Instrumental Music
November 24, 2004 1:32 AM   Subscribe

Peaceful, atmospheric instrumental music...? I'm looking for music to listen to while I write. I prefer minimalist, repetitive stuff. Favorites include Stars of the Lid, The Dead Texan, Gas, Wim Mertens, and Philip Glass' soundtrack to The Hours. What do you recommend along these lines? (No Wyndam-Hill / Sounds of nature stuff, please.)
posted by dobbs to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There was a Glass-inspired, very minimal ambient movement in the UK in the early to mid-90s. You could do worse than to check out some of the big names from that scene if you can still find their stuff: Mixmaster Morris and Pete Namlook spring to mind straight away. I'd particularly recommend their collaboration, Dreamfish, which I still dust off pretty regularly. It's mainly electronic though, and I'm not sure if that's what you're asking for? There was quite a lot of cross-over between this scene and early IDM (particularly Plaid, Black Dog etc.)

Personally, I always tend to go for some really smoky jazz in the situation you're talking about. Something like Miles Davis' Porgy & Bess, or Sketches of Spain.
posted by bifter at 1:42 AM on November 24, 2004

posted by juv3nal at 1:45 AM on November 24, 2004

Thomas Koner is definately minimal.
Maybe Tim Hecker or Fennesz.
posted by figment at 1:57 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Um, not looking for any Jazz as I already have tons of it and it's a little too ditracting for what I'm working on these days. I don't know the other people you mentioned, bifter, but it may be too distracting if it's electronica. I'll check it out though.

juv3nal, I like Eno fine but have already. Am really looking for more obscure artists, not to be snobby but just because I have so much stuff already I probably am familiar with the popular people.

Here are some samples of the speed/sound I'm looking for:

Wim Mertens

Stars of the Lid

Dead Texan (video)

Paulene Oliveros

I also have one superb track by a guy named Lepo Sumera but can't find anything more by him. Anyone with info, please share!

On preview, thanks figment. Will check the first two when I post this (already lost these links once). I know Fennesz.
posted by dobbs at 2:05 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Hmm. The one Koner track on this site has samples, which I'm trying to avoid.

Here's another track along the lines of what I'm looking for: Polmo Polpo.

Two Dollar Guitar's Train Songs album is also up my alley.
posted by dobbs at 2:14 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sorry Dobbs, I did mean to mention that Koner's latest, Zyklop, was quite different from the earlier albums. I would try Kaamos or Daikan if you can.
posted by figment at 2:41 AM on November 24, 2004

if that polmo polpo track isn't too uptempo then I'd maybe check out kopernik's self titled release. It's not as minimal as any of the other stuff you linked to but mostly slower than the polmo polpo track.
posted by juv3nal at 2:52 AM on November 24, 2004

These are electronic albums more in the vein of Gas than the other things you mention.

Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Work Vol II
Andrew Thomas, Fearsome Jewel
Burger/Ink - Las Vegas. This is Wolfgang Voigt aka Gas.
Bipsphere - Substrata
Tim Hecker - Radio Amor & Mirages

Also downtuned stoner rock ambience is great background music.

Earth 2
Sleep - Jerusalem, Dopesmoker

For more reccomendations, check out this excellent and looong thread at I Love Music.
posted by dydecker at 2:58 AM on November 24, 2004

I've got a bunch of stuff by Anouar Brahem that I really enjoy. Every time it comes up in the double shuffle on my iPod I perk up. It's Middle Eastern-influenced piano music, which is not airy and ethereal like your samples, but I think it might fit your criteria as good writing music. The album Le Pas du Chat Noir is most enjoyable.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:16 AM on November 24, 2004

Steve Reich is taken as read, I assume? I find his post-'76 stuff (Music for 18 Musicians and after) is much more lavish and lyrical.
posted by cogat at 3:27 AM on November 24, 2004

What about stuff like Craig Armstrong, Yann Tiersen...I enjoy this stuff when I am working....
posted by mattr at 3:34 AM on November 24, 2004

There's a newish release of music my Lepo Sumera on the Megadisc label, which I was thinking of trying for size, but haven't yet. Also on Megadisc are a couple of CDs featuring music by Alexander Rabinovich which is quite like '80s Philip Glass in places. For me, Steve Reich's Drumming and Music For 18 Musicians are ideal pieces of music to half-listen to while also doing something else, but you probably know about those already: if not, I'd recommend trying them out.

