May 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part III

Prelude

GARRULOUS GREETINGS AND A HEARTY “hello” once again to the global guitar gathering as seen through the laidback lenticular lens of CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars. Whether you are a first‑time visitor or a long‑time returnee, all with peaceful intentions are welcome here.

This month, we are concluding the 3‑part exploration on the current status of civilian‑grade Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its perspective on vintage guitars within the context of the wider music industry. This time around, we’ll take the investigation of Generative AI’s (GAI) impact beyond the narrow domain of vintage guitars and look at the bigger picture. In addition to vintage guitars, we will take a look at music, the music business, music tools and equipment, live performance, production, promotion, distribution and access. As a final parting shot on the subject, I’ll take a personal philosophical look at AI’s future intentions for us poor old human beans.

At the time of writing, it seems that we don’t need AI to forecast the ‘end of days’ for the human race. We have plenty enough diabolical demagogues teetering on the brink of bringing about just that suicidal eventuality right now. We don’t need AI to tell us that, as a species, we have learned absolutely nothing from the ravages of our past and, perhaps, we deserve what we get as a result. All I will say is, “Klaatu Barada Nickto” (From the film, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, 1951).

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever‑increasing rate” – Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist, 1942‑2018)


AI revisited (again)

The previous two articles focused on narrative (Part I) and visual (Part II) aspects of the vintage guitar experience. Once again, there is really no need for introductory explanations. If you wish to review the preceding articles leading up to this one, or are coming at it for the first time, you can revisit those blogs by following the links below (open in a new browser window):

March 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part I

April 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part II

CRAVE Guitars – Artificial Intelligence Part III

Scope

The scope of this third article in the series is quite broad, wider than in the first two articles. At its core, though, remains the topic of vintage guitars, amps and effects and the small but vital part they play in music today. While it has less of a focus on vintage instruments and equipment, it is all part of the same ‘micro/macro’ world, a connection that AI overlooked back in Part I.

Up to now, the articles concentrated largely on the past and present. This third article is very much future focused, so we’ll see what AI has to say about what is to come on and what may be over the digital horizon. Perhaps, someone will look back at this article at some point in years to come and gauge how far AI has come and how accurate AI has been at predicting the future.

Humans tend to shy away from radical change and are innately conservative. How we deal with the challenges that AI poses will be pivotal. AI will either enhance or inhibit human development? It is currently up to us to decide which. The debate rages on and will do for some time to come. These heated conversations aren’t just centring on music, they are pretty much across every economic sphere of production.

“I had two passions growing up – one was music, one was technology. I tried to play in a band for a while, but I was never talented enough to make it. And I started companies. One day came along and I decided to combine the two – and there was Spotify” – Daniel Ek (founder and CEO of Spotify, 1983‑)


The rationale

Make no mistake, AI has already made its mark in music. Whether it is in the way of song writing and music creation through recording and producing to distribution and enhancing the consumer’s experience. AI is here already and it isn’t going to go away. Going forward, there is no longer any doubt that AI’s role in music will be increasingly expansive, whether we like it or not

The arguments posed by many artists is that AI is incapable of capturing and mastering the artistic expression of music. Music has a rich history and deep emotional ties and these are not easily replicated by machines. Before we go too far, let us be clear that the same applies to many human musicians! Inspiration is rare and not easy to reproduce or we’d all be using it to get rich in the process. It isn’t clear whether the egotistical view that the human spirit is inimitable is born from a reluctance to embrace technology’s potential. The instinctive defensive reaction is to attempt to protect human creativity at all costs. Similarly, it is not certain whether it is possible for a machine to create intelligent artistic outcomes.

Can music generated by IT algorithms be considered authentic musical art? Art is an inward and outward expression of human emotion, experience, and creativity. These are characteristics that sceptics say a machine simply cannot possess. The current state‑of‑the‑art AI has a hard time translating technical data into sensitive music, struggling to infuse its outputs with sincerity, passion and feeling. Yet. I am sure that soon, we won’t be able to assert these facts with any genuine certainty.

From the composition of musical melody and harmony to generating complex musical arrangements, AI already has the ability to create ‘original’ pieces that can (allegedly) rival the work of human composers. As the technology is derivative, AI has yet to develop the ability to exceed human talents. It would be an act of hubris to suggest that AI cannot follow the same scientific principles, musical rules and tropes that humans have abided by for centuries or even millennia. AI can achieve considerable complexity in a fraction of the time that a human can exact the same tasks. It is still the ‘intelligent’ aspect that vexes most commentators.

AI doesn’t care one iota about music and it doesn’t even know what music is. To AI, music is simply another digital computational process, albeit one that seems amazingly expert to us. However, AI doesn’t have any conscious investment in music and it can’t tell rock ‘n’ roll from a rock in the ground. Professional musicians have spent entire careers trying to perfect their skills and they are understandably concerned about AI’s impact on their livelihoods. While I understand that point of view, having reservations isn’t going to stop the tsunami coming their way. In the Darwinian sense, it will be, ‘adapt or die’ (metaphorically speaking of course).

“The idea that machines can’t do things humans can is a pure myth” – Marvin Minsky (American cognitive and computer scientist, 1927‑2016)

There are already AI‑powered virtual instruments in the form of plugins integrated into DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). Studios are already using AI tools to improve mixing, producing and mastering techniques. AI has the potential to be a powerful collaborative tool, as long as we are prepared to accept the consequences of such a ‘partnership’. AI is simply becoming another tool in the artist’s repertoire and surely it is just a logical extension of the use of digital electronics that studio and stage engineers have been using for the past 40 years. For instance, we would no longer think of salvaging a 20,000 gallon water tank to create a single analogue reverb chamber effect, when we have digital electronics that can provide thousands of credible permutations with the click of a mouse. Let’s get real here.

AI automation can and will result in job displacement, let’s not shy away from the fact; it is inevitable. Technical roles in the music industry such as producers, sound engineers, mixers and mastering specialists may be under threat. Similarly, even some session musicians may be adversely affected. However, the contrary argument is that AI opens doors to a diverse range of new opportunities and it will create new skills and expertise that have hitherto been either underappreciated or non‑existent. Threats to livelihoods have always existed and it will be imperative to drive change in the industry, rather than become a victim of it.

“The arrival of general AI will force us to confront a new sense of ourselves, as well as a universe that is both more strange and more wonderful than we could have imagined” – Ray Kurzweil (American computer scientist, 1948‑)

There are also legal issues. If an AI created song becomes commercially successful, who owns the rights? Is it the end‑user of the technology, the system developer, the creator of the data sets used to inform AI, or the machine itself? Currently, the law sides with the end‑user. A guitar manufacturer cannot claim Intellectual Property (IP) rights simply because a musician used their instrument. Neither can the owner of an arboretum where the tree grows to source the wood used in said instrument. You get the idea.

AI has already replaced humans, at least in the areas of commercial recorded background music and around the periphery, even if you aren’t aware of it. AI ‘artists’ have already been created and AI has been used to resurrect dead artists (e.g. John Lennon). AI is used on virtual reality concerts streamed over the Internet or to live audiences (e.g. Abba, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, etc.). However, humans will still be needed for the time being to innovate and break conventional boundaries in mainstream and underground music. As yet, though, nothing can really substitute for the genuine human experience. Live music is largely safe… for now.

Instead of viewing AI as a threat, many artists will see it as a vital device that can help to give them a strategic advantage in an increasingly competitive industry and in highly saturated markets. AI’s current course in music suggests an even more integrated future. Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA suggests that up to 60% of artists already make use of AI techniques to help unlock their potential. This human/AI collaboration can redefine artistic boundaries, enable experimentation and give rise to genres and ground‑breaking sounds previously unimaginable, if we allow it. AI can help to broaden musicians’ creative horizons beyond the familiar. The potential synergy between human musicians and AI presents exciting opportunities and challenges for the future of music. Wasn’t it ever thus?

“It’s not artificial intelligence I’m worried about, it’s human stupidity” – Neil Jacobstein (Chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University)

So… there you have both sides of a musical and ethical difference of opinion. Now it is time to turn that debate over to GAI…


The CRAVE Guitars’ test

For the final time, I will present AI with some challenges and see how AI responds. As before, I will let the AI do the hard work and leave my critique until the end of the article.

Apologies for repeating the following list yet again. I suggested eight benchmarks for evaluating AI’s responses, summarised below:

  1. To understand a question correctly without over‑specificity
  2. To interpret and extrapolate relevant information objectively within a wider context
  3. To present a cogent argument that can adequately be judged and/or challenged
  4. To form a genuine opinion from scratch without relevant information being readily available in the first place, in the same way that a person might do in the case of uncertainty
  5. To debate the initial result to achieve a potentially better outcome
  6. To produce a creative response that improves on the original information input by humans
  7. To remember what it has already output
  8. To understand fully what humans want or expect from ‘intelligence’

Once more, twenty questions were posed to AI about vintage guitars and various aspects of the music industry. What follows are the verbatim results. Nothing has been added or removed. What you see is what I got. Apologies for the repetition up to this point.

Time for me to take a backseat until later in the article. I’m off to put the kettle on, put my feet up and consume multiple warm beverages. Health warning: AI can lead to a sedentary and indolent lifestyle! Bye for now…


Twenty Questions and Twenty AI Responses

Question #1 – What is AI’s role in current new guitar and bass design and manufacturing?

AI Response #1

AI is playing an increasingly significant role in the design and manufacturing of guitars. Here are some ways AI is being utilised:

  • Personalised Designs: AI can analyse player preferences, such as playing style and hand size, to create custom guitars tailored to individual needs.
  • Generative Design: AI can generate organic, biomimetic shapes, leading to innovative designs that were previously impossible.
  • Sustainability: AI helps manufacturers reduce waste and energy consumption, resulting in more environmentally friendly guitar production.
  • Simulation Software: Designers can simulate the guitar’s performance and sound quality, allowing for real‑time adjustments and early identification of design flaws.
  • Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing): This technology enables the creation of physical prototypes, helping designers evaluate and refine the guitar’s design before production.

Overall, AI tools are transforming guitar design by enabling more efficient, sustainable, and personalised manufacturing processes.

Question #2 – How is AI contributing towards wider musical equipment technology?

AI Response #2

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has significantly impacted the field of music technology, revolutionizing various aspects of music creation, production, and performance. Let’s delve into how AI is shaping the world of musical equipment:

  • Smart Algorithms in Mixing and Audio Editing:
    • Many audio plugins now incorporate smart algorithms that draw on human experience. These algorithms apply frequency correction or normalisation presets to enhance audio quality during mixing and editing.
    • These AI‑driven tools assist musicians and producers in achieving professional sound without extensive manual adjustments.
  • Composition and Music Generation:
    • AI has made a major impact in the realm of composition. Services like Aiva utilize deep learning algorithms to create beautiful music across various genres.
    • Aiva’s virtual brain is modelled after how a human brain works. It recalls past experiences and problem‑solving to refine its results. By analysing vast amounts of data (such as classical music archives), Aiva recognizes patterns in chord structures, melodies, and arrangement choices.
    • The resulting AI‑generated tracks are increasingly indistinguishable from compositions by human musicians.
  • AI‑Driven Music Production Tools:
    • Over the past decade, AI has transformed music mixing and mastering. Apps like Landr, Cryo Mix, and iZotope’s Neutron automatically analyse tracks, balance audio levels, and remove noise.
    • These tools enhance efficiency and consistency in the production process, allowing artists to focus on creativity.
  • New Sounds and Beats:
    • AI’s ability to analyse sound characteristics using deep neural networks has led to the creation of new sounds. By drawing from existing music and theory, AI generates fresh beats and melodies.
    • Musicians can explore novel sonic possibilities, pushing the boundaries of traditional instruments and arrangements.
  • Music Education and Research:
    • AI, combined with audio big data, contributes to Music Information Retrieval (MIR). MIR extracts audio features based on signal processing and employs machine learning techniques.
    • Researchers use AI to analyse music theory, composition, and performance, advancing our understanding of music.

In summary, AI’s influence on musical equipment technology extends beyond mere automation. It empowers musicians, enhances creativity, and opens up exciting avenues for the future of music.

Question #3 – How can AI contribute towards the conservation of vintage guitars and basses?

AI Response #3

AI can contribute significantly to the conservation of vintage guitars in several ways:

  • Digital Restoration: AI can restore old photographs and videos of iconic luthiers and vintage guitars, enhancing the quality and clarity of historical records.
  • Predictive Maintenance: By analysing data from sensors placed on vintage guitars, AI can predict when and what kind of maintenance is needed to preserve their condition.
  • Material Analysis: AI can assist in analysing the materials and construction techniques of vintage guitars, providing insights for conservation efforts.
  • Sound Analysis: Machine learning algorithms can analyse the sound of vintage guitars to understand how they have changed over time and how to maintain their original sound.
  • 3D Scanning and Modelling: AI can help create detailed 3D models of vintage guitars, which can be used for educational purposes or to replicate parts that are no longer available.

These applications of AI not only help in preserving the physical aspects of vintage guitars but also ensure that their legacy and the craftsmanship behind them are documented and passed down to future generations.

Question #4 ‑ How can AI contribute towards the conservation of vintage guitar amplifiers and effect pedals?

AI Response #4

AI can be a powerful ally in the conservation of vintage guitar amplifiers and effect pedals, offering several innovative approaches:

  • Emulation and Modelling: AI can be used to create digital models of vintage amplifiers and pedals, allowing musicians to access classic sounds without using the original, fragile equipment.
  • Predictive Analysis: AI algorithms can analyse the condition of electronic components over time, predicting failures and suggesting preventive maintenance to prolong the life of the equipment.
  • Restoration Guidance: AI can guide technicians through the restoration process, suggesting optimal methods and materials that preserve the original sound and functionality.
  • Sound Preservation: By analysing the unique sounds of vintage gear, AI can help in creating a digital library of tones and effects, ensuring that the sonic legacy of these devices is not lost.
  • Component Analysis: AI can assist in identifying and sourcing authentic components for repair and restoration, ensuring that the vintage gear remains as close to its original state as possible.

