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World Ambient

Ambient Transience explores culture diversity in music.

Last week on Ambient Transience, I explored some areas of ethno-ambient music that I have previously held little knowledge of; the genre incorporates an array of musical styles consisting of the same down-tempo beats mixed with slower melodies in longer songs.  I played music from Latin America, India, Spain, and the Balkan areas, drawing inspiration from many soundtracks with movies featuring a foreign setting (Slumdog Millionaire, The Darjeeling Limited, Vicky Cristina Barcelona).  Its funny to think of the array of diversity in the world, though from an American perspective, we’re told to think what isn’t like us is different.

The term “ethno-ambient”, or any word containing the prefix “ethno”, really, bothers me.  Meaning nation in Greek, something that clearly used to define a seemingly united or singular entity, now separates out everything that lacks a western, specifically an American context.  Who are we, the white ‘majority’, to determine what is “ethnic” or different?  In actuality, though, most of our customary practices have been directly influenced by the cultures we claim to be primitive.

What is Globalization, then?  To me, it represents the assimilation of seemingly diverse cultures into what westerners have defined as normal.  Look at how Americans treat “ethnic” foods, for example; we only seem to choose what we like in our own food (too many unhealthy carbohydrates paired with fatty meats) and rid an entire diet of what makes it truly diverse.  Everybody knows that the best ethnic restaurants always have two separate menus: for those in the cultural “know” and for the rest of us fat Americans that refuse to assimilate ourselves.

But enough about food—I must digress from what we Americans do love most—and on to discuss the Ambient genre in relation to world music.  It is clear that the neo-avant-garde musicians attempting to define themselves found inspiration in previously unknown areas.  From India, contemporary musicians utilized the harmonization of melodies and vocals; from Spain, the simplicity of classical guitar clearly prompted the resurgence of a minimalist approach to instrumentals; and the energy and electricity of Balkan music undoubtedly encouraged future ambient artists to incorporate electronic sounds into their works.  From Latin America, too, heavy beats and off-tempo rhythms can definitely be discerned within many slower-tempo styles.

Contemporary musicians and artists alike are beginning to realize how useful it is to look to other traditions in order to mold a unique style of music.  In doing so, one must remember to appreciate the past for what it is, and to teach its audience to preserve cultural traditions in order to diversify music today.

by alex case-cohen
tune in to ambient transience every friday morning from midnight to 2 a.m.