Last week on our 30th anniversary of national syndication, we reached a series milestone with Program 1,000, appropriately titled MILESTONES, Part 1 — "the evolution of Ambient music from caves to cathedrals." This week we conclude our anniversary programming with MILESTONES, Part 2: "electronic Ambient in the 20th and 21st centuries."
Once electrical sound transmission, aka the telephone, was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, and sound recording, aka the phonograph, was invented by Thomas Edison, it was only a matter of time until electricity was used to create music. The story is rich in drama and detail. English music writer MARK PRENDERGAST's "The Ambient Century" is the best treatment of the subject for interested listeners.
It's hard to convey just how much optimism and artistic promise was invested in the idea of using electronics to create new sounds and new music, especially during the Avante Garde movements of the early 20th century. LEON THEREMIN, MAURICE MARTENOT, JORG MAGER, OTTO LEUNING, VLADIMIR USSACHEVSKY, EDGAR VARESE, LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI, KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN, PIERRE BOULEZ, JOHN CAGE and many others played important roles in advancing the cause. As Mark Prendergast puts it: "The importance to twentieth-century music of atmospheric sound — its timbre and personality — is a measure of how much innovative musical ideas intertwined with technological change."
So the evolution of Ambient music during the last 100 years is a story of artistic progressives moving beyond the old conventions of classical music, adopting new music-making technologies and relentlessly pushing them toward the ideal of unlimited sonic and musical invention.
In the early decades of the 20th century, when equipment was rare and expensive, the movement was confined to academic and state-sponsored arts institutions. The arrival of inexpensive electronic instruments really hit its stride in 1964 with the Moog Modular Synthesizer, and the home recording revolution in the 1970s which followed opened up electronic music to everyone. Today the revolution has moved to the computer and music software, while the distribution of electronic music has moved online and to massive festivals, making it a truly international phenomenon.