10 Best Ambient Music Artists of All Time

In this new millennium, Ambient music has reached a level of popularity that it has never seen before. The more complicated and perplexing the world becomes the more welcoming the dreamy instrumental consonance of Ambient music becomes. The need for the genre only seems natural in today’s world.

Ambient music, long popular in the rave scene, has entered the consciousness and bedrooms of your neighbors. People who are into things like yoga and meditation use it in their practices. Sometimes, people who have trouble sleeping use it for more restorative sleep.

The genre comes in many flavors: new age, experimental, techno, trance, world music, and mood music just to name a few of its many monikers. In the liner notes of Eno’s 1978 opus, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, is where the virtuoso coined the phrase “ambient” to describe the art form.

“Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” That quote is credited to Ambient music luminary, Brian Eno, who is a prolific Ambient music artist and producer of many genres.

With so many choices within the Ambient music genre itself, it may be difficult to decide what you might want to listen to as you embark on your journey of discovery in this new musical frontier. To help make your decision a little easier, we have comprised this list of essential artists:

10. Stars of the Lid

In Texas in 1993, Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie formed Stars of the Lid. They specialize in understatedly beautiful and serene drone-based music. Their minimalistic approach to Ambient music gives a nod to innovators like Eno.  With effects-laden guitars, horns, piano, and strings their compositions are a treat for your ears and even your psyche.

McBride and Wiltzie, who have each released material of their own as solo artists, toured worldwide as Stars of the Lid in 2007 and 2008. Collectively, their discography includes seven albums and several split releases and collaborative appearances. And Their Refinement of the Decline was their second double album and was met with great critical acclaim.

9. Terry Riley

An American pioneer of Western classical music, Terry Riley, has produced works which are heavily influenced by Indian classical music and jazz. Riley visited India rather frequently during his affiliation with his most influential teacher, Pandit Pran Nath, where he studied and accompanied the master of Indian classical voice. Beginning in 1971, Riley taught Indian classical music. He cites jazz luminaries Miles Davis and John Coltrane among his influences.

Riley worked with tape loops in the 50s when it was a new technology and continues to use the technique in the studio as well as live. He has worked with trumpeter Chet Baker and founding member of the Velvet Underground, John Cale. Two of Terry Riley‘s most revered releases are the 1967 offering A Rainbow in Curved Air and 1972’s experimental double album Persian Surgery Dervishes.

8. Manuel Gottsching

Hailed as one of the most important guitarists of experimental rock music, German composer Manuel Gottsching created works which influenced many Ambient music artists of the 80s and 90s. Most notable as the leader of electronic music group Ash Ra Tempel, Gottsching’s soft, beatific psychedelia is indelible.

Gottsching’s minimalist guitar work, improvisational keyboards, and metallic percussion on E2-E4, an hour-long piece he produced before a flight in December of 1981, is groundbreaking. Manuel Gottsching continues to work today, but he doesn’t take his status in electro for granted and is humbled by the interest in his work. “The first German critique called it complete ‘muzak’ and said that I’d missed every development in electronic music and I didn’t know anything,” he is quoted as saying.

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