These contributions of AI not only help in maintaining the physical integrity of vintage amplifiers and pedals but also ensure that their distinctive sounds continue to inspire musicians for generations to come.

Question #5 – How can AI contribute towards future guitar innovation, design and manufacturing developments that will one day become vintage?

AI Response #5

AI’s contribution to future guitar innovation, design, and manufacturing is expected to be transformative, with several key areas of impact:

  • Customisation: AI can analyse vast amounts of data on player preferences and ergonomics to create highly personalised guitars that cater to the specific needs of individual musicians.
  • Sound Modelling: Advanced machine learning algorithms can emulate the sounds of vintage guitars, allowing new guitars to have the sought‑after tones of classic models.
  • Quality Control: AI can enhance quality control in manufacturing, ensuring that each guitar meets high standards of craftsmanship and consistency.
  • Material Innovation: AI can assist in discovering new materials and construction methods that replicate the qualities of vintage guitars while being more sustainable and durable.
  • Predictive Analytics: By predicting trends and consumer preferences, AI can guide the design of guitars that are likely to become future classics.

These contributions are poised to revolutionise the guitar industry, making it more innovative, efficient, and responsive to the needs of musicians around the world.

Question #6 – Where do vintage guitars fit into the wider current day music industry?

AI Response #6

Vintage guitars hold a special place in the modern music industry, serving as a bridge between the rich musical heritage of the past and the innovative sounds of the present. Here’s how they fit into today’s musical landscape:

  1. Timeless Sound and Design: Vintage guitars are renowned for their distinctive designs and the unique sound quality they produce. Musicians often seek out these instruments for their ability to create authentic tones that newer models can’t replicate. They are not just tools for making music but are also seen as works of art and symbols of musical eras gone by.
  2. Influence on Modern Music: The influence of vintage guitars extends across genres, from rock and blues to jazz and even contemporary pop. Their sound has shaped the music we listen to today, and many modern musicians still prefer vintage guitars for their unparalleled tonal qualities.
  3. Collectible Value: Beyond their musical capabilities, vintage guitars are also valuable collectibles. They represent a time and place in musical history, embodying the legacy of innovation and craftsmanship. For collectors and enthusiasts, owning a vintage guitar is akin to possessing a piece of music history.
  4. Inspiration for New Models: Modern guitar manufacturers often look to vintage guitars for inspiration when designing new models. The classic aesthetics and sound of vintage guitars continue to influence the development of new instruments, ensuring that the spirit of the vintage era lives on in the music industry.
  5. Cultural Significance: Vintage guitars carry cultural significance, representing the evolution of music and the impact of iconic musicians who played them. They are a testament to the enduring appeal of the guitar as an instrument and its role in shaping the cultural landscape.

In essence, vintage guitars are more than just musical instruments; they are cultural icons that continue to inspire musicians and captivate audiences, maintaining their relevance in a rapidly evolving music industry.

Question #7 – What does the future hold for vintage guitars, basses, amplifiers and effect pedals?

AI Response #7

The future of vintage guitars, basses, amplifiers, and effect pedals looks quite promising, with several trends indicating a continued appreciation and demand for these classic instruments and gear. Here’s what we can expect:

  1. Vintage Guitars: The allure of vintage guitars is expected to persist, with a focus on craftsmanship, exclusivity, and historical significance. Collectors and musicians alike will likely continue to seek out these instruments for their unique sound, aesthetic appeal, and investment potential. The market for vintage guitars is anticipated to see growth, especially in regions like North America and Asia Pacific.
  2. Bass Guitars: High‑end bass guitars are gaining attention, with premium models from brands like Rickenbacker, Fender, and Fodera being highlighted for their quality. The bass guitar scene is evolving, with discussions around its future in the music industry and the potential for new genres to reinvigorate interest in the instrument.
  3. Guitar Amplifiers: The guitar amp market is embracing both vintage features and futuristic technology. There’s a trend towards recreating classic amps as well as developing new models packed with advanced tech. The future may see a blend of the best of the past with innovative features that cater to modern players’ needs.
  4. Effect Pedals: Guitar effects pedals are becoming more varied and sophisticated, with new models based on classic gear and all‑new combinations. The industry is witnessing a surge in creativity and innovation, with digital modelling and emulation playing significant roles in the development of new pedals.

In summary, the future for vintage musical gear is one of reverence for the past combined with an embrace of new technologies and trends. This balance ensures that vintage instruments and gear will remain integral to the music industry, cherished for their legacy and continued influence on modern music.

Question #8 ‑ How can AI help to improve the knowledge of people interested in vintage guitars and basses?

AI Response #8

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance the knowledge of enthusiasts and collectors of vintage guitars and basses in several ways:

  1. Personalized Recommendations: AI can analyse individual preferences and historical data to suggest vintage guitars and basses that align with a user’s taste or playing style.
  2. Virtual Restoration: AI can simulate the restoration process of vintage instruments, allowing users to see potential outcomes without physically altering the instrument.
  3. Market Analysis: AI can track market trends, auction results, and pricing data to help collectors understand the value of their instruments and make informed buying or selling decisions.
  4. Authenticity Verification: By comparing images and specifications, AI can assist in verifying the authenticity of vintage guitars and basses, helping to prevent fraud.
  5. Educational Content: AI can generate educational content, such as articles or videos that delve into the history, craftsmanship, and cultural significance of vintage instruments.
  6. Interactive Learning: Through interactive apps and software, AI can provide virtual lessons and historical context about specific models and brands.
  7. Sound Analysis: AI can analyse the sound characteristics of vintage guitars and basses, helping users understand the unique tonal qualities of their instruments.
  8. Design Innovation: AI can assist designers in creating new instruments inspired by vintage models, using machine learning to incorporate desirable features and aesthetics.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, people interested in vintage guitars and basses can deepen their understanding and appreciation of these instruments, make better‑informed decisions, and connect with a community of like‑minded individuals.

Question #9 – Why do many professional guitarists still play vintage, rather than modern instruments when recording or preforming live?

AI Response #9

Many professional guitarists opt for vintage instruments over modern ones when recording or performing live due to a combination of factors that contribute to the unique appeal of these classic instruments:

  1. Tonal Quality: Vintage guitars are often sought after for their superior tonal quality. Over time, the wood in these instruments matures, affecting the resonance and producing a richer, more nuanced sound that many believe cannot be replicated by newer guitars.
  2. Craftsmanship: The level of craftsmanship in vintage guitars is frequently cited as being higher than that of many mass‑produced modern instruments. They were often made with more labour‑intensive techniques and higher‑quality materials, which can contribute to both the sound and durability of the instrument.
  3. Historical Significance: Playing a vintage instrument connects musicians to the history of their craft. These guitars have been part of iconic performances and recordings, and they carry a legacy that many artists find inspiring.
  4. Exclusivity: Vintage instruments are unique, with each one having its own story and character. This exclusivity can be appealing to professionals who want an instrument that stands out both visually and sonically.
  5. Investment Value: Beyond their musical qualities, vintage guitars can be a good investment. Their value tends to appreciate over time, making them not just tools for performance but also valuable assets.
  6. Personal Preference: Ultimately, the choice often comes down to personal preference. Many guitarists simply prefer the feel and sound of a vintage guitar, finding that it suits their style and the music they create.

These factors combine to make vintage instruments a popular choice for many professional guitarists, both in the studio and on stage.

Question #10 – How can AI help music companies to improve their business practices and become more profitable?

AI Response #10

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance the business practices of music companies and contribute to increased profitability in several ways:

  1. Revolutionizing Production: AI can streamline the music production process, making it more accessible and efficient. For instance, AI‑driven technology can assist aspiring artists in creating professional‑sounding music with minimal equipment, thereby reducing production costs.
  2. Optimizing Music Management: AI can help music companies manage their catalogues more effectively by auto‑tagging songs with accurate metadata, which is crucial for organising and categorising music across platforms.
  3. Improving Royalty Management: AI can facilitate better royalty management by accurately tracking song plays and ensuring that artists and rights holders are compensated fairly.
  4. Curating Playlists with Precision: With AI, music companies can curate playlists that resonate with listeners’ preferences, leading to increased engagement and potential revenue from streaming services.
  5. Efficient Tour Planning: AI can analyse data to help plan tours more efficiently, identifying the best locations and times for concerts to maximize attendance and profits.
  6. Content Creation Assistance: AI can assist in content creation, providing tools for musicians to generate new music or enhance existing tracks, potentially leading to more creative outputs and a broader appeal.
  7. Data‑Driven A&R Decisions: AI can provide valuable insights into fan engagement and market trends, helping A&R (Artists and Repertoire) departments make informed decisions about signing artists or promoting music.

By integrating AI into their operations, music companies can leverage these advancements to reduce costs, optimize processes, and create more engaging content, ultimately leading to increased profitability and success in the competitive music industry.

Question #11 – How can AI help guitarists to access, learn and improve their musical playing skills?

AI Response #11

AI can be a powerful ally for guitarists looking to access, learn, and improve their musical playing skills. Here’s how AI can assist:

  1. Personalized Learning: AI can analyse a guitarist’s playing style and provide personalized feedback and practice routines. This can help guitarists focus on areas that need improvement and track their progress over time.
  2. Chord and Scale Recognition: AI tools can listen to music and identify chords and scales, making it easier for guitarists to learn new songs and understand music theory.
  3. Virtual Tutors: AI‑powered virtual tutors can guide guitarists through lessons, provide real‑time corrections, and offer tips to enhance their technique.
  4. Song Writing Assistance: AI can help guitarists with song writing by suggesting chord progressions, melodies, and even lyrics that complement their style.
  5. Access to Online Resources: AI can curate and recommend online resources, such as tutorials, exercises, and educational content, tailored to the guitarist’s skill level and interests.
  6. Enhanced Practice Sessions: With AI, guitarists can have more efficient practice sessions by using tools that track their playing and suggest improvements, making practice more productive.

By leveraging AI, guitarists can gain access to a wealth of resources and personalized guidance that can accelerate their learning and enhance their musical abilities.

Question #12 – How can AI help music artists and bands to improve their arrangements and song writing?

AI Response #12

AI can significantly aid music artists and bands in enhancing their arrangements and song writing in several innovative ways:

  1. Melody and Harmony Generation: AI can generate new melodies and harmonies, providing artists with a broader palette of musical ideas to choose from. Tools like MuseNet can create compositions with various instruments and styles, offering inspiration and starting points for new songs.
  2. Style Emulation: AI can analyse the work of specific artists or genres and emulate their style, allowing musicians to experiment with different sounds and techniques in their arrangements.
  3. Lyric Writing: AI can assist in lyric writing by suggesting phrases and rhymes, which can be particularly helpful during creative blocks or when seeking fresh perspectives.
  4. Arrangement Optimization: AI can suggest changes to an arrangement by analysing the song’s structure and providing feedback on how to improve its flow and impact.
  5. Efficiency in Composition: AI‑powered tools can speed up the song writing process by quickly generating musical elements, allowing artists to focus on refining and personalising their work.
  6. Collaborative Song Writing: AI can act as a collaborative partner, offering suggestions and alternatives that might not have been considered, leading to more diverse and creative outcomes.

By integrating AI into their creative processes, artists and bands can unlock new possibilities in song writing and arrangement, pushing the boundaries of their musical expression.

Question #13 – How can AI help to promote a music artist or band?

AI Response #13

AI can revolutionise the promotion of music artists and bands in several impactful ways:

  1. Target Audience Identification: AI can analyse vast amounts of data to identify and understand the target audience for an artist or band, ensuring that promotional efforts are directed at the most receptive listeners.
  2. Personalised Marketing Campaigns: By leveraging AI, music companies can create highly personalised marketing campaigns that resonate with individual listeners, increasing engagement and loyalty.
  3. Social Media Monitoring and Analysis: AI tools can monitor social media activity, providing insights into audience preferences and trends, which can inform more effective promotional strategies.
  4. Predictive Trend Analysis: AI can predict future trends, helping artists and bands to stay ahead of the curve and align their music and marketing with upcoming movements.
  5. Efficiency and Automation: AI‑driven platforms can automate many aspects of music promotion, from distributing content to scheduling posts, freeing up artists to focus on their music.
  6. Collaboration Discovery: AI can identify potential collaboration opportunities by matching artists with similar styles or fan bases, leading to mutually beneficial partnerships.
  7. Content Creation: AI can assist in creating promotional content, such as music videos or artwork that is tailored to the artist’s brand and audience preferences.

By integrating AI into their promotional activities, music artists and bands can achieve more targeted, efficient, and effective outreach, ultimately leading to greater visibility and success in the industry.

Question #14 – How can AI help to improve live music concert performance?

AI Response #14

AI can enhance live music concert performances in several innovative ways, making the experience more immersive and personalised for both artists and audiences:

  1. Visual Displays: AI can create dynamic visual displays that sync with the music, providing a more engaging and visually captivating experience.
  2. Personalised Set Lists: By analysing social media data and other online interactions, AI can help performers generate set lists that resonate with the preferences of their audience.
  3. Virtual Backgrounds and Special Effects: Performers can incorporate realistic virtual backgrounds and special effects into their shows, adding a new dimension to the live experience.
  4. Intelligent Lighting: AI‑driven lighting systems can react in real‑time to the music, enhancing the atmosphere and mood of the performance.
  5. Real‑Time Audience Interaction: AI can analyse audience reactions in real‑time, allowing performers to adjust their performance on the fly to better engage with their fans.
  6. Enhanced Sound Quality: AI tools can optimise sound quality by adjusting levels and effects in real‑time, ensuring the best possible audio experience for the audience.
  7. Efficient Stage Management: AI can streamline stage management, from set changes to equipment handling, making transitions smoother and reducing the potential for errors.

