Liturgical Note
The Squid Game

Kompakt's Pop Ambient Series

Kompakt is a German electronica label which I think is mainly oriented toward the types of music that those of us who aren't into them lump together as "techno."  EDM, for "electronic dance music," is the preferred term, I think. Whatever you call it there are actually quite a number of sub-genres; see this Wikipedia article if you want to know more, and note that it includes links to information on sub-sub-genres. Do you know the difference between house and trance? I don't, even though I once read a few paragraphs of a music producer complaining, and illustrating his complaint with technical observations, that trance is boring in comparison to...I don't remember now, some other variety of EDM. But it was amusing because he spoke as if the two were as different as peanut butter and jelly.

Kompakt also produces some ambient electronica, which at first struck me as odd, since ambient music is typically tranquil, and the polar opposite of the frenetic hard-driving beat of dance music. But it actually makes sense. I think (I have no personal experience!) ambient music has some kind of place in the dance club world as a respite from the pounding music, reportedly played at industrial volume levels. A few years ago there was a controversy about a techno club in downtown Mobile. Although that area is described as an "entertainment district," there are also some apartments and condominiums, and if I remember correctly some of the residents got it shut down because of the very loud music. This was notable because there same area contains half a dozen or so clubs where rock bands play every weekend.

Anyway, since 2001 Kompakt has issued an annual anthology called Pop Ambient. Back when was the principal way I heard about and purchased (old-fashioned notion!) new music, I acquired a number of these: 2002 through 2016, to be exact. Every one is excellent, if you like this sort of thing. It's very static--there's no forward movement, as in normal music. It's all repetition and addition and slight variation. I was thinking about how to describe it and remembered Rob G's description of a trance (I think it's trance) track in one of the 52 Albums posts.

the musical development all happens vertically above the basic axis and not along it, so to speak. Sounds, instruments, and voices are added and subtracted in such a way as to propel the song to the next one, rather than to bring closure. 

That's really pretty accurate for Kompakt's ambient music, too. I haven't attempted to analyze any of this music in the way that Rob does, but it wouldn't surprise me if they aren't constructed with similar consistency (as opposed to the loose, drifting nature of much ambient).

Here's a track from the 2002 edition, the earliest one I have. Triola is the name of the artist, "Ag Penthouse" the title of the track (I don't know what the "Ag" means).

And here's one from 2020, "Urquell" by Thore Pfeiffer:

Without some indication one--well, at least most ones--would not be able to tell any basic stylistic difference over the 20-year interval. Which is a little bit amusing, since EDM seems to be a very trendy scene. At least a couple of the artists from the 2001 edition also appear on 2021. 

The graphics accompanying those tracks are the album covers. Every edition features a photograph of flowers somewhat like these, and that's very appropriate: I think of these pieces as being like pictures. The experience of listening to them is more similar to the experience of looking at a painting than is the narrative sort of movement that most music provides. Moreover, the flowers are a good visual analog of most of the pieces: gentle, delicate, graceful, beautifully colored. Also fitting is the fact that twenty such pictures are all obviously very different from each other and yet obviously very similar.

While looking for the post-2016 (post-eMusic) releases in this series, I discovered that Kompakt also puts out an annual anthology of their dance music. I listened to one--not very closely, just let it play while I was doing miscellaneous little tasks around the house--and rather liked it. That series is called Total, with a two-digit year: Total 21 and so forth. I think it's been running at least as long as Pop Ambient


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Good stuff. Trance and techno artists and DJ's will often include pieces like these as intros and outros to their albums or sets, and you're right about their being sometimes used as cool-downs between songs. Some long tracks even have sections like this built right in.

In this vein I recently came across this album by a duo called Linea Aspera. The album is called II, as it's their second. The first thing that caught me was the singer's voice, which I really like, but I also noticed that the songs don't really go anywhere melodically, they just repeat and build. A friend of mine who also likes this kind of stuff said the same thing and suggested that the whole thing is like trance, but slowed down, which I hadn't thought of but is very true.

Of the eight songs on the album six are around this tempo, with only two being faster like standard trance/techno.

Hmm, I wouldn't even have thought "slowed down". Still pretty up-tempo. But I'm sure you're right, not as fast as usual.

I can see myself developing a taste for this stuff. I hate to say it but it really is kind of energizing. You should try one of the Total compilations, if you have a Spotify or similar account. On that one brief hearing some of the tracks struck me as more musically varied than most EDM, but still...energizing.

A question, which I'll be surprised if you can answer: sometime probably ca 2000 a local radio station had an electronica program which I sometimes taped. There was one track that I really liked that was pretty up-tempo and had an appealing melody and a repeated lyric that was a little distorted. It seemed to be the words "I have a nice life" but also sounded to me like "I have a knife life." I re-used the tape a few weeks later but then wanted to hear it again. I don't suppose that rings a bell, does it? I've looked for it a few times but no luck, not surprisingly with no more to go on than that. It's entirely possible that it was the kind of disposable dance music that's forgotten after its brief moment. Who knows, I might not even like it now.

Yeah, I think that it's really only slowed down about 10-15 bpm, but it makes a difference. It's still pretty energetic though, as you say.

Sorry, the song you mention doesn't ring a bell.

For the record, one of my favorite EDM albums is Chicane's Behind the Sun, which is a really nice mix of ambient, trip-hop, and dance tracks. It's probably on streaming somewhere but if not the CD is pretty easy to get hold of at a good price.

I discovered this album when I heard a song from it playing on the overhead speakers in a Sears store in 2004. It caught my ear and I found a speaker and stood directly under it, trying to catch enough of the words ("something in your eyes left me helpless and paralyzed") to do an internet search when I got home. It worked, because I found the song ("No Ordinary Morning") and bought the CD. Still love the song. I used to love going into that particular Sears store -- they played the coolest music!

That's a pretty funny place to go to hear music. I like that song. It's got a bit of the flavor of the work of Ulrich Schnauss, which is all instrumental and somehow very evocative to me.

I started listening to that album on Pandora and was very surprised to find that the second track, "Low Sun," is very familiar, though I couldn't place it. Finally figured out that it's on two different Hearts of Space programs that I recorded and have probably heard half a dozen times each.

Then there's this, which I like way too much for my own good. For the record, they're from Turkey.

Clan of Xymox ca 1985. :-) I like it too.

I missed Xymox along the way. I just listened to their 'Twist of Shadows' the other day and liked it a lot.

That 'Low Sun' is a great track but I wouldn't necessarily think to put it down as HoS material.

Xymox's albums tend to run together to me. I like the basic sound a lot but the writing is uneven. I can't remember how Twist of Shadows stacks up in relation to the others.

The HOS playlists that included "Low Sun" (there were two) both involved "chill-out' music. They play a surprising amount of stuff that's fairly rhythmic and relatively upbeat, actually. Depends on the theme of the program.

That makes sense. I have a couple chill-out collections and that song would fit right in.

I think Twist... is their 3rd or 4th album. Came out in 89. It's pretty solid all the way through, but it's not quite as dark as the earlier stuff I've heard.

I see AMG rates it considerably higher than any of their others--4 1/2 stars. I was listening to Creatures a couple of weeks ago, and really liked some of it, was bored with some. I was surprised when I looked on AMG to see that it came out in 1999.

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