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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 7:44 am 

Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:51 pm
Posts: 414
Location: Hampshire Uk
Less is definatly more in ambient music :D

Taking your time and focus on sections,of your track will go a long way.Avoid cramming too much,and making sure you have enough time on your tracks too,to spread out your sounds

The essential part of working is of course to colour and label,and organize your track sections,using the location markers helps with arranging too

I usually set the loop point and then start to figure out from there.Uusing a white board,I write ideas down and try out various sounds.

Although I got no musical knowledge,or qualifications,I can usually fit sounds together, (play by ear ) and start to come up with a vision of the track,lol

Being a big horror and sci film fan,I have a vivid imagination,ha,ha :D


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:54 pm 

Joined: Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:23 pm
Posts: 15
gjm wrote:
Ping Pong definitely did it for me :P . It added to the feeling and place I had in mind.


That's great! You definately need it.

Check out Keith Kenniff's stuff, he's a modern ambient/downtempo genius and you'll learn a lot from him, check out his Soundcloud and 'Helios' project stuff on his site and Spotify. Here's his website: http://www.unseen-music.com/

With Ambient music, if you mix instruments subtly at the beginning then bring in some crazy synths during the chorus/build up to the outro, this always works. Zero 7 and Air were the kings of dynamics where their ambient music always started slow and built up to a climax then coming down again, that's another approach.


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:41 pm 

Joined: Sat Jul 11, 2009 4:37 pm
Posts: 384
Stars of the Lid every time for me. The different side projects as well (The Dead Texan; A Winged Victory for the Sullen) I find really inspiring. If I write one track half as good as anything from 'And Their Refinement of the Decline' I'll die a happy man.

In terms of tips, I've found stretching samples way beyond anything normal and then looping tiny sections through FX gives some useful starting points to develop. To me it's the skill of spotting harmonic potential in wildly dissonant sounds.


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 3:00 am 

Joined: Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:51 am
Posts: 60
gjm wrote:
Off to a good start :D [...] I tried to make something Ambient this weekend, but according to your definition as outlined above, I may have failed. If you have 3 mins then have a listen, I would appreciate some feed back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS4yz4bTx5I

As you said, off to a good start! I love that very first sound (reversed guitar?) and the way it reoccurs through the piece (with ping pong delay even :) ) The piano started getting a bit busy for my taste about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through. Overall, I think you're on the right track.

--
Moose


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:48 am 

Joined: Fri Aug 03, 2012 8:49 pm
Posts: 506
Location: Austin, TX
The Finn wrote:
gjm wrote:
Making Ambient music, Tips, Methods, workflow etc would make an interesting thread (I think). I am pretty well locked into structure dominant compositions, ie building everything around scale tone chord sequences. I am also comfortable with hearing just the basic instruments (ie guitars, piano, drums) with small adjustments to tone. Pretty traditional stuff really. I can only think of Ambient in terms of a relationship with something visual. Composing to imagery makes it easier to think about. Getting an insight into how others compose as well as hearing their work in context might be good.


I am not sure what counts as ambient any more (some of my friends would call anything below 135 bpm ambient)... but this would be an interesting discussion. I don't call what I make ambient (more downtempo electronica) but I am aware there is a lot of unknowns for me in making a track that doesn't start with the standard kick/snare/hats/bass combo. It would be interested in hearing what people do...


A good example of what you are looking for is Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works (second disc).

A few observations, lawyer analog pads (Analog), use discrete "soft voice" samples as opposed to edgy instruments. Use some slightly detuned DX7 type patches (Operator) bells instruments going into reverb. Instrument patterns usually do not exceed 8 notes in 1-4 bar sequences.

Most instrument patterns have its on single repletion, using mostly a MUTE toggles during the song arrangement as opposed to traditional dance/pop structure. Indicating that this was arrange on early like a MC-50, so you might want to emulate that sequencer style in your Ableton live session for each song.