Also, some of the recommendations in this previous AskMe thread may be relevant here too.
posted by misteraitch at 3:35 AM on November 24, 2004

william basinski's disintegration loops are excellent contemporary works. they are of single tape loops of less than 20 seconds played for between 20 and 50 minutes while the tape flakes apart. the first track on the third volume evolves really nicely (excerpt).

the self titled album by manyfingers is quite good also, but may have more variation and instruments than you care for.

there are many dub albums that would fit your description, if that's to your taste. older artists like scientist, king tubby and augustus pablo are great, while new electronic dub such as deadbeat, pole, or mitchell akiyama (or his collaborative project desormais) might be to your liking also (especially if you like polmo polpo; he's appeared on the saturday morning empires compilation on mitchell akiyama's record label intr_version).

chronomad's self titled ep release is great middle eastern rhythms with electronic tweaking. if that's your thing at all, there are many muslimgauze albums to check.

i'd be remiss if i didn't plug chill out by the klf and 76:14 by global communication. aside from the obvious like gybe, set fire to the flames and explosions in the sky, i can't think of too much that fits the styles you've linked too though.
posted by too many notes at 3:48 AM on November 24, 2004

for more minimalist electronic stuff, you also might try looking into pole (really good, with dub influences), or alva noto, or nobekazu takemura (those two are really stripped-down). or monolake, maybe - some of their stuff has samples/obtrusive melody, but i'm fond of using their gobi the desert ep (a single 30some-minute long track) to create a nice ambience when i'm focusing on something else. and there's always autechre...

i've recently developed a habit of listening to dirty three/do make say think/one mile north while writing papers. it seems to work well.

my knowledge of this style of music is still spotty, so i'll be watching this thread eagerly!

on preview: too many notes beat me to suggesting pole, but it bears repeating...
posted by introcosm at 3:54 AM on November 24, 2004

ack, typo! make it nobukazu takemura.
posted by introcosm at 4:00 AM on November 24, 2004

I like Gregorian Chant in the background, when I'm working. It's soothing, unobtrusive, and has a haunting quality that stays with me after I've stopped listening to it.

Somebody, knowing my penchant for Gregorian, recently got me this. At first, I thought it was some kind of joke. After (initially reluctantly) listening to it a couple of times, it's grown on me. Sad to say, but it's now one of my favourites.
posted by veedubya at 4:17 AM on November 24, 2004

you might enjoy Max Richter
posted by gravelshoes at 5:26 AM on November 24, 2004

I owe you thanks, dobbs, since one of your earlier posts turned me on to Stars of the Lid. Try Farfield, or Erik Satie.
posted by fuzz at 5:32 AM on November 24, 2004

Dobbs: I do the same thing. Here's some of the stuff that works for me.

Aix Em Klemm - Aix Em Klemm
Labradford - Mi Media Naranga
Windy & Carl - Antarctica (or) A Dream of Blue
One Mile North - Minor Shadows
Mileece - Formations
Coleen - Everybody Alive Wants Answers
Fennesz - Endless Summer
Charalambides - Joy Shapes
Supersilent - 6
Oval - 94Diskont

I don't have time to hunt down links now, but I'd be happy to email some later if you want them. From top to bottom, they're arranged with the ones most similar to Stars of the Lid on top, and get a bit digressive (retaining what I think is the feel, if not the sound, by the end). And, for what it's worth, Bang On A Can's versions of Music For Airports or In C work really well for me, though the latter may be a bit too driving for what you're looking for here. Enjoy!
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:35 AM on November 24, 2004

I just had a listen to some of the tracks you linked Dobbs. You should definitely check out Pete Namlook if you can find any of his stuff. It is very similar generally to the Paulene Oliveros track you linked. Any of his releases on Fax records are worth a look. Dreamfish and Air are both good starting points (I think both were on Rising High, and maybe possibility be deleted now - not sure).
posted by bifter at 5:49 AM on November 24, 2004

I would second Biosphere.

Also, a good guide for this stuff, broken down by decade, with sound samples is Ambient for the Masses
posted by quibx at 5:58 AM on November 24, 2004

Get the Kranky Records Kompilation (it's very cheap for a 2CD set) and it'll introduce to all their artists. They specialize in this sort of music!
posted by neustile at 6:10 AM on November 24, 2004

Kronos Quartet, especially the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream.
posted by shawnj at 6:16 AM on November 24, 2004

This won't be a popular opinion, based on the way this thread's going so far, but I was always impressed with Pink Floyd's "Animals".

