Ambient Industrial
by Peter Werner

Ambient industrial is, of course, a hybrid genre of ambient and industrial; the term industrial being used in the original experimental sense, rather than in the sense of industrial pop. Ambient industrial makes use of Industrial principles such as use of anti-music, extra-musical elements and shock tactics, but wields these elements with more subtlety. Additionally, ambient industrial often has strong occultist tendencies, with a particular leaning toward Chaos Magick (the image of the Black Sun is one that comes up repeatedly in post-Industrial music), often giving the music a highly ritualistic flavor.

Ambient industrial is one of several directions that post-Industrial music took on after the breakup of Throbbing Gristle (the founders of Industrial as an art movement) in 1981 ended the Industrial period proper. Indeed, the last material that TG recorded, at least in the studio, Journey Through a Body and In the Shadow of the Sun, was ambient industrial work and pointed to the direction that several of TG's offshoots (most notably Coil and CTI) would take.

Among the many artists who work in this area are Coil, CTI, Lustmord, Hafler Trio, Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France, PGR, Thomas Koner, Controlled Bleeding and Deutsch Nepal. It is important to note, however, that many of these artists are very eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside of ambient industrial per se.

A "typical" ambient industrial work (if there is a such thing) might consist of evolving dissonant harmonies of metallic drones and resonances, extreme low frequency rumbles and machine noises, perhaps supplemented by gongs, percussive rhythms, bullroarers, distorted voices and/or anything else the artist might care to sample (often processed to the point where the original sample is no longer recognizable). Entire works may be based on radio telescope recordings (Arecibo (Lustmord) Trans-Plutonian Transmissions), the babbling of newborn babies (Nocturnal Emissions Mouths of Babes) or sounds recorded through contact microphones on telegraph wires (Alan Lamb's Primal Image).

Some related terms are:

Ambient Noise
A subgenre involving the construction of "noisescapes", that is, soundscapes created out of walls of extreme noise. Closely related to power electronics and "Japanese" noise, this anti-music may not strike the uninitiated listener as being very ambient. To those more familiar with noise, these works have a subtle ambient quality that distinguishes them from the straight-up noise of Merzbow or Whitehouse. An example would be the distorted low-frequency/high-volume sonics of Daniel Menche, which are evocative of the cthonic sounds of a subway tunnel, an underground boiler-room in a factory or the afterburner of a jet engine. Other examples of ambient noise would be works by Aube, Blood and Flame- era NON, Arcane Device and some of PGR's collaborations with noise artists like Merzbow and AMK.
Popularized by the British magazine The Wire and the Ambient 4: Isolationism compilation from Virgin, this is essentially just a new marketing term for ambient industrial, but also inclusive of certain post-techno streams of ambient, such as Autechre and Aphex Twin.
Dark Ambient
A term that's gained a great deal of currency in the last year or so, this is a catch-all that includes ambient industrial, "gothic" ambient projects such as Raison D'Etre, Love Spirals Downwards and Black Tape for a Blue Girl, and various other ambient musics, such as that of Jon Hassell, that have a "dark" quality. The Projekt/Darkwave, Hyperium and Cold Meat Industry labels seem to be the standard bearers of a self-consciously "dark" stream of ambient. However, the term has become such a broad catch-all that any music that is "darker" than the most self-consciously "positive" New Age and ambient techno work gets slapped with this label. Even Eno's work has been called "dark ambient"!

Synonyms include "darkwave" for the more gothic-oriented stuff, "death ambient" for some of the bands on Cold Meat Industry that have an ideological affinity to death metal, and "ambient noir".