The percussion uses lots of analog/synth emulated percussion instruments, and does not conform to the standard Kick on 1 Snare on 2 and 4 route, in fact most tracks do not even have standard "kick" or "snare", just misc percussion arrange in a "hand percussion" style.

The tone contains a lots of TAPE and solidstate in the ambient track with a dynamic range of about -60db, this gives it a more organic/non digitized sound. I might suggest recording your track onto a cassette with good ol' fasion RCA cabnles and then bouncing it back into Ableton.

Roland CR78 is a staple in classic ambiet tracks, you might want to use CR78 drums as a source for some of your beats but be sure to SAMPLE the output.

12-bit 22k sampling is also a staple in classic ambiet tracks. (like Akai S900) So using 12-bit/22k digital cruncher effects on your instrument and sample tracks might help you achieve that ambiet sound, especially on Basses/pads and Drums.

Vocals on ambiet tracks are very soft spoken so look for soft vocals that you can convert to a drum rack, you can use certain softly spoken syllables as a sumbtle midi loop, bearing in minds most inrtumnt tracks do not pay more than 8 notes, except some drum parts.

Drench your electric guitar input with delay and reverb, it adds a lot of harmonic texture to your ambiet tracks. Usualy 2-4 chords or notes suffice per loop, as its not "too" melodic per.

Think about "where" your ambient song belongs, is it in the desert, underwater, on a spaceship, in the mountains or enchanted forrest?
Foley type samples or instruments you might wnat to include in ambiet tracks are "Spaceship Pads" "Hemelayas Drones" "Eerie Enchanted Forrest Pads" "Rain and Thunder" "Desert winds and sand", etc. Try to stick with one drone PAD at a time.

Other popular samples are Whale noises, like Orcas or Blue Whales, but a little magles, such as playing it at a lower or higher octive

Also, keep it simple. Classic ambient tracks only had one or two reverbs, and virtually very little to compression, but can use radical eq settings, also minimal automation. The key with ambiet music is to keep it simple, not complex. Lots of Ambiet tracks only have 2-6 chords or chord progressions with easy melodies. Aeolian and Dorian music modes are most common in ambient music, so consider that too.

Also REVERSE PIANO type sounds are commonly used

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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:57 am 

Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:51 pm
Posts: 414
Location: Hampshire Uk
Adding to this great topic :D

I try and steer clear of programmed and static beats ( Im not saying programmed beats are bad,I use them sometimes)

What I mean ,is that you can use the random selection,and mess around in the groove pool,to get an organic,ie human feel to drums etc,By altering the notes and quantization

Also try using 3/4 instead of 4/4 do your own thing ,that's what makes your sound unique,he,he

Make use of all the new midi editing features in Live 9

Even automating the sliders,or have fades in your track can make a big difference too,so that some sounds drop away,other increase in volume,etc

Panning and automation of it,is a neat trick, too,esp if you put a vocal on hard left and another on hard right,have this to jump in at the moment your victim ( err sorry listener,he,he :D ) doesn't expect it can have a very good result,ha,ha

But above all have fun and experiment,even bad stuff by accident came become something useful,ha,ha


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:14 am 

Joined: Sun Mar 21, 2010 4:14 pm
Posts: 78
Love thinking about this topic as I love (and make) ambient music myself.

There are, in my opinion, some phases in the process of completing the production of a piece of ambient music.
Some are a bit irrational, and somehow emotional/philosophical.
Some are rational and regard production techniques which enhance this type of music.

The irrational/emotional side of it:
- It starts with inspiration, which for me is often a sensation of going through a "journey".
- When I get an inspiration, with spontaneity, I try to get a rough take down playing anything I can reach, jamming (Live session view has been an eye opener). Technical or sound production details are in this phase not important (while a "sound" in itself is important, as it may be in itself the reason for the inspirational journey...).
- After I put things down (Ableton Live being ideal to get this quickly while "in the flow") I force myself to leave things I recorded down for a while, to forget them. A day is often enough. It may be months if I start doing something else.

