On Ambient Music

One of the reasons I adore ambient music is that it can draw your attention to a whole medley of sounds whirring along in otherwise complacent spaces. To capitalize on this ability of ambient music to sensitize listeners to sounds they usually ignore, I’ve invented a game. It’s called “We peeled the wallpaper from Brian Eno’s skull and guess what we found? A crude pencil sketch of your brother performing a carnal act with the neighbor girl! On top of an oscillator!”


All players must listen to at least one recording from any of the following: Stars of the Lid, Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Potpie, Belong, and/or Stephen Vitiello.

Players find rooms in which nothing is happening. Players must identify as many discrete sounds audible within the room as possible, write a short description of each sound and enumerate it.

Player with the most sounds identified at the end of a half-hour wins.

Here are the results of my first round:

A clock shaped like a soda cracker ticks and tocks above the sink.

The neighbor’s wind chime jangling. Sounds like car keys.

A cyclical warbling sound. Source: unidentified. My first guess — overhead lights in the kitchen — was wrong.

The sound from the fan on the back of my laptop, which occasionally reaches a pneumatic intensity evocative of airplane engines, thanks to the fact that said laptop is old and infested with myriad species of malware.

The refrigerator. A very humble humming.

The 500 bus line runs just a block behind the Family Dollar that’s in my backyard, so occasionally a bus glides past and I hear the woman’s voice announcing the name of the line with the weird, Stephen Hawking-ish elocution that occurs when words are pasted together from separate recordings of their constituent phonemes, e.g. “Five. Hun/dred.”

Treble gurgling in the radiators along the floorboards.

The cat, when he wakes up, is very whiny. So his meowing…

And scratching at the door so he can go down to the basement and smell that spot in the paint closet where the neighbor’s cat urinated — copiously — last week….

And crunching of the last remaining bits of his Purina Kit ’n Kaboodle.

-Split Foster

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