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A beginner's guide to tropical ambient

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I’ve been thinking a lot about tropical-tinged music recently. Maybe it’s a longing inspired by the enduring chill of a mostly grey UK winter. Or maybe it’s just a personal realisation that if I’m looking for bliss, I often seek it in the depths of the rainforest.

Or maybe it is just chance that I’ve heard a lot of it recently.

Some of this stuff would have been damned as “new age” music in the 1970’s but it has been dug up and rebadged as “pioneering electronic” music in the past few years. To be fair, there is good and bad new age music as there is good and bad soul, pop, reggae or rock.

The ever-wonderful Light in the Attic label can claim to be a pioneer here. In 2013, it released the compilation I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age In America, 1950-1990, which pulled together enough birdsong, running rivers and floating synths to happily qualify as tropical ambient.

A glance down the track list (Formentera Sunset Clouds, Seraphic Borealis, Arabian Fantasy) will give you an idea of what to expect but pack away your new age prejudices, this is paradise music.

 

 

Light in the Attic continues to dig deep into the ambient depths with releases from Gigi Masin, Steve Roach and Hiroshi Yoshimura all worthy of further inspection. But it is one of Yoshimura’s classics, which has not yet been reissued, but inspired me to write this piece. The album Green could be the epitome of tropical ambient.

 

 

Before we move away from the ‘70s pioneers, it is worth mentioning Tangerine Dream member Edgar Froese and his neo-classical Epsilon in Malaysian Pale.

 

 

My album of 2017 was Call Super’s Arpo, which is very modern techno but most definitely channels the tropical paradise vibes.

 

 

 

Call Super is far from alone among modern producers summoning the power of the rainforest. Italians Mushrooms Project funked up the tropical ambient vibes on the oh-so-Balearic Rivea Corymbosa.

 

 

As mentioned previously, Gigi Masin is perhaps the godfather of Italian ambient music and since Light in the Attic re-released his '70's output, he has teamed up with Tempelhof to produce another Balearic masterwork Tsuki in 2016. It begins with a song titled Tuvalu. Say no more.

 

 

Jan Schulte’s Tropical Drums of Deutschland was another well-received 2017 release. Once again, it is pretty much self-descriptive.

 

 

The final strand to this emerging genre comes in the shape of what Jon Hassel once described as Fourth World music. There is a good guide to its recent renaissance in this piece by Resident Advisor, which was largely inspired by the excellent Optimo compilation Miracle Steps (Music From The Fourth World 1983 - 2017).

Some would argue this is where things get really interesting. This is where I move out of my leafy bliss cocoon into a fourth world, where East meets West, electronica meets acoustica, and dance meets ambience. Every music from every nation can be thrown into this melting pot.

There’s a healthy lineage here that goes back to Hassel and Byrne-Eno’s Life in the Bush of Ghosts and can be traced through African Headcharge and Transglobal Underground to the spellbinding Cuban-Iranian techno of Ariwo, Visible Cloaks’ Japanese-inspired ambience or even Call Super. Hence, we have come full circle.

So, let’s leave you with a master of my made-up genre. Here’s a mix featuring the best of Japanese electronic maestro Susumu Yokota, who combined the best elements of pretty much everything mentioned thus far.

Now, lie back and relax. Picture yourself in a beautiful clearing, deep in the jungle…

 

 

 

 

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