Gimme Five: Ambient records from Brian Eno, Mickey Hart, Robert Fripp, others

Music serves all sorts of different functions for people, so it’s not surprising that for every Einstein On The Beach enthusiast — count me as one — there are 10 who will just have to leave the room in a cringe-induced funk.

So here some of my favorite minimalist/ambient recordings. They’re not the ‘best,’ but ones that I return to again and again when I’m in the mood to induce a ‘zone state.’

BRIAN ENO – AMBIENT 1: MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS (1978): This might be world’s most famous ‘ambient’ recording. Eno’s first entry in the Discreet Music series, Airports has been described as soundscape, Muzak, relaxing, boring … and any number of adjectives. For me, it’s one of those slow-turning music kaleidoscope things. There are almost no recordings that I consider ‘background’ music, as it’s just about impossible for me to not actively listen. That rule is broken here, but somehow I still love this album.

STEVE REICH – DRUMMING (1987): One simple drum pattern played by multiple players, who then shift things to slightly out of phase. What results is a constantly evolving pattern that spawns more and more ‘sub-patterns.’ Every time I listen to this, I hear new things.

ROBERT FRIPP – LET THE POWER FALL (1981): Fripp and his ‘Frippertronics’ delivering a full-on ambient assault. How’s that for a contradiction in terms?

PHILIP GLASS – MUSIC WITH CHANGING PARTS (1970): In my collection, this is the big daddy of repetitive, difficult listening music. This is the early Glass form, where the repeated figures are tightly woven and shifted very slowly. Somehow, the organ used adds to the effect. I can only listen to this when I’m alone as it seems to drive everybody else in the house off the deep end.

MICKEY HART – MUSIC TO BE BORN BY (1989): Originally written as ‘mood music’ to be used during the birth of Hart’s son Taro, this record presents a warm percussive wash using wood flute, drums and bass harmonics. The pattern is altered very slightly throughout. Hypnotic is the word.

And there you have it. Go ahead and try one of the above. What have you got to lose? The worst that can happen is that the room will clear. (I’ve seen it happen.)

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.