Encompassing Environments: The Tools For Creating Ambient Music
There's no doubt that ambient music is currently seeing a resurgence. It could be the well-timed Mort Garson and Laurie Spiegel reissues that piqued interest or even documentaries like Sisters With Transistors. Maybe it's the fact a pandemic effectively canceled band practice for the foreseeable future. Either way, we're here to embrace these soothing sounds.
If you haven't dabbled in the ambient artform, it's incredibly easy and fun to zone out making lush landscapes. Without the need for bandmates, musicians can take their own spin on beat making, sound design, field recording, looping and create something all their own. Today we’re gonna take a look at some of the popular tools that will help you create your own ambient sounds.
Ambient Tool #1: Synthesizers
One of the foundational aspects of ambient music is the layering of soundscapes via synthesis and sampling. Synthesizers have long been the principal tool used to craft the basis of ambient music because of their wide range of immersive sounds. Early hardware synthesizers often utilized modular designs, which means users could patch in and out freely to the effects they specifically wanted, in any order of their choice. Proving to be a classic formula, these designs still exist today in pieces from Korg, Moog and more. Users wanting more options and presets can also turn to software synths and MIDI controllers. Whether you use vintage-sounding hardware synths or modern emulations with digital control, both will excel in laying the groundwork for ambient tracks.
One of my favorite creation tools when it comes to synthesizers is the Moog Grandmother. The Grandmother garners praise for its semi-modular design and inspiring toolset. Featuring an intelligent arpeggiator, analog synthesis and built-in spring reverb tank, the Grandmother is absolutely stacked with effects and inspires boundary-pushing sound creation. The Grandmother makes sound design simple to learn, and the two analog oscillators churn out flexible and fresh sounds.
Alien-like user interface meets otherworldly sounds with Wormhole, an audio effects palette that creates ambiance, drone sounds, octave shifting tails and more. Easy to learn controls allow you to jump into the fun aspects of creating and tools like Warp and Shift add lush textures to existing sounds. Go subtle or add extreme space-age tones to productions and find the perfect blend with the easy-to-use Wet/Dry controls. Dreamy sounds are achieved easily and so are heavily textured sci-fi soundscapes. Play around for a few minutes and you’ll see why so many sound designers love the Zynaptiq Wormhole.
Ambient Tool #2: Pedals & Plugins
Adding texture to your ambient tracks makes for a great way to deliver more interesting sounds without complicating productions. Users often choose to employ spatial effects like delay and reverb to flesh out their ambient music creation. Aside from simply being effective for the job, the use of delays, reverbs and more are heavily associated with the sonic palette of ambient tracks, so spending some time on this portion of your production is key.
Pedals from brands like Chase Bliss Audio, Meris, EarthQuaker Devices and Walrus Audio tend to nail this segment, as they are known for their unique designs and outer-space style sounds. Additionally, the market for texture-based plug-ins is fantastic. Companies like SoundToys and FabFilter offer industry-favorite plug-ins like EchoBoy and Pro-R to deliver delay and reverb. Between a host of great pedals and tons of easy-to-use plug-ins, there are ample products for musicians wanting to add depth to ambient creations.
Walrus Audio has yet to let us down, and the Slo is no exception. A reverb pedal that’s specifically built to bring a variety of textures, the Slo is exactly the kind of pedal that turns a guitar rig into an ambient music creation factory. With three distinct algorithms, Slo delivers pitched-down harmonies, offers auto-swelling, and vibrato textures within already lush reverb trails. Simple guitar parts come to life with the Slo, and this thoughtful Walrus Audio pedal gives your tracks immediate texture.
Many pro audio fans will be familiar with the Eventide name. The brand has been cranking out killer effects and outboard gear for decades. The Anthology XI Bundle brings together every Eventide plug-in in one tidy bundle. You'll get a host of iconic reverbs, delays, pitch shifting, bit crushing and even more. A true do-it-all suite, you’ll find yourself going down the rabbit hole constantly when using this package.
Ambient Tool #3: Drum Machines
Whether your goal is ambient style chill beats, sound sequencing or just an easy way to use your sampled sounds, a good rhythm holds ambient productions together. Pieces from yesteryear like the Roland TR-808 and Akai MPC60 became iconic almost overnight and their uses extend to ambient music just as well as hip-hop and EDM. Adding a good groove to your ambient tracks will keep heads moving while listening, and those wanting to nail that “lo-fi beats” sound will find great success with ease via modern drum machines and sequencers. Here are a few of our favorite pieces that’ll get you right into designing grooves.
With the Circuit Tracks, Novation bundles a drum sequencer, two polyphonic synths and a host of effects into one inspiring, concise package. Tweak filters with the included knob bank, add spatial effects to existing sounds and program patterns with Novation’s acclaimed 32-step sequencing. One of my favorite features of the Circuit Tracks is the rechargeable onboard battery, allowing you to create on the go. Design your synth sounds with the included Components software and toss in a microSD for the ability to save your favorite patches. Between the features and the price, the Novation is incredibly hard to beat.
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