Ambient writing

When asked what kinds of music and movies I like, I often struggle, and say that I end up liking the kind that has a lot of atmosphere. Not proficient instrumentals or a great plot, but rather an evokation of mood or a sense of place. I think the same idea might be relevant to writing as well.

I was recently introduced to the new blog What we are supposed to do when we are at our best, penned by a young man in mourning. (Hat tip to Coudal Partners. Hope this link sticks.) His short pieces are thick with tension or sadness or whatever he's dealing with at that moment, but they don't claim to say anything concrete.

The poem I posted was inspired by his work. It reminded me of what's possible when you free yourself from a direction, when you write what comes instead of deciding on a conclusion and then straining towards it. I started with the opening line of a poem spoken on a Harold Budd album, wrote about an appropriate situation for it, and excised everything but the sensations of being in that situation, leaving little but the title to describe the place. I'm happy with it.

Budd's album
is an example of ambient music, a term popularized by his collaborator Brian Eno in the late 1970s. It is "as ignorable as it is listenable", made for the express purpose of evoking a mood without occupying your attention. (A far cry from the bastardized pop songs and classical pieces heard in elevators, this was an avant garde idea in its time - Philip Glass and Steve Reich are as responsible for it as Eno.) This is one of those kinds of music that I like.

While reading necessarily occupies one's forebrain more than listening to music does, I'm going to call my poem, and J. S. Yingling's blog, ambient writing. They evoke without constraining. I name this because the name empowers me to seek more of it. Do you have any other examples?


  1. The phrase ambient writing is awfully appealing. I was instantly drawn in by that headline. A nice reminder that it doesn't take a lot of words to attract attention--just the right combination.

  2. Thanks! Interesting that that caught your eye. It's pretty minimalist by my standards - as hard as I try to pare away the nonessential, I think I'm still running wordy.

  3. I think people can get too caught up in minimalism for its own sake. It just depends on the context, I think. Sometimes two words does it, and sometimes it takes 200. There are no blanket answers in writing, as in life. At least, that's what I think. And thanks for the more recent post, the education on metals and temperature. That was an eye-opener.

  4. Loved the title. Mine are sometimes longer than other's blogs! I always think of Brave New World as the beginning of ambient music.