What Is Ambient Space? (Essay)

by Matt Borghi

From Aural Innovations #11 (July 2000)

Rant # 1 5.29.00

What is Ambient Space? Ambient is a sub-genre of New Age, as is Space; but we're really not talking about, or interested in elaborating on musical genres; we're more interested in talking about the ambient space that people need to relax and contemplate in a spiritually stifling and a paradoxically spinning universe that seems to always be on the brink of disaster. Ambient Space has the ability to ground you and put you at ease. The same way that a certain smell can take you back to that beautiful time of your youth and subsequently relax you, Ambient Space can do the same thing. Ambient Space is a music with a use and not just for the purpose of fulfilling some artist's ego. Ambient Space is almost like a utility music, a music that you can use to pull you from the workday hustle and bustle, a music that can ground you when the world is spinning. Ambient Space has the power to take you away, and it has the power to return you a little more psychologically stable and a little more socially tolerant than you were before you clicked on your tape/ CD player, laptop, whatever.

Reflection 1, The Conversion:

The night that I clicked on my 4-track and began the piece that became Autumnal Space, everything changed for me. My whole perception of music was turned around. I didn't stopped seeing music as notes, and harmonic theory, and what's compositionally right or wrong. Instead I began to view this kind of music, Ambient Space, as the organization of sound. I began to hear the potential for Ambient Space in everything, or more importantly I became focused on finding the space in everything that made sound, and documenting it through recordings. I was turned around. I quit my classical studies and gave myself to sound synthesis and all of the natural sounds that I could get on tape.

Reflection 2, Pink Floyd Space:

The first time that I heard them, from that very moment when I was 12, I was blown away. Pink Floyd had something that no other band had. They used the equipment of their time, but rarely did they sound dated. They were major proponents of sound atmospheres, and sound synthesis, but they were a pop band. They were original. In a time when people were saying, "it's all been done, there's nothing original," there was, in fact, an ensemble that was original, Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd was the first band that gave me that space for contemplation. I couldn't put my finger on what Floyd did for me for years, but eventually I realized it. Later on, no matter what I was doing, or how I was feeling, if a Pink Floyd song came on, I remembered what I was doing the first time that I heard that song, and I was able to go back to that time and place. Pink Floyd was also the first band to provide me with what I've come to call Ambient Space. Usually a peaceful easy time, that made me think of life in a more blissful way, rather than the existential conundrum that it had become. That Ambient Space was the grounding that I needed.

Music has always been a fuel for me. So I guess that it only makes sense, that the night I created Autumnal Space, I created a music that could tranquilize me and chill me out. I'm an intense and rather uptight person. I need to be chilled out from time to time. Contrary to popular trends I didn't want to pump foreign chemicals into my being, just to relax. This music did it, and other music in the Ambient/Spacemusic genres did it as well, but sometimes other artists couldn't take me to the tranquil place that I wanted to visit in my mind - on those occasions I composed my own Ambient Spaces. Somehow, this is how I became what I am today, Matt Borghi - Ambient Space artist.

The Artist in Ambient Space. Sometimes I think that I'm more of an organizer of sound than a musician. There's no question that I'm a musician as well. I've performed in a variety of ensembles, studied quite a bit of music in Jazz and Classical traditions; and unlike a lot of other button pushers and knob turners in my genre, I can play an instrument. But who cares, that's irrelevant! The point is not who can get the most ego gratification out of whipping out solos, and knowing their modes on their instrument, the point is to create the mysterious, chillin' vibe, the vibe that creates the Ambient Space. The Ambient Space doesn't come out of ego gratification; it comes out of a necessity for a vibe. Ambient Space, I'd say could also come from experimentation. In my experience Ambient Space rarely comes out of planning an A Mixolydian mode over I-IV-V Chord progression. It's not about that. Again everything changed for me as an artist and as a musician on that lonely July night when I held down that d minor triad that became Autumnal Space.

Sound Synthesis and Preconceived Notions. Another thing, while I'm thinking about it, a lot of people tend to dismiss Ambient Space as trite synthesizer music. Nothing could be more foolish. Ambient Space has infinite possibilities within the realm of sound. You can use almost any medium or timbre to create it. I remember the first time that I plugged in one of my low, low end Casio's and recorded some early stuff, I thought " this sounds like garbage." But then I listened closer and I heard something. I heard pure, unadulterated sound. Sure after years as an audiophile, of course I could differentiate between timbres, both real and synthesized. But my preconceived notions about synthesized sound started to disappear. I concentrated on the music for what it was, organized, synthesized, electronic, and sometimes generic electronic sound. But I'll paraphrase what Brian Eno points out in the album notes of Ellipsis Arts, three-disc tribute to early innovators of electronic music, Ohm, to illustrate my point - we've been listening to electronic music since at least the 1920's when the first radio broadcasts started. I'm sure that very few people then or now thought of this as electronic music, but essentially that's what it was, and that's what Brian Eno points out. Early on performances were picked up by microphone, and broadcasted by a converted signal- synthesized sound at its lowest common denominator. But we heard it for what it was, back then maybe a Mahler symphony, a Strauss Waltz, or later Benny Goodman. The music is what is the organization of sound, one way or another; whether it's a converted signal or Ambient Space. Take the music for what it is. Try to loosen your preconceived notions of what music and timbre should be. Like me you will probably find a whole world of organized sound out there waiting for you to actively take part in hearing. Deep listening is a profound and revelatory experience.

CLICK HERE to read the review of Matt Borghi's CD "For Running Time" in this issue.

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