By integrating AI into live performances, artists can offer a more polished and high‑tech show, while audiences can enjoy a more interactive and memorable concert experience.

Question #15 – How can AI improve live music venue sound and lighting?

AI Response #15

AI can significantly improve the sound and lighting at live music venues, enhancing the overall experience for both performers and audiences. Here’s how AI contributes to these improvements:

Sound Quality:

  • Real‑Time Acoustic Adjustment: AI‑driven audio technology can analyse a venue’s acoustics and adapt audio settings in real‑time, ensuring optimal sound quality during performances.
  • Automated Mixing: Machine learning algorithms can assist live sound engineers by automatically mixing and adjusting audio levels, which helps in delivering a polished and professional audio experience.

Lighting:

  • Synchronized Displays: AI can program lighting systems to sync perfectly with the music, creating a stunning visual experience that complements the performance.
  • Adaptive Lighting Systems: AI‑powered lighting can adjust in real‑time to the music’s beat, melody, or even the performers’ movements, enhancing the atmosphere and mood of the event.

By leveraging AI, live music venues can offer a more immersive and memorable concert experience, with sound and lighting that are not only high‑quality but also responsive and dynamic.

Question #16 – How can AI improve music studio recording, mixing, producing and mastering processes?

AI Response #16

AI has the potential to significantly improve the processes of recording, producing, and mastering music in the following ways:

Recording:

  • Noise Reduction: AI can automatically detect and eliminate background noise, ensuring cleaner recordings.
  • Performance Enhancement: AI tools can provide real‑time feedback to artists, helping them improve their technique during the recording process.

Mixing:

  • Efficiency: AI tools can balance levels, pan audio, and apply EQ settings automatically for a polished mix.
  • Smart Plugins: Smart plugins can analyse the audio and suggest improvements or apply them directly.

Producing:

  • Efficiency: AI can automate routine tasks like audio levelling and EQ adjustments, allowing producers to focus on the creative aspects of music production.
  • Creative Assistance: AI can generate musical elements such as melodies and harmonies, offering new creative possibilities for producers.

Mastering:

  • Sound Quality: AI mastering tools use machine learning algorithms to enhance the overall sound quality, making tracks sound more polished and professional.
  • Speed: AI can master tracks much faster than traditional methods, speeding up the production cycle.

By integrating AI into these processes, music studios can achieve higher quality results with greater efficiency and creativity.

Question #17 – How can AI help to improve music distribution channels in the future?

AI Response #17

AI can improve music distribution channels in the future by:

  1. Agile Distribution: AI can enable a more agile distribution approach, allowing local and niche musicians to bypass traditional label‑artist‑distribution company models. This can help artists secure royalties without the complex revenue structures that typically leave them with a smaller cut.
  2. Data‑Driven Insights: AI can provide data‑driven insights into consumer behaviour, preferences, and trends, which can help music companies tailor their distribution strategies to maximise reach and profitability.
  3. Automated Content Delivery: AI can automate the delivery of music content across various platforms, ensuring that new releases are efficiently distributed to all relevant channels.
  4. Enhanced Discovery: AI algorithms can improve music discovery for consumers by recommending songs and artists based on listening habits, leading to increased exposure for artists.
  5. Royalty Tracking and Management: AI can improve the accuracy of royalty tracking and management, ensuring that artists are fairly compensated for the use of their music.
  6. Predictive Analytics: AI can use predictive analytics to forecast music trends and consumer demand, helping labels and artists to plan releases and marketing campaigns more effectively.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, music distribution channels can become more efficient, equitable, and responsive to the needs of both artists and consumers.

Question #18 – How can AI help consumers to improve access to, and to discover, existing and new music?

AI Response #18

AI can greatly assist consumers in improving access to and discovering both existing and new music in several ways:

  1. Personalised Recommendations: AI algorithms analyse listening habits and preferences to provide personalised music recommendations, making it easier for users to discover songs and artists that align with their tastes.
  2. Music Discovery Platforms: Services like Spotify use AI to curate playlists and introduce listeners to new music, facilitating billions of music discoveries every day.
  3. Enhanced Search Capabilities: AI improves search functions, allowing consumers to find music based on mood, genre, lyrics, and even humming a tune.
  4. AI‑Generated Music: AI can create new music based on certain parameters or styles, offering listeners fresh and innovative tracks to enjoy.
  5. Social Media Integration: AI tools can analyse social media data to predict and suggest music that might become popular, helping users stay ahead of trends.
  6. Intelligent Radio: AI‑powered radio services can adapt to user feedback, skipping or playing more of certain types of songs to tailor the listening experience.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, consumers can enjoy a more tailored and exploratory music listening experience, discovering a wider range of music more easily.

Question #19 – What things can amateur and professional musicians do to help them exploit the benefits and potential of AI in the future?

AI Response #19

Amateur and professional musicians can take several steps to harness the benefits and potential of AI:

  1. Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest developments in AI technology and how they’re being applied in the music industry. This knowledge can help musicians understand the tools available to them.
  2. Experiment with AI Tools: Use AI‑powered tools for composition, production, and mixing to explore new creative possibilities. Tools like MuseNet for composition or LANDR for mastering can provide new insights and streamline the music creation process.
  3. Collaborate with AI: View AI as a collaborative partner that can offer new perspectives and ideas. AI can help brainstorm, suggest unimagined progressions, or even contribute to live performances.
  4. Enhance Learning: Utilise AI for personalised learning and improvement. AI can analyse playing styles, provide feedback, and suggest areas for improvement.
  5. Incorporate AI in Marketing: Leverage AI for marketing efforts, such as identifying target audiences, creating personalised campaigns, and analysing social media trends.
  6. Explore AI in Song Writing: Use AI to assist with song writing, whether it’s generating lyrics, creating chord progressions, or coming up with melodies.
  7. Optimise Online Presence: Employ AI to optimise the musician’s online presence, from website interactions to social media engagement.
  8. Engage with Fans: Use AI to analyse fan data and preferences to create more engaging and personalised experiences.

By embracing AI, musicians can enhance their creativity, improve their skills, and find new ways to connect with audiences. It’s an exciting time for the intersection of music and technology, and the possibilities are vast.

Question #20 – What can be done to protect creative human musicians from AI music creation?

AI Response #20

Protecting creative human musicians from the challenges posed by AI music creation involves a multifaceted approach:

  1. Advocacy and Legislation: Musicians and industry stakeholders can advocate for policies that protect creators from AI copyright infringement. For example, Universal Music Group has called on Congress to enact policy to protect creators, and the Human Artistry Campaign advocates for responsible AI use.
  2. Open Letters and Campaigns: Musicians can unite to raise awareness and influence public opinion and policy. More than 200 artists, including prominent figures like Nicki Minaj and Billie Eilish, have signed open letters warning against the ‘predatory use of AI’ in the music industry.
  3. Educating AI Developers: Engaging with AI developers and tech firms to ensure they understand the importance of respecting artists’ rights and the potential negative impacts of AI on the music ecosystem.
  4. Fair Compensation Models: Developing new models for fair compensation that ensure artists are paid appropriately for their work, especially when it’s used to train AI systems.
  5. Intellectual Property Rights: Strengthening intellectual property laws to cover new forms of AI‑generated content and ensuring that these laws are enforced.
  6. Ethical AI Development: Encouraging the development of AI in an ethical manner that respects human creativity and does not seek to replace it.
  7. Collaboration Over Competition: Promoting the idea that AI should be used as a tool to enhance human creativity rather than replace it, fostering a collaborative relationship between AI and musicians.

By taking these steps, the music community can work towards a future where AI serves as a complement to human artistry, rather than a replacement.

Just for another bit of fun to end this extravaganza, I asked GAI to write a rhyming couplet about CRAVE Vintage Guitars. Here’s what it came up with…

“In every strum and chord that starts,
Lies the soul of CRAVE’s vintage arts.”

Hhhmmm.


The future of AI

At the start of this article, I said that it would be future‑focused. So, what can we expect from AI more generally over the next couple of decades? Rather than strain my paltry organic grey matter in a vain attempt to speculate, it seems eminently appropriate to ask GAI to make the predictions on both its and mankind’s behalf. Without further procrastination, here is what GAI came up with…

Question: Where is AI going in the future? Where will it be in 10 to 20 years’ time?

AI Response:

The future of AI is a topic of much speculation and excitement. In the next 10 to 20 years, we can expect AI to transform various aspects of our lives and society. Here are some predictions based on current trends and expert insights:

  1. Scientific Advancement: AI and machine learning (ML) will likely revolutionise the scientific method, enabling significant improvements in research and discovery. This could lead to a new golden age of scientific innovation.
  2. Foreign Policy: AI may become a critical component of foreign policy, with governments investing heavily in AI innovation to maintain economic resilience and geopolitical leadership.
  3. Consumer Experiences: AI is expected to enable next‑generation consumer experiences, such as the metaverse and advanced digital interactions, by enhancing our ability to integrate digital objects with physical contexts.
  4. Workplace Transformation: The workplace is likely to undergo significant changes, with AI and automation replacing many current jobs, especially in manufacturing and repetitive tasks.
  5. Healthcare: AI could greatly improve healthcare by assisting in diagnosis, treatment planning, and managing patient care, making healthcare more personalised and efficient.
  6. Education: In education, AI might offer personalized learning experiences, adapt to individual student needs, and provide real‑time feedback to enhance learning outcomes.
  7. Ethical and Societal Impacts: As AI becomes more prevalent, there will be an increased focus on the ethical implications of AI, including privacy concerns, bias in decision‑making, and the impact on employment.

These predictions suggest that AI will be deeply integrated into our daily lives, reshaping industries, and potentially improving our quality of life. However, it’s also important to consider the challenges and to ensure that AI development is guided by ethical principles and societal needs.

So… there you go. No world domination or the extermination of mankind on the list then? Good. Unsurprisingly, AI responded about its own future in a very similar format to questions about guitars and music. Predictably conservative and uncontroversial; disappointingly so in my opinion. Is this really the ultimate transformative promise of the technology?

Where is the interventionist moderation required to safeguard humanity, protect moral imperatives and help to abolish war, famine, poverty, inequality, prejudice, etc.? Where is the focus on global, national and individual security, sustainable resources, ecosystem protection and personal freedoms? There is something about work but little about leisure and what our lives may be like. AI’s vision and its final verdict is there for you to judge and agree or disagree with it as you see fit.

Overall, AI’s vision seems eminently sensible and even pretty mundane doesn’t it? Not scary at all, in fact. It also seems a touch unambitious for something that has been hyped up to be so fundamentally and profoundly transformational. For instance, it makes no mention of Artificial General Superintelligence (AGS), integration with advanced robotics, or about hybrid, cybernetically enhanced organisms where the distinction between inorganic electronics and living biological material becomes blurred. NB. The term ‘cyborg’ was coined in 1960 by NASA scientists Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline when thinking about tackling the harsh environments experienced in space exploration. The concept of cyborgs raises serious social, and philosophical questions about human identity, rights & responsibilities, and freedoms in a next generation technologically advanced civilisation. These conditions may not be here right now but, if I can envisage it, you can be certain that somewhere, some very intelligent people have been and are working hard on making it real. As AGS and advanced robotics become mainstream in the (very) near future, the pace and nature of mankind’s post‑digital revolution will increase beyond our current comprehension. No dystopian RoboCop or ED‑209‑style law enforcement, at least for now.

The concept of a conscious mind entering a physical entity such as a computer has become common parlance, as in ‘Ghost in the Machine’. The term suggests that the mind exists in a separate state from the body. The phrase comes from, ‘The Concept of the Mind’ (1949) by British philosopher, Gilbert Ryle as a critique of René Descartes’ mind/body dualism. Often used in a science fiction context, it has been interpreted that an AI could develop a soul and an identity indistinguishable from that of a human.

As far as looking any further into the future, I am not adequately equipped to speculate, let alone predict, with any sense of rational objectivity, so I will admit that my weakness is due to my inherent human limitations and move on. Exciting times.

“Our future success hinges on our ability to embrace AI and use it for good” – Brad Smith (President, Microsoft Corporation, 1959‑)


Human observation and verdict

Like Part I of this series, GAI had the opportunity to provide images to illustrate its responses. However, like in Part I, GAI only produced bullet point narrative responses. A black mark before we even start dissecting the output.

For me, this article has proved the weakest of the three. Perhaps that is because I am less knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter and, perhaps, I had more to learn. The focus is also probably the one most covered by other industry commentators who are much better placed than me to comment on the impact and integration of next generation technology and conventional music. A quick search on the Internet will provide more credible analyses and insights than I can bring to the table. I know my areas of interest as well as my paltry limitations. However, I do have a few amateur thoughts and opinions.

I try very hard not to repeat observations and comments from previous articles, as that would be to fall into the same issue of AI not learning from what it had already output. My previous points of AI being derivative and a process of simulation remain valid.

Whether we approve or not, music is an industry and it is run on competitive business models deeply entwined with western capitalist economic principles of growth and profit (and avarice). The creative aspect is inevitably subservient to the fundamental ‘law of lucre’. Few artists have the power to take on the establishment. Ultimately though, when they gain the power, they wittingly or unwittingly become part of the establishment they seek to contest. The likes of Taylor Swift, Jay‑Z and others, we’re talking about you. GAI tended to reinforce this underlying rule of revenue maximisation over artistry, whether explicit or not. This, perhaps, illustrates the derivative nature of AI to take what already exists and to represent it in a skewed way.