You could also make a Coil compilation of their more ambient tracks -- try Black Light District's "A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room" to start out. It is a little bit darker than most ambient music.

I once, on a whim, bought a CD for $1.50 by Journeyman that was was a pleasant surprise for when I was in the mood for 20 minutes of early 90s ambient.
posted by sleslie at 6:30 AM on November 24, 2004

Loop-based, repetitive ambient sounds, sometimes harsh but mostly moody and dark, much like the samples that you provided:

Zoviet France (esp. Mohnomishe)
Rapoon (esp. Darker by Light & Vernal Crossing)
Horizon 222

Heavily-reverbed, wide-open soundscapes that I love to have in the background while working:

Lull (esp. Cold Summer)
Lustmord (esp. Where the Black Stars Hang)
M.J. Harris & Bill Laswell - Somnific Flux


Dead Voices on Air - How Hollow Heart
Jonathan Coleclough & Andrew Chalk - Sumac
Nurse With Wound - Soliloquy for Lilith
O Yuki Conjugate
Soundtrack to the Movie "Heat"

The Lustmord album is my primary work background music. Couldn't tell you why, it just makes me feel like I'm sitting in the middle of an immense cavern and that is strangely inspiring.

These are all pretty obscure and difficult to find (I haven't been able to find samples online). Email me and I'd be happy to get some mp3s to you!

Also, a great site to poke around on is Ambience for the Masses

On preview, I second the Coil suggestion, though they are all over the place. Try "How to Destroy Angels" and "The Angelic Conversation."
posted by googly at 6:45 AM on November 24, 2004

definitely check out Keith Fullerton Whitman's stuff - particularly his stuff on Kranky
posted by soplerfo at 6:57 AM on November 24, 2004

I second Basinski and Fullerton Whitman..... although Basinski's stuff is sorta hard to listen to by itself, it suits your purpose very well.
posted by themadjuggler at 6:58 AM on November 24, 2004

Two guitar drone artists: Rafael Toral and Michael Schumacher. More rhythmic: Pub and Vladislav Delay (Entain, Multila, and Anima). And I agree with the Burger/Ink, early Koner, and Lull recommendations.
posted by Dean King at 7:01 AM on November 24, 2004

Also also, check out Sack & Blum they're fantastic - both together and as individual artists. They do lots with "real" instruments - repetitions/drones/ambience....
posted by soplerfo at 7:04 AM on November 24, 2004

Sorry, that Sack & Blumm link didn't work - try this one:
Sack & Blumm
posted by soplerfo at 7:06 AM on November 24, 2004

Food - Veggie
Deathprod - Morals + Dogma
Early Oregon
Tomasz Stanko's Suspended Night (and a hell of a lot of other stuff on ECM. It's true that they're sort of a precursor to Windham Hill, but the difference is that they release good music).
Along the lines of the Sleep and Earth mentions above, Boris' Absolutego.
Greg Davis' Somnia
Robert Fripp's Let the Power Fall
Polwechsel's album with Fennesz

More later.
posted by kenko at 7:30 AM on November 24, 2004

Oh man: THE NECKS. Seriously. Dobbs, you'll thank me.
posted by kenko at 7:31 AM on November 24, 2004

The Riven (sequel to Myst) soundtrack comes highly recommended. It's a bit dark, but very atmospheric, and if you've played the game it's very memory- and brainpower-inducing.
posted by Danelope at 7:33 AM on November 24, 2004

I like Mr. Mertens' work as well. Too bad you have to import it in the USA.

Soundtrack to the Movie "Heat"

I'll second this as it makes for a nice sampler and sends you hunting down the individual artists.

76:14 by global communication

It should be pointed out that a portion of this (tracks 8:07 and 5:23) is 'borrowed' from Tangerine Dream's "Love On A Real Train" from the _Risky Business_ soundtrack. To be fair, the Tangerine Dream track is itself 'borrowed' from Steve Reich's "Music For 18 Musicians" (Section VII, I think).

