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Background music

A developed thought or idea coming from an oblique strategy: “What most recently impressed you? How is it similar? What can you learn from it? What could you take from it?”

Brian Eno, surprisingly. He’s an intellectual who happens to be doing art. Throughout his work, there’s a constant use of cut-ups. He always puts several pieces of information – elements – against each other in juxtaposition, recombining, shuffling, changing the information and getting a new output, endless possibilities within limited framework. So basically, even though the elements and bases are the same, the texture and feeling of it change each time and they come with unexpected solutions and twists. He keeps everything low profile, bland and “as boring as interesting” with very few moments of certain, non-disturbing highlights. For me, it’s necessary to amplify the highlights. Or not. Keeping the texture and mood would be more challenging. Or not.

What the ambient music seemingly aims for but fails to do is to prove the function of ambience and its importance in creative process (creative by any means, not only art). It is truth what DB said, that Brian takes the street-level stuff and brings it up into high art. All of the things that seemed so ordinary that we didn’t even bother to think about them were now exposed as art. (Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, conceptual art, readymade) But with a useful function. It provokes to consider more unthinkable stuff as art and to grow as a culture because we would value these absolutely ordinary things and protect them because we would be able to actually use them, whereas now we tend to ignore them and most of the time not to notice them at all.

Brian brought mundane ambience into the attention and also posed the metaphysical question of importance of ambience and overall mood. That not only objects, but also the whole textures and atmosphere surrounding us can be easily transformed into some kind of fine, stimulating work of art – which we may regard as art or not, depending on our preferences. The function of this (and basically any) “art” isn’t to study it until the boredom kills us (which would be very soon). When it comes to art, there are these possible functions: to use it as a medium for expression; to be provoked (to anything, from thinking to dancing); to be entertained.

When it comes to ambient music, its function is to follow us through the most ordinary situations with stimulating vibe, somewhat uninterrupting and unnoticed. Obviously, ambient music can be used as relaxation music to calm us down and make us concentrate, look at our daily routine, hectic for the most part, from a different perspective. One can ask and explore various questions about the stimulative effects it has, but they’re certainly there.

Brian talks about and creates systems which produce art, and that’s how we can possibly use it – as a tool which allows us to produce another work or idea. He is probably more of an engineer than an artist, someone could oppose. But I say that the definition of artist is also questionable. Because ideas and work don’t (and I insist on this) come only from our own mind, but from a huge spectrum of outside influences, whether it happens consciously or not. Ambience, being rather vague, is also a part of it. We should recognize it as art, or at least valuable source, and allow it to be useful and help us to be creative.

I admit, though, that the (white) noise isn’t always the most helpful thing and the silence would be more welcome. But as the noises blend with ambient music, the texture defining the place we’re at becomes something new and more memorable. It’s nothing new that we connect sounds with memories and places. And the ambient music is primarily calm, and calming, just in order to blend and help us concentrate. If we could get into creative, productive mode using one record, we could use it again and again in order to fool our brain into working.

A little experiment: If I put on his ambient record, I often tend to forget that the music is playing and I keep it quiet so it gets lost in the other sounds I’m used to – such as cars driving by, planes flying above my house, kids playing outside, people engaged in conversation, someone’s television which is too loud, tapping on my keyboard, the rain or storm, dogs barking, a lawn mower – all these elements I obviously (try to) ignore as part of the white noise, and Eno’s records tend to make me do the same, they disapear within the other sounds. However, whereas all other sounds belong to daily life, the record brings new information, musical, which is often able to stimulate new responses from my brain or my thoughts. I tend to write down much more while listening to ambient music than when I’m not. Funnily enough, I found some classical music to be stimilating for i.e. studying purposes. However, popular music tends to shut my brain down.

We don’t know what it is about music, how come we like certain genres or performances, but there’s certainly information encoded in it which we can’t really point at and describe. And we can say the same about abstract paintings which are in my book a good attempt to capture music into a physical form, as well as other things we cannot describe using words.

We can’t describe the taste of an orange to somebody who’s never had one, or the smell of the laundry just taken from the washing machine (because it’s just impossible), as well as we can’t describe colours to somebody who was born blind. Music is one of the biggest miracles and mysteries, because we cannot describe it to a person who was born deaf (ok, ok, don’t tell me about vibrations, please), not even to a person who’s never heard that particular sound/texture.

We can only perceive it, feel it, it can provide a texture for an idea that we are able to articulate and we can possibly affect how it’s perceived by other people.

So the beauty of indescribable things is the encoded information which is absolutely individual to each person, even though the music is certainly something we can share and enjoy together, it’s a part of culture, tradition, whatever. I think that songs are in a way limited by the topic, but on the other hand, there are another two new dimensions – the lyrics and the voice, that allow the music to become more, I would say, accessible. Whereas instrumental pieces provide larger space to explore and interpret as anyone can hear a different thing and it can reveal different feelings. The space to discover gets smaller and smaller with each element we are able to point at and associate with the familiar, even describe with words.

We can think of music as a language which is transparent to anyone who uses it. Human created a certain patterns and systems which are used to make our communication easier, they are ways to actually describe music with some terminology, but they are only the means allowing to bring supposed musical information out to other people, they don’t provide us with meaning, nobody knows what a particular sound means, and believe it or not, this terminology is vastly limited.

A pop song is very different from ambient sounds. A song is primarily engaging, ambient sounds are optional. We can actually choose if we want to pay attention or ignore them, we can do it intentionally or without realizing it. Putting out the ambient music is very similar to the art of object trouvé. It’s art as long as we are convinced it is, it’s the idea behind it. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s a stimulant to clear one’s mind and allow the thoughts flow more easily.


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