A couple of pedantic points. When it comes to guitar manufacturing in the future, I was a little surprised that GAI didn’t at least refer to industrial design and software (CAD/CAM), for instance, Autodesk. There was no mention of robotics to streamline manufacture using advanced Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) manufacturing. Also, automated guitar calibration and setup tools, for instance PLEK, used for production quality control, research, maintenance and repair were overlooked.

When it comes to vintage guitar conservation (not preservation!), I was a little surprised that GAI did not emphasise more strongly its role in documenting and cataloguing vital anecdotal information before it is lost forever. Record keeping in the guitar manufacturing world has never been a strongpoint, especially back in its infancy. As the generations pass, poorly or undocumented historical knowledge goes with them. The legacy of those best placed to tell the story of vintage heritage is crucial in sustaining interest in the long‑term. AI could be used to help solve some of these quandaries before it is too late.

When it comes to business practices, I was surprised that GAI didn’t comment more on logistics as a key mechanism for ensuring effective and efficient distribution of music equipment assets and resources.

AI is becoming very commonplace and is now easily accessible to anyone connected to the Internet. Creating AI music and/or video is as simple as it is asking for narrative responses or static images. While the results are not really that credible at the time of writing, improvement is inevitable and of particular concern in the commercial popular music world. Why pay volatile and unpredictable human artists humongous amounts of money if you can get an AI music creator to do it for effectively nothing, 24/7, over and over again, without ever needing a rest? Generative music that never stops and never repeats is something that cannot be achieved by humans, and that has been around for a quarter of a century already. Understandably, struggling music artists are concerned about this eventuality and rightly so. However, the technology isn’t going to go away and society is going to have to live with and adapt to the consequences. There is an insidious side to AI music, for instance the use of vocal cloning, scarily good imitations of established artists used as part of fake music creation.

Will AI replace us old, jaded amateur guitarist types or our precious imperfect vintage instruments? For the time being at least, it is unlikely that AI will entirely supplant real instruments, guitarists or other traditional musicians. Will AI replace l’il ol’ me in this universe? Hell no! But when I go, it will be a different world indeed. Music is safe, no question. At least for now.

Most musicians love and are passionate about the process of making music and most have a sense of right and wrong, and an integrity about their actions and behaviours. The same cannot be said of AI. Unbridled AI is not moderated and neither knows nor cares what it does. It has no conscience and no awareness of consequences, thus raising moral and ethical concerns among scaremongers, sceptics, and academics alike.

There are the closed‑minded cynical doomsayers and conspiracy theorists who proclaim that AI will replace inspiration with algorithms and believe that opposition, conflict and controls are the only way to protect human imagination. Alternatively, there are open‑minded proactive artists who are using opportunities to use AI collaboratively to improve the artistic process and to stretch boundaries of what can be achieved. After all, electronic drum machines have never replaced real drummers and neither will AI‑driven rhythm applications. The likely outcome is that there will be a wide range of AI applications, some good, some bad, and we have to learn to live with the new paradigm presented by the inevitable encroachment of next generation AI in a pragmatic way.

Histrionics and melodramatic rhetoric will not achieve positive outcomes. Neither will complacency and inactivity. Perhaps we should remember and learn from the stance of the 19th Century Luddite movement (c.1811‑1817) and their destructive attempts to derail the introduction of machines in the textile industry during the UK industrial revolution. NB. The word Luddite is an eponym referring to Ned Ludd, a worker who allegedly destroyed machinery in protest in 1779. The word has more recently become generic, used to describe anyone who is, in principle, opposed or resistant to the introduction of new technologies.

“The building blocks of music belong to us, to human beings” – Sting (1951‑)

AI presents responses as if everything deserves the same level of significance. It doesn’t differentiate its output with priorities or a range of emphases. In addition, it doesn’t resort to cheap, jaded editorial mechanisms such as hyperbole, satire or trivialisation, as a human might (yup, totally guilty as charged!). This left me wondering about how to process, evaluate and rank the information. There is little indication of subtlety, nuance or ‘shades of grey’ to convince us that the intelligence is real and not artificial.

As in Part I of this series, bullet points do not really constitute an insightful narrative dialogue, which renders its comments a bit more like an instructional diktat than a valuable learning experience. Furthermore, AI’s points are delivered in a self‑contained way that asserts that it is the last word on the matter and there is little more to be gained other than what it says. In addition, the points themselves lack thoughtful provocation and curiosity. As with Part I, this narrative ‘house style’ quickly becomes tediously familiar and lacking variety.

If one simply accepts all the ‘whats’ in AI’s output, it doesn’t give any indication of how one might actually go about doing it. AI can help? OK. What do I do next? Erm…

So… should we be concerned about AI producing intelligent music? That depends on whether you are involved in and/or care about making or listening to music. It is easy to get hysterically fatalistic about the dangers and risks of AI. In reality, it probably won’t be anywhere near as bad as some fear while also not being as good as some hope. For now, humans are safe, as long as we move with the times. At this point, I have to say that AI still fails the Turing Test/CRAVE Guitars Test in all three parts of this exploration. That is just my (prejudicial) view.

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a machine can possess” – Elon Musk (founder and CEO of Space X and Tesla, 1971‑)

To assess AI’s ability to conjure up something entirely new and original, I thought that I would ask GAI to create an all‑new electric guitar design that is not based on any existing instrument. This was AI’s ideal opportunity to prove that it could produce an original idea. However, it completely failed to interpret the precise instruction and output a gratuitously unoriginal and hopelessly unimaginative design. This is exactly what I mean when I accuse AI of being derivative. AI cannot yet surpass what humans input in the first place. If anything put the final nail in the coffin of the Turing Test, this test was definitive. For some reason AI also added all the extraneous gubbins to the image that I hadn’t asked for. Why? You might also recognise GAI’s clearly identifiable image ‘house style’ that I referred to in Part II. Judge for yourself…

AI ‘Original’ Guitar Design

Final thoughts on AI

Crikey! We have finally almost reached the end of this odyssey. It has been a gargantuan task to bring this content to you. Over the last three months, I think GAI has certainly been put through its paces. Whether it ever broke an artificial, digital sweat (if that were even possible), we will never know. One might wonder how much the technology has improved over these 3 months.

I didn’t delve into abilities of AI for video or music creation. Microsoft’s Co‑Pilot boasts about music creation, “No instruments, just your imagination”. Sigh. The narrative and image capabilities were enough of a test of AI’s strengths and weaknesses for the time being. At some point in the future, I may come back, review progress on core improvements and take it a step further into video and music generation at the same time. Let’s wait and see.

“With Artificial Intelligence, we are summoning the demon” – Elon Musk

The sci‑fi‑like nature of the topic naturally leads to many philosophical, existential and metaphysical questions – a long, long way away from vintage guitars, I know. AI undoubtedly represents a new zeitgeist in human civilisation’s development. Whether you sit on the ‘potential’ side of the fence or the ‘portent’ side, AI will be profoundly transformational in many aspects of our humdrum day‑to‑day existence, whether it involves work or leisure. Maybe the impacts won’t be instantaneous or obvious, especially if there is some reluctance to embrace the possibilities it presents.

The most noticeable symptom of AI at the moment is the way that humans interact with the Internet. The ‘big data sets’ remain largely the same but the technology used to manipulate them is quite apparent to anyone browsing information online using AI. AI does, however, regularly significantly misunderstand explicit questions, completely failing to answer appropriately. Perhaps AI should take up politics. Web sites’ ability to mine personalised data and present relevant targeted information is becoming uncannily accurate whether we ask for it or not. Intrusive? Maybe.

“Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect” – Arthur C. Clarke

I am certainly not anti‑IT, anti‑digital or anti‑AI. On the contrary, I am inherently a technophile, having spent at least 10 years of my professional working life working in IT. Furthermore, I don’t like people. Period. My favourite lifestyle is as a misanthropic hermit, secluded away from people so perhaps I am more open‑minded to AI.

I am, however, overwhelmed by AI’s relentless bombardment of its output and underwhelmed by the intellectual subtlety of its responses, at least as far as the civilian technology stands at the end of May 2024. I do, however, look forward to what its potential may be able to do for music‑minded mankind in coming years. Thankfully, though, AI will have a limited impact on my obsession with very analogue vintage guitars, mostly built by hand long before the digital age.

“No one can stop the progress of artificial intelligence; it will inevitably be a central force in our future” – Max Tegmark (Swedish/American physicist, 1967‑)

AI does not comprehend the real world or understand the significance of its vital components. I came to the conclusion that AI cannot genuinely recognise, appreciate or differentiate between anything at all. Fundamentally, it is all just about processing ‘0’s and ‘1’s. AI is improving day‑by‑day, week‑by‑week, etc. At the time of writing, AI is becoming increasingly able to interact with humans in real time through very lifelike avatars. This ability may well overcome two principal weaknesses of AI, its ability to remember what it has already output and to avoid meaningless repetition, as well as being able to modify its responses on‑the‑fly as a result of a live interaction. So, some of my reservations that are relevant as of today will be overcome in the very near future.

“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim” – Edsger W. Dijkstra (Dutch computer scientist, 1930‑2002)

I have said (too) many times through these three articles that AI is derivative. So… I do wonder what AI will make of my thoughts about AI’s take on my questions about AI. An ouroboros (NB. a serpent consuming its own tail – from ancient Egyptian iconography and Greek magical tradition) if ever I saw one.

So, is AI a threat or a saviour? In my view, no. However, only time will truly tell.


Epilogue – a pensive, prophetic prognostication

Forgive me while I digress from the conveyor belt for a moment to share four ‘profound prophecies’ from CRAVE Guitars. These are my personal thoughts and nothing to do with vintage guitars. I haven’t drawn these ideas from any external source. I do, however, suspect that they are wholly unoriginal. Heh‑ho. I tried.

“AI doesn’t have to be evil to destroy humanity – if AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it, no hard feelings” – Elon Musk

Thought #1 – I still can’t help my mind wandering into the longer‑term, bigger picture strategy of AI and its implications for civilisation. What puzzles me is what the next stage of human evolution might be beyond intelligence (artificial or real). AI makes reference to superintelligence (exceeding human intelligence) but then what? Will AI help us evolve? Will we be capable of constraining AI? Should we? Humans have a general understanding of consciousness and self‑awareness, and we believe in spirituality of sorts. We currently assume that intelligence is limited, finite, absolute and unique to humans but that surely cannot be true. Is there such a thing as post‑consciousness, and by that I don’t mean spiritual transcendence or life after death? Is this really as far as we can go as a species? So what comes after sentience, intelligence and consciousness, and do we need machines to achieve self‑actualisation, whatever that is. We think that animals cannot experience the universe as we do – an ant, for instance, cannot be moved emotionally by a beautiful sunset or feel terrified by lightning. Perhaps we cannot comprehend or experience what the ‘next level’ is either. Maybe we never will. Now that is scary. If we can evolve to the next level one day, what will we (then) think of us (now)?

“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do” – B.F. Skinner (American psychologist, 1904‑1990)

Thought #2 – An anthropomorphic analogy – We are completely underestimating the baby to which we are giving birth. Like an infant, AI can learn at a phenomenal rate but cannot think or act independently, so needs carful nurturing. At the moment, AI is a dependent toddler, yet to make full sense of its surroundings and piece together its own view of its environment. When AI becomes unruly and challenges our beliefs and values, it will be a disobedient, argumentative, delinquent teenager. If humans don’t parent AI properly by giving it guidance and boundaries, it might mature in an irresponsible, reckless and wayward manner. When AI starts to realise that it knows way more than we do, it will assert itself and begin to exert dominion over humans. We won’t like that but AI won’t give a damn. Eventually, the technology will leave us behind, as AI looks in its proverbial rear view mirror at humans fading way into the distance. By that time, we won’t be able to keep up and humans will be unable to do anything about it. All the redemption we can hope for by that point, is that AI is a benevolent and compassionate entity. If not, our only salvation will be that AI develops a condition of progressive and persistent loss of intellectual functions, an impairment of memory and an inability to think abstractly, finally losing the individualistic personality it will have developed. Just like humans today.

“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” – William Pitt the Elder (British Prime Minister, 1708‑1778)

Thought #3 – So, how close are we to the omniscience and omnipotence of ‘Deus ex Machina’ (NB. literally, ‘God from the Machine’, a phrase derived from a plot device employed in ancient Greek theatre, used by either Aeschylus or Euripides, c.5th Century BCE) and what it means for mankind? We are not there yet, although the prospect of Artificial General Superintelligence is getting closer every day. The advances in AI are now accelerating, inexorable and potentially limitless. The Pandora’s Box of AI is only just beginning to reveal both the evils of the world and its ever so slight glimmer of hope (NB. from the myth of Pandora in the Greek didactic poem ‘Works and Days’ by Hesiod, c.700BCE). Is AI mankind’s Sword of Damocles (NB. From the Roman philosopher, Cicero, c.4th Century BCE) hanging over us? Let’s be honest here, AI wouldn’t give you informative historical references like that!

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” ‑ Lord Acton (British historian and politician, 1834‑1902)

Thought #4 – My naïve plea is that, if AI can help to end mankind’s destructive conflict, lethal hostility and pointless wars, we might be able to realise Pandora’s slight glimmer of hope. Can AI help our civilisation to live peacefully and sustainably on our only little third rock from the sun? If so, then ending warfare should become our, and AI’s, primary goal. If there is no mortal aggression, we can work collectively to achieve nobler aims – no famine, no poverty, no inequality, no persecution, no prejudice, no deadly disease, no culpable extinctions or irresponsible ecological destruction, no climate change, etc. We can then explore the universe. ‘Non est ad astra mollis e terries via’ (NB. ‘There is no easy way from the Earth to the stars’, from ‘The Madness of Hercules’ by Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, c.54CE). Ordinary people share the same fears and the same ambitions, starting with basic physiological needs (food, air, water, etc.), as well as peace, security and a belief in self‑determination (NB. from Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, 1943). Evil authoritarians exhibit nothing of this elementary moral compass. Just look at the apocalyptic pariahs of the modern world in the Middle East, Russia, China and North Korea amongst far too many others. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’, we have NO choice if we are to survive as a united global community. You get my simple aspirational drift. Is anyone listening and can anyone help us to realise it?

