A Curious Realization

Jul 29 2009 Published by under Music


I came to a curious realization late last night, as I paused my reading of Neil Stephenson’s Anathem to look for accompanying music on my iTunes.   I tried a little of Montreal, for starters, but that was distracting.  Then I tried Sweet Billy Pilgrims’s Twice Born Men, but that, too, didn’t work.  So I started browsing, and it suddenly dawned on me that I have a hell of a lot of ambient/drone music.  I have over 10 GB of ambient/drone/phonographic works by people like Jacob Kirkegaard and Bill Fontana and William Basinski and Stars of the Lid and Brian Eno and Godspeed You Black Emperor! and on and on.

This wasn’t the realization, however.  I already knew I had that music; after all, I bought it.  [Yes, that’s right.  You heard me.  I pay for music.]  The realization came when I asked myself (for the first time in a long while) when it was that I started listening to this music.  What triggered this interest in drones and ambience?  After all, I was a typical alt/punk music enthusiast from way back.  I grew up on a diet of Minutemen and Replacements and REM.  So what gives?  When did my music taste change?

Initially, I told myself that I started listening to Basinski and Taylor Deupree and Chris Watson when my tolerance for the cliches of traditional rock and punk just got too stale.  I’ve used this line of reasoning on many occasions, mostly to explain why I no longer listen to bands like REM and so on.

But, I realized at that moment, that’s not entirely true.  That explains why I don’t listen to certain music any more.  But why do I specifically look for ambient music?  The answer to that question was completely obvious: reading.  I was an English grad student through most of the 1990s, and I used to read while listening to music.  I noticed that the quieter and less distracting music (like your Enos) was better suited to reading harsh theoretical works than your Nirvanas.  Since I spent the bulk of my time reading back then, it was natural that I would stock up on a supply of music to read by.  Over time, this functional music became my music of choice, as I found myself drawn to the wide open spaces offered up by such sounds.

So the realization that I made late last night was that I’m not nearly as jaded about rock music as I thought I was.  Really, I just want to concentrate when I read, and William Basinski and Stars of the Lid allow me to do that better than the White Stripes.

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