Evolving ambient soundscapes - How to

Agondonter

Member
Hello! I would like to ask for advice and suggestions on how to successfully create evolving ambient soundscapes in the likes of Steve Roach that have their own merit to stand alone, but can also be used as a canvas. Everything I have tried so far has been unsuccessful. I am trying to compose some ambient tracks that would ideally have ambient soundscapes sounding in the background while other stuff are developing in the foreground. The best I have come up with is the following piece I did a year ago:

 

TomislavEP

Active Member
Musically speaking, the most important ingredients for this style are long, tonally static drones, occasional chord progressions, and sparse yet simple melodic motifs. Also, adding the rhythmic elements, such as synth arpeggios or discrete percussion beds, can give the needed momentum though these shouldn't stand out too much. The most important thing is the delicate balance between the foreground, that should evolve in a simple and unobtrusive way - through discreet harmonic and melodic changes, and the somewhat static backgrounds involving drones, pads, and rhythms. These, however, should be addressed with production techniques, especially with automated filtering and other FX parameters as the piece progresses. So they also change through time, but not necessarily in a musical sense.

Speaking of sound sources, many things can work well, even using only acoustic and electric instruments as well as field recordings. There are also plenty of libraries suitable for ambient work, ranging from more traditional ones to the more modern concepts such as the EVOs, featured in several Spitfire Audio libraries.
 

YaniDee

Active Member
The comment above sums it up quite well..I think an important element ( for myself anyway) is to curb the instinct to " develop" and esp, add new ideas too soon..Find a strong motive and develop that slowly, and don't stray too far. Introduce new colors gradually and give it a dynamic (volume, texture) contour.
On the other hand, avoid endless repetition..
It's harder than it appears !

 
Last edited:
OP
Agondonter

Agondonter

Member
Hi all! Thank you for your replies and apologies for the late reply.

Musically speaking, the most important ingredients for this style are long, tonally static drones, occasional chord progressions, and sparse yet simple melodic motifs. Also, adding the rhythmic elements, such as synth arpeggios or discrete percussion beds, can give the needed momentum though these shouldn't stand out too much. The most important thing is the delicate balance between the foreground, that should evolve in a simple and unobtrusive way - through discreet harmonic and melodic changes, and the somewhat static backgrounds involving drones, pads, and rhythms. These, however, should be addressed with production techniques, especially with automated filtering and other FX parameters as the piece progresses. So they also change through time, but not necessarily in a musical sense.

Speaking of sound sources, many things can work well, even using only acoustic and electric instruments as well as field recordings. There are also plenty of libraries suitable for ambient work, ranging from more traditional ones to the more modern concepts such as the EVOs, featured in several Spitfire Audio libraries.

Are there some specific filters/FX that work best? Ideally, I would like to create soundscapes of no particular pitch that sound like <<morphing clouds of sound>> like Steve Roach's soundscapes. The tonal centre will be established by the pads should I desire one.

The comment above sums it up quite well..I think an important element ( for myself anyway) is to curb the instinct to " develop" and esp, add new ideas too soon..Find a strong motive and develop that slowly, and don't stray too far. Introduce new colors gradually and give it a dynamic (volume, texture) contour.
On the other hand, avoid endless repetition..
It's harder than it appears !
Since this style of music is usually ametric and the musical form is either very loose or nonexistent, I find it difficult sometimes to decide when to introduce something new. I usually go by feeling... But I guess that by implementing automated filtering, the sound itself will point when a new colour needs to be introduced.

Is this generative music by the way?

Maybe useful advice:
Thank you for sharing! I heard <<Peripeteia>> and I liked it. His advice is also very useful.

What software have you been using?
The track in my OP was done in Cubase using Reaktor 6 Mikro Prism, Space Drone and Metaphysical Function. I also used the Una Corda, Lunaris and Hang Drum libraries as well as the harp and some other percussion instruments from the Kontakt Factory Library. For Reverb I used Eventide. Since then I have added Byome, Kontakt Komplete and many other libraries (CSS, Nada, UVI Ethnic Instruments collection etc.) in my arsenal. I think Byome could be used effectively for what I am trying to do. Valhalla Shimmer is also another plugin that sounds interesting too...

Just by watching some videos on Youtube on ambient music creation, I have noticed that most people use Ableton Live though ( I have Cubase 10.5).

Is there any particular software or plugin you would suggest for soundscapes and ambient music production?

Cheers
Alexander
 

Patryk Scelina

Sonic Atoms founder
Hi Alexander. I personally like using acoustic / organic sound sources. It can be randomly plucking string of a guitar or any string instrument and then processing it with multiple delays, reverbs, filters, distortion, pitching down etc. This is what I actually did for sample library Baltic Shimmers. It's not that I try market the library here. I just want to show you what type of sounds you may expect by using various acoustic sources and processing it heavily.

I also try to keep most of effects used for processing in motion, non regular delays, slowly modulating filters or even changing pitch gradually.

If that is something you're looking for, I can give you some tips and insights of Baltic Shimmers sound sources so You could use it in your own original work.
Cheers
 

TomislavEP

Active Member
Are there some specific filters/FX that work best? Ideally, I would like to create soundscapes of no particular pitch that sound like <<morphing clouds of sound>> like Steve Roach's soundscapes. The tonal centre will be established by the pads should I desire one.
Personally, I never use a dedicated filter plugin but rather experiment with those that come with some of the libraries I have. Typically, I stick with various types of LP filter rather than BP ones. The former can also help in "simulation of dynamics" when dealing with certain synth pads, though I generally prefer to use pads and drones that originate from the acoustic sources.

More than filters, special types of reverb, like Valhalla Shimmer and Supermassive, as well as the modulation FXs such as those from Native Instruments - Choral, Flair, Phasis, and Replika - are all excellent for treating otherwise musically static parts, at least from my experience.
 

poetd

Senior Member
Couldn't do without this


Capable of insanely long stretching, always comes up with something interesting even from the most simple samples.

Absynth has long been a favourite, especially with the Mutate function. Easy to create something unique and evolving quickly.

Reaktor has an embarrassment of great generative synths.

Other things I like to do - take the reverb tail of a sound and stretch or loop that.
Use sends rather than inserts and automate the amount of send to avoid reverb sounding static, same with any filters or fx, subtle movement makes all the difference.