I will also throw the works of Michael Nyman and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra into the ring as similar to Glass/Reich/etc.
posted by kreinsch at 7:49 AM on November 24, 2004

I like the Paris, Texas soundtrack, and, for that matter, a lot of Ry Cooder's stuff is good to write to, I think. (He really deserves a better website than that, but there you go...)
posted by lilboo at 8:12 AM on November 24, 2004

I'll agree -- if you like Glass, you will probably like Nyman. I'm particularly fond of his score for Gattaca.

I also suggest any Tangerine Dream album with a few long tracks on it -- this would be many of them from the '70s and '80s up to about 1985. Look for the lineup of Froese, Franke, and Schmoelling or Baumann. The Baumann albums are a lot more spacey than the Schmoelling albums -- most people find the latter more accessible. Tangram (a studio recording with two suites) and Poland (a live recording from the titular country) are particular favorites of mine. A number of people are also partial to Stratosfear, Phaedra, and/or Force Majeure (all Baumann albums).

Maybe also Birdsongs of the Mesozoic.
posted by kindall at 9:06 AM on November 24, 2004

Possibly a little more indie-rock than what you're looking for, but American Analog Set's older material (I'm thinking From Our Living Room to Yours and The Golden Band) would fit the bill. Windy and Carl are also good (Drawing of Sound and Consciousness), but more in the feedback/overdubbed guitar genre.
posted by LionIndex at 9:26 AM on November 24, 2004

And Dreamweapon, by Spacemen 3, which you've probably already heard of.
posted by LionIndex at 9:27 AM on November 24, 2004

Saxon Shore and (some) Explosions in the Sky. And Mogwai on occasion. And To Rococo Rot and Kreidler.
posted by ifjuly at 9:30 AM on November 24, 2004

Oh, and if you like Stars of the Lid I take it you're familiar with Windsor for the Derby too (?). Not all of their stuff is instrumental but a lot is, and it's repetitve, calm, and gorgeous.
posted by ifjuly at 9:31 AM on November 24, 2004

Check out the Icelandic band Sigur Ros for spacey, atmospheric music. Heavily-processed electric guitar played with a violin bow, a made-up language sung in the most haunting falsetto you'll ever hear, a string quartet, and the most simple, beautiful harmonies.

I second sleslie's recommendation of "Animals"... while it's still probably too song-oriented for this list, there are some long, spacey sections which may appeal to some.

Also, speaking of Ry Cooder, his "Meeting Across the River" brings up the expanse of classical Indian music. If you know how to listen to it, it's as structured as it's western counterpart. To most of us gringos, though, it ends up sounding more textural than anything else. Beautiful, nonetheless. I don't know enough about it to make specific recommendations. I'd probably start with the superstars - Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain, etc.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:34 AM on November 24, 2004

Someday I'll Be On Time, The Album Leaf
Spine and Sensory, Tristeza
posted by LionIndex at 9:53 AM on November 24, 2004

Godspeed, You Black Emporer would fit this bill well. Maybe even some Mogwai.
posted by amandaudoff at 9:59 AM on November 24, 2004

I second the Album Leaf album. I have a mix for when I need to close out finances at the month at work and rely heavily on the Album Leaf and Mum. Here's at least a link to their website. There are some samples of mp3s on the site. I suggest the Land Between Solar Systems. I would also suggest Boards of Canada, but they might be too distracting on some tracks. It's abit of a departure from Reich and Glass (also on this work mix o' mine), but they all work for me.
posted by rodz at 10:06 AM on November 24, 2004

This is more in a downtempo vein, but mellower than Glass so you might like it: Ulrich Schnauss has two lovely albums-
A Strangely Isolated Place and Far Away Trains Passing By. These are wonderful and I listen to them while writing quite often.
posted by mai at 10:18 AM on November 24, 2004

Good stuff. I listen to Chopin's nocturnes over and over when writing . . . also Sigur Ros, Clinic, old Orb, and Iron and Wine. Galaxy 500. Boards of Canada has nice atmospheric albums that sometimes work, but are sometimes distracting, depending on what I'm writing. I find old Jesus and Mary Chain music has a nice droning quality, too, that works for some kinds of moods. I'm not so hip with this new stuff, so thanks for posing the question and offering some suggestions.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:30 AM on November 24, 2004

Yagya's Snowflake album is one of my favorites to listen to while writing. I would also recommend Jhno.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:53 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: WOW! Thanks, all! I was up till 7 and just woke up about 30 mins ago and am amazed at the quality and quantity of suggestions in this thread.

posted by dobbs at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2004

Monolake! Lustmord! Basinski! Ry Cooder! Kaki King!

