Influential Ambient Albums

Future Sound’s Top Five Ambient Albums

Walter Carlos “Sonic Seasonings”

Before there the term “ambient” was ever uttered to describe music, Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos) was experimenting with synthetic melodies. Sonic Seasoning was released in 1971 as a double album gatefold LP. The album Consists of four  20 minute (aprox.) songs that sonically represents each of the four seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter.

Perhaps best know for bringing the music of the Moog to the masses or his work (earlier that year) on A Clockwork Orange, Carlos uses a mixture or “natural” sounds mixed with  electronic and instrumental soundscapes to create undulating cycles that evoke the mood of the earth’s natural seasons. This concept heavy ethos became common in most ambient albums to follow.



Brian Eno “Ambient 1, Music for Airports”

“To create a distinction between my own experiments and the purveyors of canned music, I have begun using the term Ambient Music.”_ Brian Eno September 1978

No ambient album list would be complete without mentioning Eno’s 1978 Ambient 1, Music for Airports (which is actually the first in a series of four). This album marks the birth of the term “ambient,” coined by the prolific artist himself. Eno wanted to make music that was the antithesis of the “back ground” music created by Muzak in the 50’s. Music that was both “ignorable as it is interesting.”

Relying heavily on the technique of tape phasing (a method pioneered by Steven Reich years earlier) Eno lays the foundation for ambient music and thus a genre was born.

Coil “How To Destroy Angels”

The ambient sound became a defining element in this duo’s music. Jon Balance and Peter Christopherson (founding member of the band Throbbing Gristle) describe their 1984 EP as “ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy.” Applying occult science to their method of music making, Coil carved out their own unique niche. In 2010 fans of Coil, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross co-opted the name, How to Destroy Angels, as their band name.

“Since predjudice and fear of the unknown seem so far unaffected by civilization, we would like to state once again that, should this music have any power, over and above the banal and transitory titilation achieved by most records available now, it is a positive and beneficial power to be used and controlled by the listener, as he desires.” Coil 1984

The KLF “Chill Out”

This 1990 release marks the first  time the phrase “chill” started to work its way out of the “chill rooms” of Manchester raves and into the popular  lexicon of electronic music. Chill Out is a haunting narrative that takes the listener on a nighttime drive through the American deep south. At least that’s what Scottish musician Bill Drumond and British musician Jimmy Cauty would later describe the album as (neither actually having been to the  deep south at the time of recording). Alex Paterson of The Orb was also involved in the making of this seminal album.

Chill Out weaves together a multitude of diverse samples of 70‘s pop music, exotic religious chants, spaced out guitar twang and sound effects. The heavy use of samples makes this an early example of the now ubiquitous mash-up genre. Chill Out was recorded as a single continuous 44 minute mix, the US release divided the album into separate tracks. This album is truly a master piece and is among the best examples of the enigmatic and mystical persona of The KLF.

Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85–92”

This third release from Richard D. James, under the moniker Aphex Twin marks the solidification of the ambient genre and sets the standard of modern ambient works to follow. James followed up  the popular album with a “Selected Ambient Works Vol. II” in 1994.