October 2011

Dark Ambient Music

Evil Twin of the New Age

I was listening to “Hearts of Space” on public radio more than thirty years ago, when I suddenly noticed myself becoming anxious and almost creeped-out by the music. In place of the meditative and relaxing vibe of most of the music on the program, this track evoked feelings of loneliness, melancholy, and even supernatural horror. I wondered about that track for years, but I never found out what it was called. It was probably an example of “dark ambient” music, a style that mixes the lush soundscapes of New Age music with the aesthetic of gothic-industrial and death metal.

There are a number of different sub-styles of dark ambient, some of which are clearly variations on heavy metal or industrial music, while others sound like the evil twin of New Age ambient. Dark ambient is intended to be beautiful- in the sense of Baudelaire's “Flowers of Evil”- but it is not intended to be pleasant. Many people like to use New Age music to for meditation or deep relaxation self-hypnosis exercises, but if you tried to meditate to dark ambient it would be more like performing a black magic ritual!

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It's certainly not for everyone, and most New Age fans probably wouldn't take to it. However, if you're one of those people (as am I) who can find the beauty in ugliness and the art in discordance, then you might want to consider giving dark ambient a try. Open up a volume of H.P. Lovecraft while you listen, if you really want to freak yourself out a little!

Space Music Podcast

Internet Radio

Fans of ambient space music can find the genre in a few spots online, one of which is the Space Music Podcast hosted by TC from Holland, which just completed its sixth season. My own exposure to space music comes originally through the long-running Hearts of Space, and that show has basically shaped my personal definition of the style. Not everything TC plays would really be “space music” as I understand the term, but a lot of it would be, and the other styles he plays are also very rewarding to listen to.

Space Music

Space music is a subset of New Age music, with the same free-flowing ambient sound and meditative atmosphere, but with more of an emphasis on empty space- in more ways than one. The spaces between the notes seem to be stretched-out and slow, creating a sensation of vast open spaces. The music often sounds as if it has been recorded in a cavernous structure like a tall cathedral.

Finally, the aesthetic of space music tends to be dark yet warm, something like dark ambient music but without the sense of horror. A lot of space music suggests a feeling of flying through outer space with perfect freedom, somehow freed from all limitations, as if you were soaring between the stars. It's like the musical equivalent of science fiction, back when science fiction was still generally optimistic. I find it to be some of the most effective music to play during meditation, because it helps me block out external stimuli while slowly calming my heart-rate and breathing.

When I meditate while listening to space music, I usually find myself spontaneously visualizing stars and planets, galaxies, nebulae and black holes, all of which seem to flow by me as I watch them, entranced.

I was first introduced to space music through a public radio program called Hearts of Space, which now exists as an online radio station playing space music twenty-four hours a day. If you're curious about this sub-genre of New Age music, they have a sample show you can listen to for free.