There used to be an outstanding mp3 streaming station named BlueMars/CryoSleep. It has been off the air for quite some time.
[NB: Update] The streaming station BlueMars/CryoSleep has come back "on the air" again to the delight of listeners literally all over the world. It resumed webcasting in early July, 2004, with an addition of the third channel named "The Voices from Within".
The following little essay was written, originally in Japanese, in late December 2003 and published in January 2004, while the station was off the air (it turned out to be temporarily off, but at that time you could hardly hope it would come back), as an homage to the programming and person(s) behind the streams.
I had very little exposure to ambient music in my younger years. There are only two albums in that genre that I would listen to a lot: one was the very well known Music for Airports (released 1978) by Brian Eno; the other was The Pearl (1984) by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.
Among those two albums, the former is certainly a classic. More than a quarter of a century has passed since its release, and perhaps a couple of years less than that for me since I bought the LP. Yet I have listened to it over and over, literally thousands of times, and it never bores me. To me, as well as, I suspect, to many others, Music for Airports has been almost synonymous with the genre of ambient music itself; it is the definitive ambient album. Harold Budd's The Pearl sounds a little bit more melancholic, with its impressive use of acoustic and/or prepared piano combined with atmospheric drone by synthesizers which often leads you reminiscence of the past real and imaginative.
The liner notes in Music for Airports carried a short essay about ambient music by the musician himself (which you can also find on the web here). This is, I believe, as well known a document in itself as the album and its music, at the end of which Eno concludes (or defines) as follows:
Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.
The programme contents of BlueMars/CryoSleep, in my humble opinion, did have achieved the aims and standards of musical quality that Eno explained in the passage quoted above. I preferred to listen to the quieter, more soothing (at least to my personal tastes) selection on the CryoSleep channel, but also on the alternate outlet BlueMars, extremely high quality ambient music was being streamed non-stop, without station breaks, sound stickers or jingles. Exactly as Eno says, the selection on these two streaming channels could and in fact did command your concentration if you wanted to listen to it attentively; or else it could be comfortably "ignorable" while you pondered over something.
I would have an almost hallucinating feeling that I had been moved to an unknown place, even another planet maybe, while letting the CryoSleep programme continuously flow through the net connection, especially in the dead of night on to the wee hours of the morning. The old night view from my room window would look quite different then.
The official website of this station was also fairly taciturn, but on every visit to check the current playlist, I was always attracted to the "lonely astronaut" logo graphic (see above), which reads: "In Memory of Earth / B L U E M A R S - 2031 and beyond". The website described its two streaming programmes as "Music For The Space Traveller / lone's ambient streams". This "lonely astronaut" image, together with the channel names of blue (and not red) Mars and cold sleep, reminded me of my favourite short story series written by the Japanese scifi novelist Ryu MITSUSE titled Space Chronicles ("Uchu Nendai-ki"), in which cyborg was depicted as an outcast social class increasingly disliked by the "normal" humankind and finally man as a species attempted to desert their flesh and eternally survive as information only — but I digress.
Tuning in to the streaming of BlueMars/CryoSleep gave me a very nice occasion to realise the power of ambient music. Some twenty years after first coming across Eno's Music for Airports, it was a pleasant surprise to find that this kind of music was indeed ignorable and interesting at the same time, and also had the capability of transforming the listening space and the listener's recognition of it.
Merely pleasing sound/music
Of course, there are currently many streaming stations that broadcast ambient music dedicatedly over the Internet. When you have a peek at SHOUTcast directory for the genre, you can find quite a few. And it was there when I got to learn about BlueMars/CryoSleep in the first place.
Now that BlueMars/CryoSleep went off the air, I try and listen to various ambient streaming channels, locating them through search at SHOUTcast by keywords such as ambient, downtempo, chillout, atmospheric, etc (I am not very sure if all of these can be called a sub-genre of ambient music). But unfortunately, in many cases of my trial listening I feel disappointed, thinking and feeling they are not even coming close to the excellent standard of selection in BlueMars/CryoSleep programming. Where is the difference?
It appear to me that in many of today's ambient streaming channels, the music played are mostly just pleasing to my ears, but has nothing more to them than that. They are alright as long as you let them flow merely as background music; they never distract your attention, nor do they fail to create a certain pleasant atmosphere in your listening space.
These kinds of (merely) pleasing music, however, begin to show their weakness when you want to either ignore or pay closer attention to them. Quite often, they are in a sense too thrusting to be ignored, and simultaneously too coarse or lacking in textures and structure to be attentively listened to.
BlueMars/CryoSleep programming rarely, if ever, included these ready-made, self-assuring pieces of "ambient music". Long after its having gone off the air due to the stupid and greedy (for the music industries, and just simply sad and disheartening for us listeners and music lovers) fuss over the intellectual properties rights and webcast "airplay" fee charging, I now realise that BlueMars/CryoSleep was such a special enterprise. I miss it so much.
[Translation completed and posted on the 5th of August, 2004. The original article in Japanese with the same title was posted on the 26th of January, 2004, under the category: music.]
[English Articles Index of this site is here.]
[Added: the 5th of August, 2004] Please refer to the top of this page for an update as to the current state of the station BlueMars/CryoSleep. It is very much alive!
Here is the official site of BlueMars/CryoSleep.
The unofficial (but not officially unrecognised?), definitive resource on the web about Brian Eno is enoweb.
A profile of Harold Budd @ iceberg.com.
[Added: the 5th of August, 2004] When I published the original Japanese article on my previous website (it's still located here) in late January 2004, I had the "lonely astronaut" BlueMars logo image from the station's official website accompany it, without any permission from either lone (the "station master") or (then unknown to me) the site designer and artist splif.
In early June this year, when lone kindly let us know via an announcement e-mail that he would resume streaming, I was so glad to hear the good news, and then I realised that as I had expected virtually no comeback of the station, I had not sent the request to ask permission to carry the station logo image in my article, which I should have done long time ago. Belated much too much, but I did write to both of these two gentlemen and they promptly granted me the permission. I thank you, lone and splif, for your courtesy and your excellent work on BlueMars streamings and its official website.
The official website has gone under a complete renewal in mid July 2004. And do not forget to visit splif's cool website, Bwoup.com.