Space In The Ambience: Is Ambient Music Socially Relevant?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Today, nearly every space that can be filled with digital content is filled with digital content. Even contemplative personal reflective time can now be digitally mediated. This is a different world from the one where the idea of ambient music first emerged. In the 1970s and early 1980s, our ambient environment featured no augmented reality overlays, fewer opportunities for distracted attention (unless they were deliberately sought out), and a vastly reduced need for personal multitasking. Then, fewer situations required a high degree of context switching to address incoming information from sources other than those which we have immersed ourselves in out of choice, and ambient music - as an idea, was born within those environmental and cognitive conditions. Now, new definitions of embodied cognition have demonstrated that our ambient environment is crucial for understanding the world through non-mediated forms of information, yet the idea initially behind much historical ambient music was one of inhabiting a space in our perception through which the un-mediated could be addressed. By defining historical ambient music as an information overlay itself where a surrounding environment is displaced temporarily and overlaid with new information (as with an augmented reality), an alternative trajectory of development can be mapped out. Why do we now create specific environments for ambient music listening, rather than allowing ambient music itself the chance to occupy those situations? Has the embodiment brought about by increasing interaction in public ambient art, through technological processes, changed how we respond to artistic material embedded in our own day-to-day ambience? This chapter performs an experimental re-assembly of the situated components of ambient music, originally inherited from a pre-internet, pre-information society. It provides an assessment of the relevance of ambient as an idea in a contemporary media-driven world where space in the ambience is already at a premium.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic Beyond Airports
EditorsMonty Adkins, Simon Cummings
Place of PublicationHuddersfield
PublisherThe University of Huddersfield
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic) 978-1-86218-161-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019

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