The previous two posts covered what I consider pretty much “classic ambient” – mostly beatless, ethereal and/or droning pieces of music. In the third post of my “essential ambient” series, I’m looking at an album that is certainly different. Is it “modern ambient”, is it ambient at all? It probably raises the question what “ambient” actually is.
I became aware of Pete Namlook’s “Fax” label and its incredible output of electronic music relatively late. I was in love with the techno/trance sound that he did as “4Voice” (partly with Maik Maurice), but other than that, his work pretty much passed me by at the time. Yes, being a blissfully ignorant philistine was always one of my greatest strengths when it comes to music. 😉 (example: Autechre. I don’t know any of their music. Zero. Zilch. Nix. Nada. Blasphemy? Maybe.)
When I became more interested in ambient and different types of electronic music (besides trance/goa/ebm) I got into some kind of a “Fax feeding frenzy” 🙂 and was happy to discover that some of the at-the-time classic series where also available as MP3 compilations. Among others, I bought the “Jet Chamber Collection” which consists of all five Jet Chamber releases on a single (data) disc. (does anyone still use the word CD-Rom?!)
Jet Chamber is a collaboration between Peter Kuhlmann (Pete Namlook) and Uwe Schmidt (Atom Heart) – both extremely prolific music producers. As a sidenote, in those days of the Fax label, it was common that the project/series title (like “Jet Chamber”) also became the artist/collaboration name (at some point this became quite a dispute over on discogs.com – I sent an email to Peter, simply asked him, and he confirmed it… he was such a great and totally normal guy, well in touch with his fan base until his untimely passing in November 2012).
I can honestly say that the first, original Jet Chamber release is by far my favorite. When I listen to it (YouTube, iTunes), images of vast, empty industrial spaces with soaring ceilings are conjured up before my inner eye, dirt and grit in the corners, but also shining metal of futuristic machinery, light filters through skylights in fat rays that are rendered visible by dust particles. And there’s a constant hum, and heavy reverberation. Listening to Jet Chamber in the main hall of San Diego’s Convention Center would be a great match. This record is 22 years old in 2015, and it hasn’t lost it’s futuristic atmosphere and modern appeal.
Why is this different? Beats. Rhythm. Clicks. And yet, it has this overall calming quality of ambient music, somehow. I guess it’s somewhat similar to good Drum’n Bass – the nervous shuffling of the beats fades into the background as you focus on bass and pads.
Quite naturally, the definition of what “ambient” actually is will differ for most of us, since we all have different tastes, moods, personalities. For me, “ambient” music in its pure sense is mostly beatless… but Jet Chamber shows that it also is about the images it conjures up, the atmospheres it creates, and the mood it transports. I guess for me, ambient is more successful in doing all this than other types of music. And that’s why Jet Chamber is ambient for me.