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The Comedy of Errors

Ambient Music: The Unexpected Soundtrack to Lockdown

16 May 20 words: Eileen Pegg

Pat Keista takes a deep-dive into the genre that many more might be turning to, following his recent album release, Ambient 3.

Following the release of E11EVEN - an album inspired by the Apollo moon landing - artist, composer and producer Pat Keista is back with his latest body of work, Ambient 3. And it really couldn’t have been timed better.

Though always enjoying a cult following, ambient music and the notion of a ‘chill out room’ has been rising steadily again amongst the electronic music community over the past few years, bringing with it new fans. Where Pat notes in our interview that there are many ex-heavy metal musicians now creating these downtempo soundscapes, the same can be said for a new wave of techno artists who are also exploring the style with rare and stripped-back sets (who remembers James Holden’s special selection at the City Arts beanbag den for Wigflex Festival last year?)

Even more so, as the world finds itself in this unknown period of lockdown and the need for wellness, calm and escapism rises, ambient music is having quite a moment. Here, Pat tells us more about his relationship with the genre, his new album and offers some essential listening for anyone curious about the sound: 

What was your first experience with ambient music? Did you always like it?
My first experience with ambient music was Jean Michel Jarre when I was a kid. It might sound cheesy since so many ambient musicians will say that, but I didn't go for all his tracks. I liked Oxygene most. 

I was actually more drawn to new age, celtic and world music initially, especially  Tangerine Dream, Michel Cretu, Eric Serra, Enya, Clannad, and right through to some lounge stuff like Cafe del Mar and Bhudda Bar. None of these are really hardcore ambient though - they exist around the edges. So, I didn’t really go for it as a genre until later on...

I can understand ambient works really well for creating atmosphere in films, TV shows and adverts - something that you have a lot of experience with (Pat’s music has been used in programmes such as Netflix’ Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Real Housewives Of Atlanta, Run’s House and Married To Medicine.)

In your opinion, what else are the other perfect listening conditions for ambient music - either for your new album specifically, or the genre as a whole?

Yeah, film has been my primary interest and experience of this genre. Atmospheric soundtracks always grab me, like at the start of Bladerunner 2049 - wow. 

Perfect listening conditions for ambient are not just in cinemas but also the outdoors. I guess the latter is still feasible for us all since we can go for our daily walks and exercise. I find that ambient works well even while I’m working - emailing and getting admin done, having it in the background. I used to be a programmer/coder and it helped in that just lifted me out of the intense environment into a magical world, and even made me more productive!

It's been a year or so since your last album. Did you start making Ambient 3 straight after E11EVEN?

Yes - I tend to find that as soon as one music project finishes I start on the next almost immediately; it’s like being liberated and everything is new again. So I start looking for new instruments, new effects units, making field recordings etc. It’s very exciting. 

Did the lockdown measures affect the timescale of this album release at all?

To some degree yes; I just found extra resonance and meaning with my ambient project during lockdown, so I wanted to complete it sooner rather than later. And just today, I began the search for the sound of the next ambient album. 

Do you still have the facilities to make music?
Yes, I have a home studio so I’m all good. I've been installing more and more sound absorbers to dry out the space more so that I can be even more self-sufficient - you don’t want to be always using electronic instruments, you want to record organically using decent mics and environments. Studio design is one massive topic...

For anyone just getting into the sound during lockdown, can you recommend any other key albums / artists that have inspired you, or should be part of their essential listening?
Sure! Ambient has many shades and colours depending on the journey and background per musician. I'm always intrigued by how many ambient musicians were formerly keyboardists in heavy metal bands. Maybe they really needed some quiet after all 'that’. 

Here are some ambient artists that I enjoy and can recommend: 

First, back to the 70s and Tangerine Dream, e.g. Phaedra - it’s weird and wonderful!

In this vein, and of a contemporary nature, there’s Phelios

Then there’s the spacemusic sub-genre such as Dreamstate Logic - he also used to be in a heavy metal band

There's Loscil from Canada - he uses algorithms etc...

Increasingly, I go for something more organic, or that at least finds a meeting point between the digital and the organic realm, like Phoenix York - beautiful stuff

So, ambient has grown and become very diverse since its inception in the 1970s. Ambient can expand your mind and take you to another world - its pure escapism; just the ticket for the lockdown. 

Ambient 3 is out now, available to listen and purchase on Bandcamp.
Listen here.

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