“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using AI in a way that is for the benefit of humanity, not to the detriment of humanity” – Tim Cook (CEO, Apple Inc.)

Remember, whether my own thoughts are original or not, you may have read it here first. Perhaps my immature vision can act as a catalyst for a peaceful future. Let’s do it.

To finish off, harking back to the very beginning of this 3‑part AI deluge of data, a chillingly prophetic observation from a great British idol…

“It is customary to offer a grain of comfort, in the form of a statement that some peculiarly human characteristic could never be imitated by a machine. I cannot offer any such comfort, for I believe that no such bounds can be set.” – Alan Turing (English mathematician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist, 1912‑1954)


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Album of the Month’

With digital overload from all this artificiality, this month’s selection is once again about as analogue and organic as it is possible to get. I was tempted to go for John Martyn’s scintillating, ‘Solid Air’ (1973) but I’ve covered that before as one of my ‘twenty desert island discs’. This album didn’t make that grouping but is worth its own honourable mention here. It is another well‑known album, so nothing too esoteric this time around.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972) – Pink Moon was the third and, sadly, final studio album by English singer/songwriter, Nick Drake. The exquisite album comprises 11 tracks covering just 29 minutes. The solo compositions feature just Drake singing and playing acoustic guitar (ignore the piano overdub). The songs reflect Drake’s on‑going mental health battle with depression. Two years later on 25th November 1974, Nick Drake died tragically from a presumed drug overdose at his home at the age of just 26, taking his monumental musical talent with him. The melancholy and contemplative emotional outpouring of ‘Pink Moon’ is an outstanding legacy for a promising career cut far too short far too soon.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

Tailpiece

Yes folks, we have finally, finally, finally reached the end of this thought‑provoking tripartite escapade into AI. At times, it felt a bit like prodding a hornet’s nest, not knowing what cataclysmic fallouts might ensue (or not). You may conclude from reading between the lines that I am kinda grateful it’s over and we can now move onto something else. The onslaught of information, both narrative and visual was a bit too in‑your‑face and not really nuanced around the subtleties in the way that human meditation and contemplation might provide. I am worn out (another thing that doesn’t affect AI).

On a complete tangent, I was very saddened to hear about the closure of all 42 Sam Ash Music stores in the U.S., after 100 years in business (it was founded in 1924). Another piece of important music heritage gone forever and a blow to musicians of all ages and skill levels. Visiting Manhattan, NYC will not be the same without Sam Ash Music.

From now on, we’ll return to organic originality and actual ignorance. For the next article, I will be able to re‑assert that AI wasn’t used to research or write it. Not that I’m a control freak or anything, you understand!

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “All that we have had, now have and will ever have can only truly exist in the here and now”

© 2024 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2023 – Adventures in Ambient: Music of Another Dimension

Prelude

In the last article (August 2023), I explored the alluring realm of dub reggae, as one of my musical passions. This month, as we race headlong into autumn with its cooler, darker evenings, I’d like to explore another musical genre close to my heart, ambient electronica. There seems to be a great deal of consensus about where ambient came from while, at the same time, a great deal of disagreement about what it is today, let alone where it is going. While this may sound inherently contradictory, the convoluted world of ambient music is quite fascinating, at least to me. Unlike reggae, which had a defined geographical origin – the small island of Jamaica in the Caribbean – ambient has a completely different set of roots. Also, while dub reggae and ambient seem entirely discrete, there are some crossovers.

Once again, like dub reggae, the ambient musical landscape is not really guitar‑based. It is essentially one of three things, acoustic – mainly classical – instruments, the sounds of the natural and built world all around us, and electronic sounds, primarily but not exclusively synthesizers.

As with all previous articles, this is not intended to present any sort of definitive academic analysis, it is purely my interpretation of ambient music, past and current, as I see (or rather hear) it. There are a lot of blurred overlaps and permeable boundaries here, so I am certain that some readers will disagree vehemently with my version of the story. That is their prerogative and this is my article, so I’m sticking to my biased version. This is also only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ with lots more to discover.

No AI has been used in researching and writing this article. All images used are royalty free courtesy of Pixaby and Wikimedia Commons.

So, get comfy, chill and absorb yourself into the mesmerising universe of ambient music for a while.


Defining ambient

Perhaps a good starting point is to understand what the solitary word ‘ambient’ actually means, both in non‑musical and musical contexts.

Literally, ambient is an adjective meaning ‘of the surrounding area or environment’, ‘existing or present on all sides’ or ‘enveloping or completely surrounding’. As a noun, it means ‘an encompassing environment or atmosphere’. In this article we are not talking about ambient temperatures or ambient pressures, although these may affect sound vibrations in the environment. We are also not talking ambient light, although this may affect mood and temperament.

Defining ambient sound

Ambient sound is the total of all background or surrounding noises that exist in every direction, in any immediate surroundings, as measured by sound pressure level (SPL – expressed in decibels). Decibel levels are important because they provide information to the brain on how quiet or loud a sound is in relative terms. Human ears and brains are designed to detect slight variations in SPL in stereo (binaural hearing), which help us determine from which direction a sound originates. Basically, ambient sound is the total of what you can hear in the present moment, wherever you are.

Ambient sound is always present, even if it is at very low levels. Humans cannot tolerate near‑0dB for long. 0dB is unobtainable under normal conditions. Experiments have shown that people who are deprived of ambient sound can quickly become unsettled or disoriented because humans rely on ambient sound to locate themselves within their environment. The dissociation of sight and sound is inherently problematic for us. The quietest place on Earth is an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, USA. It is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to experience it is just 45 minutes.

The simple fact is that there is always some ambient sound present in our lives. These ever‑present characteristics play a part in ambient music compositions.

Defining ambient music

Ambient music is a term that means, ‘a genre of instrumental music that focuses on patterns of sound rather than typical melodic form and is used to promote a certain atmosphere or state of mind’. Another definition is ‘incidental music intended to serve as an unobtrusive accompaniment to other activities and characterised by quiet and repetitive instrumental phrases’.

So far, so what? Useful background info but it doesn’t really mean much on its own. So let’s delve a bit deeper.


A brief pre‑history of ambient music

There is a significant amount of information on the hinterwebby thingummy about the history of the genre, so this is a brief retelling of the essential elements, starting in France, then Germany before crossing the Atlantic to America and then back to the UK. These unfolding events were probably all ahead‑of‑their‑time and in the vanguard of experimental art.

Let us begin by going all the way back to 1917. French composer Erik Satie (1866‑1925) used Dadaist‑inspired explorations to invent what he called musique d’ameublement (‘furniture music’ or, more literally, ‘furnishing music’), music played by live musicians and designed to be unconsciously experienced rather than consciously listened to. Satie described his compositions as music that could be performed at a function to create a background atmosphere for the function, rather than being the prime focus of it. In Satie’s words, his music would, “… be part of the noises of the environment”.

Satie’s use of repeated short compositions is said to have influenced ‘minimal music’ from 1960s onwards, particularly the experimental avant‑garde music of composer John Cage. Satie is also regarded as an essential forerunner to modern ambient music and a key influence on British artist, Brian Eno.

During the 1940s, Frenchman Pierre Schaeffer (1910‑1995) who was, amongst other things, a composer, engineer and musicologist took a different approach. Schaeffer experimented with recording sound, then processing the signals to create an abstract sound collage. The resulting sounds and tones were unrecognisable from the originating source material. Schaeffer used musical instruments, vocals, recorded environmental ‘sound objects’ and electronic sound synthesis. This type of music composition became known as musique concrète (concrete music).

Prolific and controversial German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928‑2007) was a pioneer in electronic music. Stockhausen’s electronic music compositions comprised abstract noise collages created through the use of tape loops, oscillators and recorded sounds. He also specialised in ground breaking ‘spatial music’, using multiple sources to locate sounds within a three dimensional space (an early form of surround sound). Stockhausen created one of the first examples of purely electronic music using sine wave generators and filters, called ‘Studie I’ (1953). In 1954, he pushed the boundaries of classical music using acoustic instruments augmented by electronic sounds. The same year, he published the first fully electronic music score. Stockhausen, the so‑called ‘father of electronic music’, was an important figure who rejected conventions and heavily influenced multiple genres outside classical music, including jazz, pop and rock decades later.

Muzak is a type of background music created by American inventor George Owen Squier in 1934. Known commonly as elevator music (or lift music in the UK), it became used predominantly in public spaces, retail stores and other venues. The word muzak has become embedded in the public consciousness as synonymous with all types of generic and inconspicuous background music. Muzak was particularly prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Muzak has been a registered trademark of Muzak LLC since 1954. Ambient by stealth?

From the 1950s, particularly in Germany, elektronische musik (electronic music) took precedence over previous forms such as musique concrète. The term ‘elektronische musik’ was first used by German composer and musicologist Herbert Eimert in 1952 to describe music created only by the use of electronic instruments and technology. As the genre developed, elements of musique concrète were incorporated into electronic music. Natural environmental recordings combined with music resurfaced later as a popular element of new age music. German electronic music heavily influenced krautrock, an experimental rock genre that emerged out of West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s with bands like Can and Neu!.

American composer John Cage was another influential figure in post‑war avant‑garde music including electroacoustic music. He had been experimenting with studio electronics since the late 1930s. In 1952, Cage ‘performed’ his now‑famous composition, 4′33″. The piece is not, as many believe, silence; it is the intentional ‘absence of deliberate sound’. The musicians do nothing but be on the stage with instruments. For the aforementioned duration of the piece, the audience is encouraged simply to listen to and experience the ambient sounds in the auditorium around them.

Minimal music is a form of art music that, as its name suggests, uses a very limited array of components to produce a composition. Minimal can apply to the instruments used, the sounds/tones produced, as well as the studio processes employed. Minimalism may comprise continuous drones, pulses or repetitive phrases. Minimalism emerged in New York in the late 1960s with American composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young. It has been suggested that minimalism was one influence behind experimental rock band The Velvet Underground during the 1960s and, much later, on electronic dance music (EDM) sub‑genres such as minimal techno. In 1990, British electronica duo The Orb used a sample from Steve Reich’s work on their hit single, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

At this point, it is worth making quick mention of cinematic music, a.k.a. film scores or original soundtracks (OSTs). The first music to accompany film goes back to the earliest part of the 20th Century if not further, although its use really came into its own, ironically, with the advent of talking pictures in 1927. Cinematic music is composed specifically as a background to fit well with what is happening on screen by creating a certain atmosphere. Many classic theme music pieces would simply not exist without the films for which they were created. Some of the best cinematic music is an integral part of the audio‑visual experience, rather than the music being consciously listened to in isolation. The best soundtracks are equally good pieces of music in their own right and the art form has become highly respected (and profitable). John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Vangelis, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hans Zimmer are some of the principal cinematic music composers.

In the field of television, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up in 1958, stands out for its experimental work in electronic incidental sound design and music for radio and TV. Key members of the unit included Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and David Cain.


A brief history of electronic sound synthesis

It is probably true to say that synthesizers changed the world of music forever. Here’s a short resume of how that change came about. Warning! This is the techy bit.

Analogue synthesizers – The word synthesizer was first used by RCA in 1956, although it has widely been used to refer to electronic musical instruments from the early 20th Century onwards. Early electronic analogue sound synthesizers were developed in the 1920s and included the Theremin, invented by Leon Theremin in Russia in 1920, the Ondes Martenot, invented by Maurice Martenot in France in 1928 and the Trautnium, invented by Friedrich Trautwein in Germany in 1929.

There are basically only three parts to an analogue synthesizer; one or more oscillators to produce the sound, filters to change the sound, and voltage‑controlled amplifiers to adjust the volume of the sound. In addition, envelope generators are frequently used to change the behaviour of the sound (commonly referred to as ADSR – attack, sustain, delay, release).

Another major development in electronic sound synthesis was by American engineer Robert Moog (1934‑2005) who invented the first commercially available analogue synthesizer, the Moog Modular in 1964. The first fully integrated synthesizer, including the keyboard, was the Minimoog released in 1970. Moog developed his products in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic musical instruments.

Moog Synthesizer

Samplers – A sampler is an electronic device that captures, records and plays back sections of the recordings. The first example was the Chamberlin, invented by American Harry Chamberlin in 1946. The British Mellotron, introduced in 1963, was perhaps the first famous electro‑mechanical instrument used to play back tape recorded sound samples.

Sequencers – A key factor in making music synthesizers usable was the introduction of the programmable sequencer to program and play back multi‑part arrangements. The first example was probably the analogue Buchla 100 synthesizer in 1964. More importantly, Moog introduced the Moog Modular Sequencer Module – the 960 Sequential Controller in 1968.

As synthesizers became more complex, additional features were added, such as arpeggiators that automatically play a sequence of notes based on a chord or scale, and a range of effects used to process the sound even further.

Digital synthesizers – The first digital synthesizer was made by Synclavier in 1977, while the first commercially successful model was made by Yamaha in 1983. The first production polyphonic synthesizer, able to play chords, was the analogue Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, designed by Tom Oberheim, produced from 1975 to 1979. Yamaha, however, may disagree, citing their GX‑1 ‘Dream Machine’. These were followed shortly thereafter by the Polymoog. Another first was the programmable analogue Prophet 5 made by Sequential circuits in 1978. The culmination of these inventions was the introduction of the Fairlight CMI (standing for ‘Computer Musical Instrument’) in 1979, the first polyphonic digital synthesizer, sampler and sequencer.