PS: by the way Live 9 with its audio-to-midi has even improved the sketching part of it for me.....

The rational and production side of it.
Once in a while, when I feel to, I go back and listen to these takes. Here is when I feel (or rather not) if the sketch has depth and emotions.
And if something gets back to me at this level, I immediately get ideas on how to "dress" and "structure" the thing up further.
In other words, it gets time to start producing the idea in a piece of music.

The techniques I use are a matter of layers of paint:
- I often work a bit more on the harmonic side of things first. Ambient for me often drives to lush pads and sustained chords, typically in a progression form (a journey...). So I try to "complete" harmonically the original, spontaneous sketch by adding some chord variation to the main progression. Most of the time the chord progression remains quite simple and self repeating (a song-like structure of chorus, bridge etc does not fit the feeling of a journey in ambient music....) but is nice to have some spacey chords in there: like 7th minors, 9th minors or suspended chords. As I am not a trained musician, I made some tools myself in Max for Live to aid my harmonic research.... (free, have a look to http://fabriziopoce.com/HarmoTools.html)
- Synth sounds based on saw and pulse waves often work for me and almost always in combination with quite some amount of modulation on the filter (cutoff and resonance, but also tracking). In alternative some FM-based pads or even a bit of rhodes.
- Then I often reach to some repetitive while evolving sequence of delicate muted-like sounds in combination with rythmic delays (yes, ping-pong in the PAN range). Typically I use some gating trick to not melt everything in too much of a delay sauce....
- The ping-pong rhythmic delay I use with some send automation also on the pads to give them only a "tail" while sweeping the filter. This is risky if you over do it, but if you use side chain compression and send automation can just give a bit of lovely windy effect...
- Then on the rhythmic side I like to keep percussions/drums minimalistic (I mean not too many percussions) but yet with some syncopation to make things a little funky and interesting. Things can range to simple 808 electro beats to cutting some loops and breaks. There is a way to set clip trigger and start quantization to less than 1 beat which is particularly useful for creating variations of patterns. Over patterns then I like to build them in Max for Live too.... but that's another story (tools I released as well).
- And then the basslines.... For me the groove is there. Either playing a real bass guitar or, to the other extreme, using a step sequencer / groovebox on a synth (even a bit 303/acid like). In this case I think you need the evolutions in modulation on the filter. Live has nice LFO's now. I also made some myself in Max for Live exactly to do modulations specially on synthetic basses.
- Then it depends if I want to keep things electronic (I do most of the time) or get wider. In this case I often grab my guitars (I have an acoustic and an electric one) and do (badly as I am on the instrument...) some jamming on top. I normally need to do quite some takes to get somewhere and then "cheat" a bit editing in Live recording creating some (eventually) large clips/loops of myself on the guitar (cut and paste / adjust by warping / apply a groove.... I can get where I want to).
- Then I try to put things good together. Live is quite good for it. Applying a groove from an un-quantized part (played by myself or taken from a loop) and applying it to some extent to the rhythmic (percs/bass) helps. So does using warping. I often keep the original clips of my sketch completely un-quantized to be able to add the human touch to the final version. So that I end up with a mix of quantized, un-quantized, warped and groove-applied stuff....
- Finally I concentrate on the mixing. But this is quite common to any type of electronic based music production: I often use side chain compression (on the lush pads especially), EQ (cutting bands I do not need from sounds to make the space), PAN (use the stereo range and do once in a while some panning change or evolution)
- And then..... I leave the thing again for a while...... 95% finished. Why? I discovered that coming back to it the day after, I like to cut some holes.... Like leave half a measure free in one part, remove part of another etc. A bit of a remix I would say. This normally works for me, making things build up without becoming too full.... It's ambient so even empty space sometimes works....

Uh.... I got carried out and wrote quite a lot!
Anyway, I love ambient music! And if you like have a listen to what I did (http://fabriziopoce.com/music.html).

