Ambient music has never been much improved upon by veering too far from Brian Eno’s initial conception of it — that is, of a music that serves equally well as both foreground and background. But there are more vectors to ambient than merely its relative prominence in the listening experience. Even as ambient music has retained, to a large degree, that initial modus operandi, it has changed over time. There are ebbs and flows to each successive generation of sound, swells and receding approaches, because — of course — for a music to appear in the background, it must to some extent align with the music of its time. It must be able to hide in plain aural sight. Thus, what was ambient in the 1970s and the early 2000s and today would have varying characteristics. It isn’t to say there is only one ambient music during any such period, but that there are strains that sound more prominent in the present than they might, say, have when first introduced. And yet just because a particular kind of music — the Fourth World of Jon Hassell, the turntable surface noise of Kid Koala, the dank minimal techno of early Monolake — may be rooted in a particular moment doesn’t mean it doesn’t have adherents in the present, not just among listeners but among performers. And thus, to listen to a track like “Nebula Divide | Somnolence” by Matt Borghi and Michael Teager, from their 2014 release Awaken the Electric – Live from Star’s End, is in part to hear welcome vestiges of Hassell’s tried and true Fourth World, from the plaintive melodic line to the slow-motion tribal pace, but it is also to hear those same sounds seeking to do so in a manner that is of this moment, that could be absent today. The result is a fascinating aesthetic feedback loop: something from the past taking root in and attempting to sound of the present. And on those terms, the music succeeds.
The piece was recorded in October 2013 on WXPN’s Star’s End, Chuck van Zyl’s broadcast. Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/mattborghi. More from Borghi at mattborghi.com. More from Teager at michaelteager.com. More from the duo at borghi-teager.com. Album available via kunaki.com.