I stream an amazing program called Simmer Down on KYRS Thin air community radio 88.1/92.3 FM out of Spokane Washington. The DJ has curated ambient music for the explicit purpose of inducing states of deep relaxation. Every Sunday night I put on my headphones at 10 PM and drift in and out of liminal sleep for 2 hours. So lovely. I literally feel my heart, mind and body sinc into peaceful coherence.
Even though I love this program, I realized I didn’t know much about ambient music, and so I decided to interview the host of Simmer Down who also happens to be my son, Seth.
Me: So, what exactly is ambient music?
Seth: Ambient is a style of composition that emphasizes a musical atmosphere instead of following predictable patterns. lts kind-of impressionistic. A typical song in a pop, rock or classical style flows like a story with rising and falling dynamics. It has an arc which builds to a climax. There are segments of high energy, as well as breaks, which fosters a feeling of anticipation.
Ambient music is more minimal in structure. So the result is sound which is mostly feeling. The pioneer of ambient music, Brian Eno, has said it is “as ignorable as it is interesting” because it opens a space with a vibe that is constant – a flat line rather than a rise and fall.
Me: So, it doesn’t flow in a predictable way like a tune with a melody? Are ambient songs always relaxing?
Seth: While ambient music can foster any feeling – some songs are intense or even unsettling – most ambient artists are creating soothing sounds. And most ambient pieces open a serene, calm space.
For my show, Simmer Down, I’m emphasizing relaxing, soothing sounds.
Me: How did you come up with the idea for your show?
Seth: Many public radio stations have an ambient program, and when I was a college student doing audio recording and editing for KYRS, I found they didn’t have one. So I offered to create this for them.
Me: Why is ambient a particular favorite of yours?
Seth: I’m a lover of all kinds of music and enjoy the novelty of discovering new sounds and artists. I encountered it on the internet, and soon discovered how relaxing and soothing it is. Music can have a profound impact on emotional states. I started using ambient music as a way to de-stress. I play it, not just as background noise, but I listen meditatively. It’s really calming.
Me: Is there more you would add about ambient music?
Seth: It’s also very good for falling asleep. It’s sort of like counting sheep, or a really dry book. It slows the activity in your brain.
Me: Yes. It can be heavenly, yet not over-stimulating.
Seth: If you listen to guided meditations you’ll hear ambient music in the background, and for good reason.
Me: I’ve really fallen in love with some of the pieces you play regularly. My favorite is “View from my Window” by Hiroshi Yoshimura. What’s your favorite ambient song?
Seth: That would be “An Ending (ascent)” by Brian Eno. It is incredibly beautiful.
Me: Thanks for teaching me about ambient music, and for curating such a wonderful collection of songs for your show, Simmer Down, every Sunday night at 10 p.m. on KYRS Thin Air Community Radio 88.1/92.3 FM, Spokane Washington.