Cheers
Fabrizio/J74


Last edited by f.poce@tiscali.nl on Tue Apr 02, 2013 11:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:22 am 

Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:51 pm
Posts: 414
Location: Hampshire Uk
Very nice post Fabrizio

What you said makes a lot of sense :D

Ambient music is a vast topic and can send you on a path of madness,exhilaration or inspiration,ha,ha

Thing I like about Ambient music is the idea of creating a moodscape (thinks thats a good description)

I started out with Reason software a while back.Bought a a bunch of Reason refills( incl some atmospheric ones) and I was hooked,no recently got Live and tend to use Live with Reason for even more choice in creative uses of sound

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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:10 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2011 4:34 am
Posts: 468
I'll have to concede that I had a little giggle at the thought of people exchanging tips or 'formulas' for creating ambient music. :lol:

Although my experience in making it myself is minimal, through listening to a wide variety of music that could fall into that category, it is my belief that it is probably one of the genres of electronic music that is LEAST constrained by some popular notion of what it 'should' be.

(Although if most people consider it 'boring' then you are probably on the right track! :P)

In stark contrast to your more dancefloor oriented producers of electronic music, the ambient artist could pretty much do ANYTHING at all - although Eno's assertions regarding the music not enforcing a certain level of participation seem like a valid point.

For the few ventures into ambience that I have enjoyed, they have been marked by spacious, almost formless arrangements with only a very gradual sense of 'progression' in the music. I guess because the intent is for perhaps people to not consciously be listening attentively to every second of sound, that the focus becomes more on creating a mood or soundscape than creating anything that resembles the conventions of a song or more conventional instrumental composition.

I accordance with this, I generally forgo any recurring percussive elements that could be considered a drum track - this approach tends to make it harder for a listener to consciously acknowledge the length of a track - since there is no metronomic pulse to guide them. Likewise, melodic and harmonic content never presents itself as a 'hook' as such. I also like to slowly automate parameters so that there is subtle, exceedingly slow evolutions over the duration of a track. But that's just me!

In a nutshell...

In contrast to conventional songwriting principles which emphasise groove, harmony, progression, structure, occasional virtuosity in instrumentation and melodic restatement, the emphasis is on texture, timbre, space, tone, mood and (sometimes) effects.

Within that paradigm, you are free to do whatever you feel, I guess. As others have stated above - there are many different takes on the sound, and because it is not widely popular, not too many notions of what even makes a 'good' or 'popular' ambient composition.

I've probably waffled on enough. Please feel free to debate and discuss any of the above as you see fit. Find your own path and have fun.


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 5:35 pm 

Joined: Wed Apr 05, 2006 1:29 pm
Posts: 313
Location: Bristol, UK.
Un-synced loops are very useful. Having different layers moving in and out of phase with each other (not necessarily in a Steve Reich fashion) creates variation. I use lots of randomisation and modulation. Avoid things sounding static at all costs. Even if it's very repetitive find variation in the repetition.

Riceboy Sleeps (by the singer from Sigur Ros) is my favourite ambient album of recent years and maybe ever. It's amazing.


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 Post subject: Re: Making Ambient Music (tips, methods, workflow, etc)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 6:17 pm 

Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 8:53 am
Posts: 3657
ObtuseMoose wrote:
gjm wrote:
Off to a good start :D [...] I tried to make something Ambient this weekend, but according to your definition as outlined above, I may have failed. If you have 3 mins then have a listen, I would appreciate some feed back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS4yz4bTx5I

As you said, off to a good start! I love that very first sound (reversed guitar?) and the way it reoccurs through the piece (with ping pong delay even :) ) The piano started getting a bit busy for my taste about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through. Overall, I think you're on the right track.

--
Moose


Thank you for taking a listen. :) Yes I agree that the piano was busy and therefore distracting/intruding in the light of Eno's definition.

The reversed sound came from Live 9's Grand Piano Pack - Grand Piano Hybrid > Grand Piano Reverse.

Feeling like I have some definite parameters to work within now.

Thanks again.

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