There are some awesome suggestions here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:49 AM on November 24, 2004

dobbs, it looks like our iTunes libraries may converge on several points. Here are some of my favorites:

Lawrence: Lawrence on Morr, I think
Turner: Lukin Orgel on Ladomat
Tulsa Drone: No Wake (like Friends of Dean Martinez meets Album Leaf)
Various: Putting the Morr Back in Morrissey (a 2-cd set of minimal and IDM, no Smiths covers, though, on Morr)
Calla: Calla (sounds like a young David Lynch scoring a spaghetti western while on heroin--reissued recently)
Mojave3: Spoon and Rafter (alt-country, has lyrics, but they are sparse)

Also, Birdwatcher and Windsor for the Derby share members with Dead Texan and SOTL and may fit your bill. The new WFTD is amazing, but their earlier stuff may be easier to work to.
posted by mds35 at 11:50 AM on November 24, 2004

On second thought, Calla is not exactly what you would call peaceful. Also, a better description of Tulsa Drone once graced the Blue.

Other good Various compilations include Darla's For Friends and Fork Ends, as well as the Fuzzy Boombox series.
posted by mds35 at 12:18 PM on November 24, 2004

The Chicago bassist Jasom Ajemian has a band called "who cares how long you sink" that might work. I do'nt know how available its releases are--the album I have is on lucky kitchen.

The FFWD s/t album, it's out of print but you might be able to find it online.

alva noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto - vrioon

1/3 Octave Band, AMM's Generative Themes (noisier)

Anthony Moore's Pieces from the Cloudland Ballroom and Secrets of the Blue Bag. I think Voiceprint has reissued them. The latter would be better, I'm listening to it now and it's very good. You should get it. Seriously minimalist. As is Tony Conrad + Faust, Outside the Dream Syndicate.

Paul Bley, Evan Parker and Barre Phillips' album Sankt Gerold is very good--Parker's quite restrained.

Piero Milesi's Modi.

The Blithe Sons' We Walk the Young Earth (though it's pretty melody-free).

Makoto Kawabata & Richard Youngs s/t collaborative album (and Richard Youngs' Making Paper).
posted by kenko at 12:24 PM on November 24, 2004

Tulsa Drone - "No Wake",
Susumu Yokota - "Sakura", "Boy and the Tree", "Grinning Cat", "Magic Thread"
Autechre - "Amber", "Chiastic Slide", "Incunabula", "Tri Repetae" (I see only introcosm has mentioned them before, don't know how, they're spectacular when on form)
Casino vs. Japan - "Go Hawaii"
Wauvenfold - "3fold"
Martes - "Murcof"
Speedy J - "Public Energy #1", "Ginger"
Chris Clark - "Clarence Park"
Múm - "Finally We Are No One"

And you probably know Low, Mormon slo-fi rockers, rarely produce instrumental only pieces but they're wonderfully sonorous for the most part

You realise that if you buy even half this stuff, you're going to have to get a second job, right?

On preview, I can't believe mds35 caught Tulsa Drone just before I did!
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:03 PM on November 24, 2004

More Loop-based, repetitive ambient sounds, excellent for concentration and relaxation:

Loscil (First Narrows, Triple Point, Submers)

Best ambient music, great for concentration:

Brian Eno (Ambient music for Airports, Apollo-Atmospheres and Soundtracks, The Plateaux of Mirror, On Land, Discreet Music)


Eric Satie


Savath + Savalas

Tujiko Noriko
posted by sic at 2:56 PM on November 24, 2004

Jim O'Rourke's Bad Timing


Anything by proto-minimalist Moondog
posted by hydrophonic at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2004

I wholeheartedly second gravelshoes suggestion of Max Richter, in particular the Blue Notebooks. A bit morose but very beautiful. Nice thread BTW.
posted by bdave at 7:26 PM on November 24, 2004

Toronto's Aidan Baker is doing stunning and peaceful minimal guitar lovely/weird-ness.
posted by verysleeping at 10:12 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Wow. Again, thanks, all! Fantastic thread.
posted by dobbs at 11:05 PM on November 28, 2004

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