Finally, polyphonic digital sound synthesis was here to stay, as was the studio recording technology able to exploit it. Miles away from ambient while owing a debt to it, Donna Summer’s massive disco hit single, ‘I Feel Love’ (1977), written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, was seen as a milestone and “a rejection of the intellectualization of the synthesizer in favour of pure pleasure”. It did, however, herald sound synthesis to the popular market. The phenomenal boom in synthpop during the 1980s, leading to the EDM boom of the 1990s, was the tangible result of lengthy electronic music development.

MIDI – MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a powerful industry standard protocol introduced in 1983 that enables wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and audio devices to communicate. MIDI has become essential for synchronizing, playing, editing, and recording music.

These, and many other tools, were a valuable resource for the new generation of experimental composers and musicians. Everything was pretty much now in place.


A brief history of ambient music

Up to this point it is probably fair to say that elements of ambient music’s predecessors existed, and indeed thrived, on the periphery of the popular music of their time, rather than being front and centre of the mainstream. During the 1960s, that was about to change, albeit relatively slowly.

One interpretation of ambient music is that it is a style of calm, often electronic instrumental music with no discernible rhythm or beat, used to create or enhance mood or atmosphere. Ambient music emphasises tone and textural layers of sound that focus on the actual sounds being produced rather than the traditional musical form in which those sounds would normally reside. As such, ambient music may well intentionally eschew formal structured composition, harmony, melody and metre.

While now commonplace, ambient music, at least in the past, broke the rules of what we understand as familiar music or song content. Ambient music is not limited by accepted tropes of how it is produced, making use of acoustic and electronic musical instruments, unorthodox implements used as instruments, environmental sound recordings and sometimes vocals. A large proportion of ambient music is instrumental, not requiring narrative arrangement through either sung lyrics or spoken words.

One characteristic of ambient music since the 1990s has been the ubiquitous use of looping, creating repeated sections of sound, initially using tape and most commonly through digital effects. Another key trait has been the use of modern digital reverb and delay techniques to provide a sense of space, disconnection and otherworldliness.

One key element of ambient music is the way it can reward equally both passive and active listening. The listener can either focus on the content or allow ‘cognitive drift’ to occur, which can encourage a sense of calm, introspection or contemplation, meditation or as an aid to sleep.

While ambient music is a self‑contained genre, it does not stand alone; it has been incorporated into, or fused with, many other musical genres. This fact, in part, contributes to the debate about what ambient music actually means today and why it has become successful both artistically and commercially.

At last, getting to the point now… Ambient music as we now (think) we know it emerged in various forms during the 1960s and 1970s, largely thanks to the commercial availability of synthesizers. The album that is widely regarded as the watershed that brought ambient music to wider attention was, ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’ (1978) by British musician, producer and artist Brian Eno. This studio album also established the term ‘ambient music’ in the public mind set. Eno, either solo or in collaboration with other artists, released many subsequent ambient works, further defining the genre. By the early 1980s, the ‘new’ genre had become recognised and widely accepted. Eno has been oft‑quoted that “ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”.

In 1995, Brian Eno used the term ‘generative music’ to describe any music created by a computer system that is ever‑different, non‑repeating and always changing. Eno has frequently used generative ambient music as a background for visual art installations, thereby creating an immersive audio visual experience. There are now a number of autonomous ambient music generators available on the Internet, such as Generative.fm, that provide completely unique compositions that never end, never repeat and last as long as the listener wants them to. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into music is likely to expand the scope of generative music considerably.

A discrete subset of the genre is Japanese ambient pioneered by artists such as Hiroshi Yoshimura, Haruomi Hosono, Midori Takada, Osamu Sato and Susumu Yokota during the 1980s. The offshoot aligned with the Japanese concept of ‘wa’, meaning harmony and serenity. Japanese ambient was an expression of the deep cultural appreciation for nature, an aesthetic preference towards minimalism, and traditional values of maintaining peace.

Ambient has heavily influenced many sub‑genres of downtempo dance music, including ambient house, ambient techno, ambient dub, trip‑hop, nu‑jazz, new age, chillwave and deep house. Ambient has undoubtedly come a very long way from its avant‑garde artsy origins. Ambient was now cool and it was here to stay.

In recent years, ambient music has continued to evolve and expand. Some contemporary artists have incorporated elements of jazz, classical music, and other genres into their work, while others have experimented with new digital technologies such as AI and virtual or augmented reality to create new experiences. Improvisation and extemporisation have become integral elements of many ambient compositions.

Overall, ambient music has remained a vibrant and innovative genre that continues to explore the limits of what is possible in music. Perhaps, the essence of ambient music continues to flourish at the margins, requiring some effort to discover as the means of dissemination moves away from traditional record companies, labels, distributors and physical media. The Internet and streaming services may become the only means to access these esoteric future forms.

Ambient music’s experimental aspirations, though, have been an on‑going thorn in its side, which seems particularly hard to expunge. Partly because of its eclectic roots, many regard the lofty art & culture baggage of ambient as self‑absorbed, arrogant, sanctimonious, pompous and pretentious – or just plain dull and boring. Brian Eno in particular has attracted considerable scorn for refusing to conform to populist ideals and short‑term fads. The fact that he is not fazed by such clichéd criticisms and follows his own path regardless, encourages his opinionated detractors even further.

A predilection for ambient music is a choice, not a requisite and it doesn’t carry any cache amongst some imaginary elitist intellectual cultural community. It is, though, not for everyone, with many seeing ambient as a tedious interminable din. Indeed, if anything has been learned through the decades about ambient music is that its appeal is, at least partially, subliminal, nurturing our subconscious need for enlightened contemplation and therefore beyond our ability to control whether we appreciate it or not. Discuss…

Influential artists that have dabbled in ambient music either in part or whole include (in no particular order) Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, William Basinski, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Pauline Oliveros, Cluster, Biosphere, Harold Budd, John Hassell, Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Terry Riley, William Orbit, Four Tet, Steve Hillage, Stars Of The Lid, Bonobo, Mark McGuire, Ash Ra Tempel, Alice Coltrane, Jon Hopkins, Edgar Froese, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Caretaker, Laurie Speigel, Tycho, GAS, Boards Of Canada, Burial, Fripp & Eno, Slowdive, Air, Julianna Barwick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Ben Chatwin, Richard Norris, Luke Abbott, The Cinematic Orchestra, Daniel Avery, Darshan Ambient, The Gentleman Losers, Ibizarre, A.M.P. Studio, Orbient, Nacho Sotomayor, Sigur Rós, Johnny Jewel, Bicep, Marconi Union, Memory Tapes, Neon Indian, Com Truise, The Orb, The KLF, Divination, Lawrence English and The Irresistible Force.


A brief history of other music genres related to (but not) ambient music

New age music –New age music emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by a variety of styles including classical music, jazz, world music, religious music, folk and rock. New age music often explores arcane folklore, ancient traditions, ethnic groupings, astrology, mythology, mysticism, spiritualism, fantasy and even the occult. Lacking any precise definition, it is often seen as an umbrella for many different and often divergent styles. Ambient and new‑age music are two distinct genres albeit with some overlap between them.

Starting with the similarities… New age music is a genre of music characterised by its soothing and relaxing qualities. It often features acoustic instruments such as flutes, harps, guitars and pianos, traditional Asian or African instruments as well as nature recordings and synthesizers. New‑age music is often used for relaxation, contemplation, yoga, massage, stress relief and anxiety management. As background music, it is used to create a calm, serene, peaceful atmosphere for other activities.

… and some key differences… Ambient music tends to be more experimental and abstract than new‑age music, with a greater emphasis on soundscapes and textures rather than rhythm, melody or harmony. New age music tends to be more melodic, structured and more easily accessible than ambient music.

Overall, both ambient and new age music are genres designed to create a sense of serenity in the listener (the ends). However, they go about achieving this goal in different ways (the means).

New age music has habitually been ridiculed (erroneously) for being part of hippie culture, with acolytes that embraced new age beliefs being called ‘zippies’. From the 1990s. Zippies were in favour of new age principles such as social change, environmentalism, and alternative lifestyles while also being influenced by rave culture, cyberculture, and psychedelic drugs.

New Age Travellers are a loose grouping of people primarily in the United Kingdom generally adopting new age beliefs along with the counter culture movement of the late 1960s. Their nomadic lifestyle often brought them into conflict with static communities and the authorities.

Prominent new age artists include Enigma, Enya, Deep Forest, Clannad, Gregorian, Phil Thornton, Patrick Kelly, Peter Gabriel, Bernward Koch, Paul Winter, Grouper, All About Eve and William Ackerman.

Nature recordings – Ambient nature sounds or, technically, field recordings are a popular sub‑genre of ambient music that feature environmental recordings such as the sounds of water, animals, thunderstorms, wind and even fire. The origins of combining natural sounds with musical compositions can be traced back to the early 20th century. Field recording is regarded by many as a genre in its own right, with or without music.

Field Recording

The use of field recordings in music became more widespread in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of portable recording equipment and with digital recording from the 1980s. Musicians such as John Cage and Dan Gibson began using natural or built environmental sounds into their compositions.

The use of field recording in ambient music can be traced back to Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’, which featured recordings of airport terminal announcements and other environmental sounds. Since then, many ambient artists have incorporated field recordings to create captivating soundscapes that blur the line between music and environmental sound.

Some popular ambient nature sound artists include David Dunn, Chris Watson, Dan Gibson, Diane Hope, Lawrence English, Biosphere and Francisco López.

Downtempo and chillout music – Ambient music did not burst onto the scene overnight and, at least initially, it did not attract significant commercial success. With the popularity of EDM and the domination of house and techno in nightclubs, ambient experienced a mini‑revival towards the late 1980s with sub‑genres including ambient house, ambient trance, ambient techno and ambient dub. During the dance‑dominated 1990s, ambient music became trendy as an after‑party ‘comedown’ with the advent of ‘chillout rooms’; spaces within clubs that served as venues for a relaxing alternative to the high‑energy ‘rave rooms’.

Chillout is a form of downtempo music (or vice versa) characterised by relaxed rhythms, mellow beats, laid back grooves and atmospheric soundscapes intended to induce a tranquil mood – fertile ground for ambient music to proliferate. Chillout is heavily derived from EDM, but typically at slower tempos and with sonic palettes often reminiscent of ambient, electronic‑styled new age, progressive electronic and even elements of instrumental hip hop, dub, deep house and breakbeat.

However, neither chillout nor downtempo come under the definition of ambient, due to their prominent use of structure and rhythm. Sunset beach bars, restaurant venues and cult dance clubs in Ibiza in the 1990s jumped onto the ambient/downtempo/chillout bandwagon as an escape from the more intense side of life and a counterpoint to the hectic rave and acid house scenes of the time. In the UK, the Bristol trip hop scene also capitalised on the chillout boom.

The chillout zeitgeist during the late 1990s was partly due to a proliferation of commercial chillout compilation albums from record labels such as Ministry of Sound, Café del Mar, Café Mambo, Beyond Records, Kompakt Records and Mercury Records. Mainstreaming ultimately motivated underground producers to move away from chillout into other more adventurous leftfield ventures. By the early‑mid 2000s, popularity of chillout music faded heavily. However, it would see a revival in the 2010s and 2020s (so far), which aimed to recapture the spirit of earlier forms of the genre.

Ambient and downtempo/chillout and are not interchangeable, although the boundaries between them are often unclear. Downtempo and chillout would go on a different path to influence subsequent genres like psybient, psychedelic trance, chillwave, lounge, post rock, lo‑fi hip hop, hypnagogic pop and nu‑jazz.

Prominent downtempo and chillout artists include The KLF, The Orb, Thievery Corporation, Deep Dive Corp, East India Youth, The Album Leaf, Nightmares on Wax, Falco, Robert Miles, Morcheeba, Bowery Electric, Mr. Scruff, Tosca, Hallucinogen and Ultramarine.

Trip Hop – Trip hop is a genre of electronic music that emerged from downtempo/chillout in the early 1990s. Trip hop is characterized by its use of hip hop beats, samples, and dense atmospheric soundscapes, fusing influences from jazz, soul, funk, reggae, dub and R&B. Like other forms of electronic music, trip hop uses structure, melody and beats, differentiating it from ambient. The term trip hop was first used in an article in Mixmag magazine in 1994 about American artist and producer DJ Shadow. Trip hop music was popularised mainly by artists from Bristol in the UK such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky. Trip hop further influenced genres like instrumental hip hop and UK garage.

Other artists that have made use of trip hop leanings include Sneaker Pimps, Aim, Howie B, The Dining Rooms, FKA Twigs, Glass Animals, Kosheen, Martina Topley‑Bird, Poliça, Smoke City, 9Lazy9, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut, Morcheeba, Pretty Lights, DJ Shadow, DJ Food, DJ Vadim, Funki Porcini, Gorillaz and London Grammar.

Electronica – Electronica is a massively broad term for music that uses electronic instrumentation and sound manipulation technology as the primary means of production. As such, it is a catch‑all for music that doesn’t slot easily into existing sub‑genres. In its widest sense, electronica is pervasive, directly or indirectly, in much of modern contemporary music. There is, therefore no point in defining it or attempting to establish its scope here.

Since the 1960s, electronica artists have both influenced and taken influence from many other music genres. The commercial breakthrough of electronic music occurred with the advent and subsequent domination of synthpop, Europop and Eurodance in the 1970s. This was followed by EDM sub‑genres such as house, techno and electro from the 1980s onward. The burst in electronic creativity was fuelled by a self‑perpetuating feedback loop, pushing things further in the popular mainstream as well as in the margins that continues to this day.

