A Guide to Ambient Music on the Web, Part Two
Fathom (www.fathomusic.com) releases some of the best-sounding CDs in the genre, including recordings by Roach, Stearns, TUU, Lightwave, Ken Newby, and myself. The parent label, Hearts of Space (www.hos.com), releases the more melodic and accessible material, including excellent work by Tim Story, Kevin Brahany, Tim Clark, Danna & Clement, and others. Projekt (www.projekt.com)—normally an aetherial goth label—also releases work by Steve Roach and Vidna Obmana, including last year's excellent collaboration by Roach and Roger King, Dust to Dust.
If you're attracted to the darker side of the genre, try Hypnos (www.hypnos.com) or Crowd Control Activities (www.ezlink.com/~crowded), both small labels with rosters of experimental and deep ambient sound artists dedicated to plumbing the depths of nocturnal space. Crowd Control has released several beautiful slow albums by Alio Die, along with some more noisy experimental music. Hypnos purveys a unique brand of deep spacey ambience, and their website provides a home for artists like Jeff Greinke, A Produce, and Jeff Pearce.
Sombient, a sister label to the eclectic Asphodel (www.asphodel.com), releases experimental electronic and dark ambient music. Their Throne of Drones compilations are landmarks in the genre. And if difficult music interests you, check out Soleilmoon (www.soleilmoon.com), which distributes releases from many small experimental labels, including the rumbling deconstructed sounds of Lustmord, Hafler Trio, Nocturnal Emissions, and others.
Ambient music also crosses over into the realm of electronica and techno, with groups like Orb breaking through into the mainstream. Warp Records (www.warprecords.com) has a good catalog of adventurous electronica, including Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Seefeel. Labels like Axiom and Fax (www.hyperreal.org/music/epsilon) have released some good CDs by Bill Laswell, Tetsu Inue, and Pete Namlook, but sometimes quantity reigns over quality with these labels, so buyer beware.
One of the best-run sites for news and information about ambient music is AmbiEntrance (www.spiderbytes.com/ambientrance/index.html), with extensive CD reviews and interviews with a variety of ambient and electronic artists. Hyperreal (www.hyperreal.org/music/epsilon) focuses on techno and rave culture, but also includes an ambient section featuring the Axiom and Fax labels, Brian Eno, Orb, Jon Hassell, and other influential artists.
Alternate Music Press (www.alternatemusicpress.com) is a bimonthly webzine edited by longtime reviewer and radio guy Ben Kettlewell, with articles about all sorts of independendent music including folk, new age, art-pop, and electronic ambient. Ujamaa's Ambient Experience (www.susqu.edu/students/p/prindle/ambient/default.html) is a quality fan site with MP3s and information about many of the author's favorite artists. Last Sigh (www.waste.org/lastsigh/home.htm) bills itself as "The magazine for underground music," with extensive and thoughtful reviews of experimental, ambient, world, industrial noise, electronica, and more. Highly recommended.
Web radio provides one way to hear this music before you buy it, if you can tolerate RealAudio sound quality. Echoes (www.echoes.org) programs a daily two-hour broadcast on hundreds of public radio stations nationwide, and they also link to a streaming version from their website. Also in nationwide syndication, Music from the Hearts of Space has been on the air since 1972. They keep several shows in rotation on NetRadio (www.netradio.net/hearts/). Both Echoes and HOS tend to focus on the more melodic side of ambient, world, and new age music, so if you gravitate toward the experimental, you'll have better luck downloading samples directly from the artists' sites.