Sonic atmospheres: the science of ambient music | Charles Fernyhough

Although resisting an easy definition, the genre of ambient music is characterised as emphasising the sonic and atmospheric effects of the music rather than traditional architectures of melody, harmony and rhythm. In the words of one of its pioneers, Brian Eno, ‘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.’ In its relative lack of emphasis on repeated tunes and beats, ambient music is targeted at the periphery rather than at the centre of conscious experience.

The research project in Hubbub is investigating topics such the relation between the shifting periodicities of ambient music and the changing rhythms of conscious experience, and how and in what contexts these can have restful and restorative effects. We plan to extend these investigations into studies of neural connectivity in the ‘resting state’: the dynamic, fearsomely complex and increasingly well-studied patterns of activation shown by a brain that is not performing any specific task. We are employing new methodologies for assessing these nuances of subjective experience (both for audience and performers) in a scientifically rigorous manner, as well as exploring implications for clinical interventions.

The musicians have taken advantage of the generous spaces available to create improvised music in the Hub itself. Listen here to a piece we produced in the Hub when we settled in one night in April to create some ephemeral, shifting sounds.

Darkroom are interrupting a tour promoting their new album The Rest is Noise to perform with me in a sequence of three extended sets at the Hubbub Late Spectacular on Friday 4 September. Come and hear the sounds of improvised ambient music, and get a chance to give your feedback on the psychological and emotional effects of listening to this kind of music. Free admission.

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