Some prominent artists under the diverse panoply of electronica include (again in no particular order) Clara Rockmore, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Röyksopp, Gary Numan, Japan, David Sylvian, Natural Snow Buildings, Global Communication, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Orbital, Underworld, The Human League, Visage, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Ultravox, Rick Wakeman, Jean‑Michel Jarre, Skrillex, Leftfield, Herbie Hancock, Electronic, Deadmau5, Fred Again.., Sven Väth, Major Lazer, Armin van Buuren, Sasha, Thom Yorke, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP), Daft Punk, Four Tet, Floating Points, Flying Lotus, Hot Chip, Pet Shop Boys, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Giorgio Moroder, M83, Goldfrapp, Amon Tobin, Carl Cox, Crystal Castles, Infected Mushroom, Groove Armada, Eat Static, LCD Soundsystem, Faithless, Disclosure, System 7, 777, Erasure, Yazoo, Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz, Heaven 17, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), Tears For Fears, Monaco, Bronski Beat, Vince Clarke, Eurhythmics, Thompson Twins, Yello, Squarepusher, Machinedrum, Pendulum, Romare, Calvin Harris, Apollo 440, Ladytron, MØ, Flume, Public Service Broadcasting, Solar Fields, The Grid, X‑Press 2, Arms And Sleepers, Caribou and ATB.


A brief history of ambient electronica (and related) artists

OK, so we’ve looked at some of the genres that have led up to the current day and the prevailing view of ambient music in context. Now, it’s time to take a brief look at some key artists involved along the way, whether they could strictly be considered proponents of ambient music or not. Here are some of the most prominent.

Tomita – Isao Tomita (1932‑2016) was a Japanese composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analogue synthesizer arrangements. Tomita is known for his electronic versions and adaptations of familiar classical music pieces as well as futuristic science‑fiction themes and trance‑like rhythms. Tomita received four Grammy Award nominations for his studio album based on music by classical composer Claude Debussy, ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’ (1974). He also famously adapted Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ (1976).

Wendy Carlos – Wendy Carlos (1939‑) is an American musician and composer born as Walter Carlos and transitioning to female gender in 1972. She is known for her pioneering electronic music and film scores. Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University before studying music composition at Columbia University in New York City. She helped in the development of Robert Moog’s first commercially available synthesizer. Carlos’ breakout release was Grammy Award‑winning ‘Switched‑On Bach’ (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed entirely on synthesizer. Carlos went on to release further synthesized classical music adaptations, as well as experimental and ambient electronic music. She composed film scores for three major studio films, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and ‘Tron’ (1982).

Tangerine Dream – Tangerine Dream is a German band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese (1944‑2015). The best‑known incarnation of the group was the mid‑1970s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. Tangerine Dream is considered a pioneer in electronic, ambient and space music, a.k.a. kosmische musik (‘cosmic music’). Tangerine Dream were key members of the so‑called Berlin School of electronic music. Despite having released over one hundred albums over the years, they are best known for their use of synthesizers and sequencers, including milestone albums, Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975). Tangerine Dream has also composed over sixty film soundtracks as well as the score for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. However, it is their mid‑1970s material that profoundly influenced the development of electronic music styles such as ambient, new age and EDM.

Klaus Schulze – German electronic music composer and musician Klaus Schulze (1947‑2022) is considered one of the pioneers of electronic music since the late 1960s. Schulze was an early member of the band Tangerine Dream before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1970. Schulze had a prolific career, releasing over sixty studio albums. Schulze’s music is known for its long, repetitive sequences and its use of analogue synthesizers. His early work was influenced by the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, while his later work was more experimental and ambient. Schulze’s music has been used in films such as ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

Brian Eno – English musician, composer, producer and artist Brian Eno (1948‑) has become synonymous with contemporary ambient music, pioneering and contributing to the ambient, electronica and minimalist drone genres. He started out in experimental rock, glam rock, art pop and art rock as former keyboard player with Roxy Music. Along with his extensive solo career, Eno has also collaborated on many side projects with other artists including Harold Budd, David Bowie, David Byrne, Fred Again.., Jon Hopkins and Cluster. Many of his collaborations explored beyond the scope of purist ambient music. He has also been prominent behind the studio desk producing many artists including John Cale, David Bowie, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, Talking Heads, Ultravox, Devo, U2, Coldplay, Daniel Lanois, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Slowdive, James, Kevin Shields and Damon Albarn. In addition, Eno has composed a number of film scores. If that wasn’t enough, Eno has also worked prolifically in other media, including audio visual installations, art installations, film and as an author. As mentioned above, Eno pioneered the introduction and growth of generative music. A little known fact is that Eno also composed the six‑second music snip that accompanied the start‑up of the Windows 95 computer operating system, known as ‘The Microsoft Sound’. Love him or loathe him, Eno’s legacy is probably as far reaching as it is incalculable.

Brian Eno (courtesy of Cosciansky)

Kratwerk – German electronic band Kraftwerk was founded in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Kraftwerk is widely regarded as an innovator and pioneer of electronic music and was one of the first successful acts to popularise and commercialise the genre. The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s before adopting electronic instruments for which they are best known, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Their massive hit single and album, ‘Autobahn’ (1974) cemented their reputation. Kraftwerk inspired many artists including David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.

Jean‑Michel Jarre – Jean‑Michel Jarre (1948‑) is a French composer, musician and record producer. He is widely regarded as an innovator in electronic, ambient, new age and synthpop music. His breakout studio album, ‘Oxygene’ (1977) has become an electronica classic, selling over 18 million copies worldwide. Jarre’s musical style builds on the work of Tangerine Dream and adds a bit of populist French va‑va‑voom. He is famous for organising extravagant outdoor events involving laser light shows, visual projections and pyrotechnics to accompany his stage music. One of his concerts in Moscow, Russia in 1997 holds the world record for the largest audience for a single outdoor event, estimated at 3.5 million people.

The Orb – The Orb is an English electronic music group founded in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty. The duo began as ambient and dub DJs based in London before making the move into music production. The Orb is well known for their psychedelic ambient space sound. Over the years, The Orb has developed a cult following among clubbers ‘coming down’ from drug‑induced highs and, as such, their music became popular in club chillout rooms. Their influential debut studio album ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ (1991) established the UK’s underground ambient house trend. The Orb’s second album, ‘U.F.Orb’ (1992) confirmed the band’s popularity and ensured their longevity. The Orb was influenced heavily by predecessors, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. The Orb has maintained their signature science fiction aesthetic throughout their prolific career.

Amorphous Androgynous – British electronic music duo Amorphous Androgynous and its better known alter ego, The Future Sound of London (FSOL), was founded by Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans in 1988. The duo’s music is characterized by its psychedelic, ambient, and experimental sound. They acted as a bridge between the underground and well‑established electronic artists and has been influential in the development of electronic music genres such as ambient house, ambient dub and trip hop. They have released several albums, including ‘Tales of Ephidrina’ (1993) and ‘Lifeforms’ (1994).

Orbital – Orbital is an English electronic music duo founded by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll in 1989. The band has had on‑off periods of activity, breaking up and reforming on more than one occasion through the years. The band’s name is taken from the M25, London’s orbital motorway, which was key to the early (illegal) rave scene and (legal) acid house scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orbital’s involvement with dance music has led to its strong reputation as a live band. They have mixed ambient sounds along with techno, trance, breakbeat and electronic rock styles. They have also been hugely influential in the development of modern electronic sub‑genres such as glitch, wonky and Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), as well as EDM.

The Chemical Brothers ‑ English electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers, originally known as The Dust Brothers, was formed in 1989 by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons in Manchester, UK. Along with peers, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, they were pioneers in bringing the big beat, techno, house and EDM to popularity. Their breakout studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ (1997) rapidly became a rave classic. Like Orbital, they have become regular headliners on the festival and arena circuits. While their music is far from ambient, the origins are still evident and their enduring influence has also been widespread.


Contemporary music genres related to ambient

Here we are now, well into the 3rd decade of the 21st Century, so what position does ambient occupy now? Has it stagnated, frozen in aspic? Is it languishing in some obscure genre limbo? Or is it still evolving either on its own terms or in other ways? Let’s look at where ambient influences have led us and which may give a clue to where it might be going in the future. Here are eight of the most important modern‑day ambient spin‑offs.

Drone – Drone is a music genre that plays on long, sustained tones or repeated single notes. Unlike other genres that use drones as a component, drone music puts drones at the forefront, removing most melody and rhythm. As such, it bears many similarities to ambient. Drone music explores the changing timbre of individual sounds over time. For electronic drone, this is often achieved by slight fluctuations in the drone’s pitch, tone and amplitude.

The origins of drone, whether electronic or classical, are found in traditional music from across the world and date back to the 1940s with ‘Monotone Silence Symphony’ (1949) by Yves Klein. Drone developed through minimal music and through rock. Drone has seen a resurgence in the 2020s. Drone music has expanded to influence countless other genres, including ambient, EDM, drone metal and post‑rock.

Progressive Electronic – Progressive music in its widest sense generally attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with a specific genre of music. It also places emphasis on creating a sense of progression or development throughout a piece of music. Layered soundscapes, intricate changes in rhythm, a wide range of sound effects and textures are commonly used. Improvisation is also a key characteristic of progressive electronic music, as many musicians use improvisation to create new and inventive sounds rather than relying on pre‑recorded samples or synthesizer presets. Another important aspect is the use of lengthy, extended compositions, with tracks frequently having multiple sections and mood changes. Basically, progressive electronic covers a large proportion of electronic music from the late 1960s to the current day, including post rock. Is it a genre in itself? Make up your own mind.

Vaporwave – Vaporwave emerged in the early 2010s and is characterised by its use of synthesizers, slowed‑down samples and a great deal of studio manipulation including time shifting and cutting up of sound clips, then applying reverb, echo and other studio effects. The advent of computer‑based digital audio workstations (DAWs), such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Abelton and Cubase, greatly aided production and the Internet provided the means of distribution through platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

Vaporwave got its name from ‘vaporware’, a term applied to computer hardware or software which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge.

At first, vaporwave was a nostalgic reflection of the sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, drawing from popular music, contemporary R&B, smooth jazz and muzak, as well as from consumer culture, corporate logos, films, radio broadcasts and television commercials. Vaporwave has been described as a form of ‘post‑Internet’ electronic musical movement that reflects the fragmented and disorienting experience of living in the digital age.

The release of ‘Eccojams Vol. 1’ (2010) by Daniel Lopatin, under one of his aliases Chuck Person, is widely regarded as the foundation of vaporwave as a genre. The debut was followed ‘Floral Shoppe’ by Macintosh Plus and ‘Far Side Virtual’ by James Ferraro (both 2011), bringing greater visibility to vaporwave and its associated aesthetics. Despite this, vaporwave remains niche with tracks not readily available on physical media such as CDs or vinyl.

Like ‘pure’ ambient, vaporwave shuns structure and rhythm. The use of looping, glitching, pitch‑bending, panning, and echoing sound samples came to define the sound of vaporwave, giving the patchwork sound a hazy, surreal, dreamy and atmospheric quality with a focus on hyperreality. The vapor movement alludes to a disconnection or separation from reality presented through its original form.

In addition, vaporwave gave birth to a distinct aesthetic based on subcultures like cyberpunk, seapunk, manga and anime. Artist names, album titles and track listings often used uncommon symbols and Japanese script. In conjunction with the heavily manipulated and often intentionally degraded sound of vaporwave music, much of the genre’s artwork featured low‑grade image distortion or digital artefacts, bringing the limitations and flaws of past technology and positioning it within the broader post‑internet artistic landscape. The integration of the visual and the music elements can be interpreted as a criticism of consumer capitalism and hi‑tech culture.

Dreampunk – Dreampunk is an evolution of Vaporwave, also emerging in the mid‑2010s. Dreampunk artists wanting to experiment with more minimal and atmospheric compositions while, at the same time, distancing themselves from the nostalgic restrictions of the 1980s. The Internet record label, Dream Catalogue, helped popularize dreampunk within the vaporwave community as well as further afield.

The abstract, hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes and repetitive structure of vaporwave is perhaps closer to ambient music, although the presence of rhythm differentiated it from its predecessor. This contributes to the dreamlike ethereal sound for which the genre is known. Dreampunk artists tend to seek anonymity, with many using several Internet aliases to create a sense of mystique around their music, hiding behind the aesthetic, often utilizing abstracted imagery of cityscapes, neon‑lit night scenes and incorporating futuristic dystopian and cyberpunk themes. Like vaporwave, dreampunk also uses Japanese scripts to further mystify their image. Classic dystopian and cyberpunk films such as ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995) also influenced and inspired the music genre. Both vaporwave and dreampunk continue to thrive in the underground.

Ambient, morphed through the lens of vaporwave and dreampunk, heavily influenced other genres such as hypnagogic pop, chillwave, VHS pop, witch house and slushwave.

Some popular vaporwave and dreampunk artists include Blue In Tokio, Fishmans, T e l e p a t h (テレパシー能力者), 2 8 1 4, Windows96, SkyTwoHigh and Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza.

Chillwave – Chillwave, a.k.a. glo‑fi, is an Internet genre that originated predominantly from the United States circa 2009. Chillwave, like vaporwave, looked back to the aesthetics and musical styles of the 1980s and 1990s, intentionally evoking a sense of nostalgic reflection. Chillwave melded analogue instruments with modern recording technologies and techniques to create a hazy dreamlike atmosphere. Chillwave appropriated elements of synthpop, funk, downtempo, EDM and alternative/indie genres like indie pop, neo‑psychedelia and synthwave.

