It has also been referred to, over time, as “process music”, “hypnotic music”, “modular music”, and even the very flattering “going nowhere music”.

Who Started Minimalist Music?

Many composers from the 1960’s were involved in defining of what minimalist music soon became, including sonic pioneers like La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. The term “minimalism” has been attributed to composer Tom Johnson, as well as Michael Nyman. 

Here is a sample of a minimalist piece, by Steve Reich, called “New York Counterpoint”.

Minimalist music can last for hours and can have thousands of notes, but the majority of songs adhering to minimalist conventions tend to lie in the range of 6 to 10 minutes.  In other words, far longer than the average popular song from any time period you can think of, save classical music.  

Minimalist composers often make use of instruments that generally form classical ensembles, such as violin, viola, cello, guitar, saxophones, trumpet, piano, drums, marimba, as well as tuned percussion.  Of course, there is no limit to what can be used and other less conventional instruments can be employed and played with as well, such as “antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whiskey glasses”, as described by self-identified minimalist composer Tom Johnson.

Characteristics and Examples of the Genre

Single Tone: Using a static tone throughout a song is one of the basic features of this type of music.  The shift from one scale to another is slow and unrealizable. 

Check out this piece by the group Coil, from the album Time Machines, which focuses on a single tone.  Pleasurable, yes?

Static Harmony: Harmonies used in this music are usually simple and repetitive.  Static harmony could be explained as hovering on just one chord or even moving back and forth between very few chords.  

Here’s a song by sometimes minimalist composer Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin.  This song, “Cliffs”, uses just a few chords and a lot of repetition, clocking in at over 7 minutes.

Steady Beat: In minimalist music, you often find a very steady, simple beat that is used through the whole song, or other sounds that represent such rhythms.  

Have a listen to Alec Empire’s Low On Ice track, 37 2 Pt 1.  Notice the beat doesn’t change much (at all).

Single or Polyrhythm: Many minimalist pieces have a continuous and steady beat, which can be accented with polyrhythms where two rhythms are used at the same time.  You can find such juxtapositions and layered rhythmical elements in these tracks by Mouse on Mars.

Phasing: This effect was introduced by Steve Reich and it refers to playing the same part of a song using two different instruments but at different tempos.  This creates an echo-like effect and creates variance of the same theme throughout a song, allowing listener interest to be maintained for a longer period of time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8nX30aUZoE

Additive Process: Minimalist music tends to start off with a repeated pattern and continues to build throughout the piece, with slight alterations being made along the way.  I personally think Tubular Bells would qualify as a type of minimalist music, in this sense, for the first 11 or so minutes of the piece.

Dynamics and Timbre:  The variations in the music are derived by using different dynamics and timbre, as in changing the loudness or softness of certain instruments during the song, to avoid monotony.

In this piece by Angelo Badalamenti, there is enough overall variation to keep you listening, but the changes throughout the track are what I’d call minimal.

Dense Texture: The texture of a song determines the quality of the sound.  It is basically the way in which the harmonies, rhythms, and melodies are used together as a composition.  The texture used in minimalist songs are dense, giving the emotion behind the track added resonance. 

Looping: This feature is also used in a lot of minimalist pieces. With looping, you hear something – a sound, a sample, a beat – recurring through the entire song.

Broken Chords: Many composers use the technique of adding in broken chords.  This technique employs the playing of a chord where the notes are played at different times.  They can literally sound broken, as in with jarring rhythms, or they can be played smoothly, but separately.  

Decay: Many minimalist songs feature decay, as in chords or sounds that are left to hang and slowly “die” before another sound is made.  Some songs even feature complete silence, such as John Cage’s famous 4’33.

Some might say that minimalist music “lacks” melody, in that it doesn’t provide the listener with a lot of variance when it comes to multiple melodies and chord structures.  However, you could just as easily say that minimalist music simply lingers on specific parts of the music, making it even more romantic in its particular lack of “progression” through a piece.  Only the listener can decide what the dominant feeling is with regards to any piece of music.  

In our society of shortened attention spans and constant need for different stimuli, it would certainly seem that minimalist music could be called “boring”.  This is not my personal opinion of minimalist music, however, as my attention span still seems to exist, despite the constant encouragement around me to never be content with my current state of being.

Influence On Other Musical Genres

Certainly, minimalist music has made an impact on nearly all types of music by now, including genres that you might expect such as electronic forms of music, including techno, trance, dub, ambient, etc.  

What may surprise you is that rock music of all types, including metal, punk, funk, and progressive rock have absorbed many of these aforementioned characteristics of minimalist music.  We’ve been hearing this influence since bands like the Velvet Underground gave us epic noise jams like Sister Ray featuring drones, or bands like My Bloody Valentine let their music burn out and decay like an exploded oil tanker with You Made Me Realize.  The influence here of minimalist music is very clear, and yet requires industrial grade ear plugs to save you from going deaf.

Minimalist music, thanks to its “rules” that were put in place by its creators, help to shape it as a genre, and serves to continually inspire new generations of musicians to adopt some of its tendencies, in order to create new and exciting music.  While this genre isn’t for everyone, due to its sometimes challenging nature, it can be beautiful, inspire mindfulness and reflection, and, ultimately, be quite a rewarding listening experience.

young coconut musician