Ambient music and Germany has a very interesting history. Berlin has always been a hotbed of experimental art, music, and culture. If art can derive from pain and sadness then a city split in half inside of a country split in half could offer that in droves.
In 20th century Berlin a lot of brilliant people were expending a lot of effort in the burgeoning field of electronic music. As mentioned above Roedelius, Schnitzler, and others in Germany had at times come close to making ambient music. In 1971, Roedelius and his friend, Dieter Moebius, teamed up to make Cluster and released experimental electronic albums intermittently until 2010. After Eno released Music for Airports they, and others, began to experiment with ambient in full force. Cluster has a few ambient albums, two of which are collaborations with Eno. However, the sound was a bit different from that of other ambient because all of the experimentation done in Berlin, Düsseldorf, and other German cities was infused into it. This means more and new synthesizers, digital effects, and other computational additions. A good example of this blend of ambient and avant-garde from the early days is 1977s collaboration album Cluster & Eno. Bonus points if you can guess the collaborators.
However, these early impacts have also carried over into modern German ambient music as well. This is evident in the music of one of my favorite ambient musicians, the second one who I ever listened to, Ulrich Schnauss. Schnauss’ albums often have elements of more upbeat German electronic styles blended into the long, droning synth notes of classic ambient. This is all layered with beats from actual drums, basses, and other sources to create long, multi-dimensional tracks that are best listened to with a good pair of headphones. For an album recommendation from his catalogue there is none better than his masterful A Strangely Isolated Place. This is probably one of my most played albums, by virtue of it being both one of my first from the genre and one of the best.
I said Ulrich Schnauss was the second ambient musician I ever came across, who was the first? It was, perhaps appropriately, a guy who isn’t even pure ambient. Sascha Ring plays under the name Apparat and I first discovered his music through his side project, called Moderat, with German IDM band Modeselktor. Apparat began as a more dance and IDM oriented producer, but moved into ambient bringing some of those German dance elements with him. I actually think this makes his albums a pretty good place to start with for someone who isn’t sure of the genre, especially his somewhat ambient album The Devil’s Walk. For Breaking Bad fans Wikipedia claims a song from the album, “Goodbye,” was used in the show. If one is interested in a more pure ambient and instrumental album then check out his most recent, Krieg und Frieden.
We’ve now heard the beats from Berlin infused into ambient, what’s next? We now turn our gaze north and upwards, to Sweden and the stars above.