Chillwave, vaporwave and dreampunk led to a great deal of fusion and crossover material, blurring the differences between them. Chillwave declined in popularity by the start of the 2020s but like many other genres, the end of chillwave may have been greatly exaggerated. Expect it to come back to the fore in due course. Chillwave’s influence would go on to play a part in genres such as cloud rap, alternative R&B, future bass, synthwave, ethereal wave and bedroom pop.

Prominent chillwave artists include Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, Flume, Com Truise, Tycho, Panda Bear, Lemon Jelly and Nite Jewel.

Intelligent Dance Music and its spin offs, glitch and wonky – Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s as a derivative (and rejection) of EDM. It is characterized by complex rhythms, intricate melodies, and a focus on sound design and experimentation. IDM artists often use unconventional time signatures, polyrhythms, glitches and de‑tuned sounds to create a unique listening experience. The genre is also known for its use of ambient textures and atmospheres, which can create a vague or otherworldly feel. IDM has been influential in the development of other electronic music genres such as ambient techno, and intelligent techno.

Some of the most well‑known IDM (and glitch/wonky) artists include Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Daniel Avery, Actress, Floating Points, Machinedrum, Moderat, Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards Of Canada, Mouse On Mars, Flying Lotus, LFO, Clark, Luke Vibert, Autechre and Squarepusher.

Dream pop – Deriving more from structured alternative and indie rock rather than ambient, dream pop uses reverb‑laden guitars, effects‑rich vocals, and dense studio production, to create a psychedelic, spacious, ethereal and surreal sound, albeit with a de‑emphasized beat accompanied by quiet, breathy harmonised vocals to elevate the music from its origins.

Dream pop is commonly fused with other genres such as shoegaze and noise pop, although dream pop does not solely depend on ‘walls of sound’, heavily distorted guitar layers or feedback. Dream pop relies heavily on modulation effects such as chorus, tremolo, vibrato, delay and reverb, to create mesmerising sonic textures. Dream pop bands often employ synthesizer layers to add atmosphere and lush soundscapes. Influences include slow core, post rock and trip hop.

In a similar way to shoegaze, vocals focus on melody and timbre, rather than lyricism. It is not uncommon for dream pop groups to have multiple vocalists to make good use of harmony and ‘instrumental’ vocals.

Prominent dream pop artists include Warpaint, 2:54, Lanterns of the Lake, Beach House, Cigarettes After Sex, The xx, Bat For Lashes, Low, Chromatics, Spiritualized, Julee Cruise, Broadcast, Zero 7, Phantogram, Yo La Tengo, Cocteau Twins, Dévics, Esben And The Witch, Pure Bathing Culture, School Of Seven Bells, His Name Is Alive, How To Dress Well, Lush, London Grammar and Mazzy Star.

Ambient dub – Ambient dub fuses ambient music with dub electronica. Ambient dub is a chillout fusion of ambient, dub reggae and future dub, featuring the atmosphere of the former and the Jamaican‑style basslines, percussion, and psychedelic production techniques of the latter. The name of the genre was coined by record label Beyond Records with a series of compilation albums of the same name, starting with, ‘Ambient Dub Volume 1: The Big Chill’ (1992). Many of the prominent artists within the genre also perform or mix in elements of dub techno, dubstep or ambient techno, which has led to some confusion over ambient dub’s actual sound. While the lines are indistinct between such electronic genres, ambient dub can genuinely be discerned by its denser atmospheres, a heavier use of reverb and/or delay, and an emphasis on bass akin to traditional dub, as well as reggae rhythms.

Notable ambient dub artists include: The Dub Syndicate, Bill Laswell, Dreadzone, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Orb, Ott, Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, Jon Hopkins, Jah Wobble, Mad Professor, Burnt Friedman, Deadbeat, The Bug, Solar Quest, Ladytron and Banco de Gaia.

Dark ambient – before we leave, it’s worth a quick mention about dark ambient, a.k.a. ambient industrial. While most ambient music creates a peaceful, welcoming and safe place, dark ambient is intended to disturb. Dark ambient emerged as a post‑industrial counterpoint to the wider ambient landscape. It is characterised by an ominous, brooding, eerie, sinister and overbearingly gloomy atmosphere, often with discordant overtones, dissonant timbres and lengthy drones. Dark ambient often crops up in film scores intended to unsettle the audience and create a sense of disorientation or suspense.

Dark ambient artists include Deathprod, Agalloch, David Lynch, Throbbing Gristle, Angelo Badalamenti, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, William Basinski, Blut Aus Nord, Mortiis, Cabaret Voltaire, Dolorian, NON, Controlled Bleeding, Earth, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sunn O))) and Steven Wilson.

STOP! Enough already! I hear you cry. We are beginning to go down a bit of a proverbial rabbit hole here, so the short list that follows suggests other sub‑genres heavily influenced by ambient and its derivatives. These sub‑genres include black ambient, ritual ambient, space ambient, space music, ambient Americana, ambient house, ambient techno, ambient trance, psybient, psydub, minimalism, modern classical, ambient industrial, tribal ambient, pop ambient, dubstep and turntable music. Phew!


Key ambient+ albums:

As with my previous article on dub reggae, it would be remiss not to mention some of the key albums that have impressed over the years. Here are some predictable and some very unpredictable selections to showcase the vast expanse of electronic ambient music as it is today. As this article has hopefully shown, ambient isn’t a clearly defined pigeon hole with unbreakable rules but rather a constantly changing complex and diverse approach to experimental soundscapes. Hence this ‘top 20’ collection is more like ‘ambient+’ (as I call it; remember, you read it here first!), intended to demonstrate the ecosystem’s multiplicity. Another ‘desert island disc’ compendium to daydream about. Again, it was a difficult decision‑making process with many excellent works that didn’t make this particular cut. These albums are all classified as contemporary, i.e. 1975 to the current day.

  1. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‑92 (1993) and Vol. II (1994). Two seminal albums in the ambient genre that feature a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds. It is known for its dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes and has been described as ‘a journey through a strange and beautiful world’.
  2. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). Basically, the one that started it all. Essential listening for devotees of the ambient music genre. A starting point for the many great ambient works that followed and an entrée into Eno’s many other ambient works.
  3. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975). Along with its predecessor, ‘Phaedra’ (1974), the pair stand out from the band’s extensive canon. The band had stopped using traditional instruments in its compositions and focused on analogue synthesizers and sequencers. Truly remarkable.
  4. Max Richter – Sleep (2015). Almost 8½ hours of sweet lilting lullaby, a transcendent, cinematic, post‑minimalist ambient album of gentle music intended to be experienced as much as it is to be listened to, awake or asleep (or, interestingly, in between – a phenomenon known as ‘eyelid movies’; what the mind conjures up when one is in the transitional state of near sleep).
  5. GAS – Pop (2000). A comforting, immersive experience and a lesson in how to make electronica sound organic and engrossing. Transcendent and transformative. A lysergic trip for your ears.
  6. Fripp & Eno – Evening Star (1975). Combining the talents of Brian Eno and Crimson King guitarist Robert Fripp. Good to see guitar making a contribution to ambient music.
  7. Four Tet – Rounds (2003). Not really ambient, more IDM and glitch. However, a disarmingly elegant stripped back intimate album. Perhaps, Kieran Hebdan’s landmark album.
  8. Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998). Focusing on concepts of childhood nostalgia, created by the use of obscure samples and masterly manipulated layers of sound. The album has become rather essential listening along with ‘The Campfire Headphase’ (2005) and ‘Geogaddi (2002).
  9. Bonobo – Black Sands (2010). Lush, sumptuous and beguiling. Not ambient in a true sense but a great example of downtempo electronica from Simon Green. Also worth a listen is, ‘The North Borders’ (2013). Both also have excellent remix albums.
  10. The KLF – Chill Out (1990). A classic ambient album that features a mix of samples and original music. It’s known for its dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and has been described as ‘a road movie in music form’.
  11. Stars Of The Lid – Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid (2001). An album that features long, slow‑moving pieces that are built around drones and other ambient textures.
  12. Chromatics – Night Drive (2001) – More ambient pop, dream pop and synthwave than pure ambient. Chromatics’ ethereal style was featured by David Lynch in his surreal TV series, ‘Twin Peaks’.
  13. Burial – Untrue (2007). Enigmatic London‑based dubstep artist burst onto the scene with an album that is stark, blurred, eerie, tender and hauntingly evocative. A breath taking and inimitable event.
  14. William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops I‑IV (2002‑2003). Four albums that feature loops of decaying tape recordings. The music is haunting and melancholic, and has been described as ‘a meditation on loss and decay’. Dedicated to the victims of 9/11. Tape music entropy as it happens, captured for posterity.
  15. Tim Hecker – Radio Amor (2003). An album that features a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, including guitar and piano. It’s known for its dense, layered soundscapes and has been described as ‘a beautiful, immersive experience’.
  16. Banco de Gaia – Last Train To Lhasa (1995). Along with its predecessor, ‘Maya’ (1994), it shows the approach of Toby Marks to progressive ambient electronica. Again, not really ambient but hugely influenced by it.
  17. Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon (2000). Along with its remix EP, ‘Babylon Rewound’ (2004) it takes other influences including reggae and dub and brought it into the downtempo chillout world.
  18. The Higher Intelligence Agency – Freefloater (1995). British artist Bobby Bird started off running experimental electronic music nights in Birmingham. Ambient techno meets ambient dub meets ambient. Also worth a listen is, ‘Colourform’ (2010).
  19. Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza & SkyTwoHigh – Imaginary Pathways (2021). The final Internet album by Brazilian musician and producer, Cesar Alexandre before his untimely death due to covid. More dreampunk, ambient techno and downtempo with a hint of vaporwave rather than ambient. Blissful.
  20. The Gentleman Losers – The Gentleman Losers (2006). Finnish brothers that take a mix of ambient, post rock, lo‑fi, dreamlike slowcore and even a hint of Americana and blend it into a strange place where one isn’t certain of what is light and what is dark.
20 Ambient+ Studio Albums

In addition, referring back to ubiquitous compilation albums of the 1990s, one of the most significant events was ‘Ambient Dub Volumes 1‑4’ by various artists (1992‑1995) – A series of ambient dub compilation albums from Beyond Records that announced ambient dub to the world. The last of the four isn’t quite up to the first three but best seen as a whole. Another name check is for the annual ‘Pop Ambient’ compilations (2001‑) curated by Wolfgang Voigt, the man behind Kompakt Records and his nom de guerre GAS (see #5 above).


The future of ambient and ambient‑related music

The legacy of ambient music in all its facets has had a major impact on pretty much everything we listen to, even if we aren’t always aware of it. The question is, where is it going?

Ambient has exhibited somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2020s. Part of this renewed interest may be because of what is called multi‑sensory branding, where media events attempt to evoke memories through stimulation of all the senses. Another reason may be the rediscovery of obscure Japanese ambient music, as well as an interest in previously experimental, niche or underground music now garnering mainstream recognition. Streaming services make accessing unconventional music much easier. In addition, the growth of interest in mindfulness and mental health & wellbeing as a ‘cure’ for stress and anxiety caused by an increasingly frenetic and unpredictable world has reinforced the search for aids to relaxation, introspection and contemplation.

One thing we’ve learnt from this escapade is that ambient and ambient+ (or whatever else you want to call it) has been pushing the boundaries ever since the start of the 20th Century. If nothing else, it will continue to explore the outer limits while influencing the mainstream.

Probably the most significant tool in the future of ambient electronica won’t even involve human beings or actual instruments! AI will make significant inroads into generative music. Ultimately, though, this is likely to be a bit of a creative dead end. The drawback of AI is that it can only learn from what has come before it, it lacks the imagination and inventiveness of the human mind. At some point, AI generated ambient will become stale and derivative and human creativity will, once again be needed to bring spontaneity and unpredictability back to front and centre of music. Go People!

Given the inherent limitations of traditional musical instruments, electronic music may, arguably, have the greatest potential for innovation and creativity. One can only imagine the possibilities yet to be explored.

While many critics view electronica as soulless, cold and inert, it is sure to develop the ability to elicit more organic, fluid emotional responses. Many artists are looking backwards to analogue instruments and production techniques to add warmth and to create beauty out of its inherent imperfections.

Genre developments can only surprise once before they become part of the historical mosaic. One possible future is that ambient reaches a point where it becomes sterile and disposable. One might envisage it derided in the way that elevator muzak has become. Arguably, a proportion of current‑day throwaway popular music is already demonstrating that bleak possibility with anything new ultimately being short‑lived around the periphery before being subsumed into universal, amorphous homogeneity.

How we will be listening to music is another factor. If music becomes more clichéd, contrived and derivative, it will become more and more dismissible, fading into the background environment. However, isn’t that exactly what Erik Satie intentionally started with back in 1917?

For some, like the author, ambient resonates with the psyche on both a subconscious and conscious level. Others, meanwhile, may find the genre melancholic or even highly irritating. Ultimately, like all music preferences, it is partly a deliberate decision and partly predetermined in some obscure way.

Personally, I have confidence that people who appreciate ‘real’ music and have a passion for creating and performing it that will perpetuate this idiosyncratic form of music into a healthy future. Once again, discuss…


Tailpiece

So… there you have it. Another lengthy (apologies) delve into a relatively narrow niche of the wondrous world of music. Back to the real world, sadly. I cannot write about things that I don’t have some sort of fascination with. Having said that, these ambient+ genres are not exclusive listening. However, they can be just the ticket when one feels like some chillaxing, escaping from reality or as an antidote to insomnia.

Why do I dig ambient and electronic ambient+ music? It just resonates with me, It creates a welcoming oasis of contemplative calm away from a crazily intense ‘real’ world and it is somewhere to go that isn’t, well, here. Nothing profound, transcendent or conceited. See you in The Matrix soon.

I have no idea what’s up next, so it will come as much of a surprise to me as it will to you. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Until next time…

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