As a writer who frequently whores his meager skills out to earn a worthless fiat currency called ‘money’, I often find myself listening to music that sits comfortably in the background but isn’t too dull to be completely ignored. I prefer listening to ambient music that has its roots in post-rock rather than electronica and that is, wherever possible, both beautiful and eerie.
I have dabbled in many areas of the ambient landscape over the years, investigating the fringes and many sub-genres. There have been some surprising discoveries – for example, the sinister joy of dark ambient – and a few disappointments or dead-ends. Like most adventures in art, it was a largely enriching experience – after all, it’s in the seeking that you find etc etc. A happy side effect of these meanderings is that I now have a large collection of ambient soundscapes to choose from when writing.
The two that I like the most, who I draw upon most frequently and with the greatest amount of enjoyment are Stars of the Lid and Labradford. Both hailing from the same indie label Kranky, their back catalog provide hours of quiet joy and ceaseless wonder. While not necessarily the most influential or widely appreciated, they both embody and emblazon the isolation and impenetrable sadness of outsider art and provide a sense of kinship and understanding solace for the reclusive or socially unaccepted.
Labradford’s self-titled masterpiece, which I first bought on vinyl in my mid teens, is a joyous and sinister soundscape. I was first captured by its vision of a stark chiming landscape, and then enraptured by the way it seethed and creaked, like the music of an old boat drifting at sea, unmanned but with lantern lights still burning. It was a homecoming of sorts – one of the first times I experienced music that sounded how my dark-interior felt.
About this time I also bought The ballasted orchestra by Stars of the Lid – where Labradford seethes, the Lids flutter and soar. They are the sound of quantum matter building and interacting in slow motion – painfully slow and deceptively beautiful. What at first seems simple, ends up being sublime – how moments consume the one before it in everlasting continuation.
Listening to these records now, many years later, the sound still haunts and captures. And while the later releases of both these artists are in many ways superior, they don’t evoke for me the memory and nostalgia of first love.
As a reclusive fellow, I find I need an abundance of environment adjusting tools to counteract the feeling of vertigo and stasis that sometimes creeps in. The right music at the right time acts as a powerful balm to soothe an aching and confused spirit.
Great ambient music is the opiate pain relief for our stressful and anxious lives.