18 April 2018

Ambient production techniques

I have tried to put together a list of techniques that can be applied when producing Ambient music.
Let me know if I have missed anything important.

  • Timbre
    Tone and timbre are really important in Ambient music. Sounds generally develop over longer time spans so it is important for the sound to remain interesting by use of filter sweeps, LFO, LowFi, and interactions with other pitches. Brian Eno said that Ambient music "is intended to induce calm and a space to think" - it should have enough detail that you can actively listen to it without getting bored, but not so much that you can't ignore it whilst it's playing.
    Play with extreme contrasts in volume, in texture and timbre. Try to create a song where each track uses some form of heavy distortion. Alternatively, compose a track where every sound has a drawn out and soft attack. Then experiment with juxtaposing those two elements within the same song. Experiment with automation of panning, volume, EQ and effects parameters over long periods of time.
    In a particular melodic or harmonic line, consider replacing the instrumentation for that line in one part of your song. For example, if your guitar has a harmony or rhythm part during the first verse, pass that part over to a piano during the second verse.
  • Layers
    In Ambient, the rhythm together with call and response are less used but importantly the layers must work together synchronously - blending together to create more a complete soundscape punctuated by subtle noises such filtered noise washes or field recordings. Spend some time recording sounds from your home or neighborhood - and find new ways to include these sounds into your music.
    The bass line becomes a deep drone, with the colours of its harmonics being emphasized gradually using filtering or resonators. Try limiting your song to only a few chords, or a few simple melodic phrases. Remember that you still need to keep the music engaging - if not interesting - for the listener!
  • Tempo
    Ambient music in its purest forms usually has no detectable tempo. The music should be thought of as a journey during which some events take place. rather than being structured around a regular tempo with strong beats, the music is punctuated by parts which grow and then fade away leaving a space which is equally important.
    Try composing a tune with no discernible meter or tempo. Or try composing in a new time signature such as 7/8 or 5/4
  • Form
    Ambient pieces can be very long - as long as you want in fact. However, there are usually graduated sections which appear perhaps on top of a common theme such as a long drone. This gradual fading in and out is what gives Ambient its form.Think of a tree growing with branches appearing and finally leaves sprouting which may flutter in the wind. Try working with a more simple or a more complex musical form. Try creating static tracks - tracks that repeat, unchanged for long periods of time. These contrast well with the other tracks that might be changing around them. Sometimes, it is useful to disrupt expectations in your music because it can cause the listener to sit up and take notice.
  • Space
    Ambient music almost always uses spatial characteristics such as stereo spread (the space between your speakers) and perhaps surround sound, delay (for distinct repeats), reverberation, as well as pitch or spectral space (the distance between a low note and a high note, or a band-passed sound and a broadband sound).

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Thanks for your interest !