The Wikipedia entry for “space music” defines it as a style of music that is categorized under New Age Music and Ambient Music (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_music). What makes this style unique is it's specific sound that brings to mind spatial imagery and feelings of floating, flying, etc. This definition may include ambient music that simply evokes imagery and feelings associated with expansive spaces or space-themed music which is any music (from any genre) that specifically relates to outer space.
The style of music that I most often compose and release on albums is a hybrid of ambient, space music, and other instrumental styles. However, many of my previous releases do indeed fall under the space-themed music genre (give Music from The Firmament a listen).
My overarching goal in composition is to create dynamic music that both expresses emotion and facilitates imagery in the mind’s eye. One way to create the sense of movement and visual imagary in space music is by using particular sounds and production techniques. For example, the use of filter sweeps on analog pads as well as panning and pitch bending techniques can create the perception of movement that is characteristic of this style of music. And of course, the addition of plenty of reverb and stereo panning is a necessity!
Space music can also have a lot of emotion and dramatic expression in it. I achieve that by drawing on my background in classical music – particularly Baroque music (I previously studied classical guitar and J.S. Bach and Vivaldi are my two favorite classical composers). The use of tension and resolve via chord resolution, major, minor key transitions, and counterpoint are all compositional techniques that I use. I also often use a melodic motif in my compositions to provide a memorable expressive voice as well as ornamentation.
I have composed by writing out chord progressions and melodies in musical notation, but I seldom do that when composing ambient music. I find that what works for me is to compose based on intuition and experimentation. Sometimes, when the conditions are right, I find that the music just “flows” and seems to create itself.
Here are a few tips that may help you to immediately improve your compositions, whether in space music or any other ambient or electronic style:
1. In a previous blog I discussed how to overcome “composer’s block”. One of the tips was to listen to other styles of music. This applies too when you are simply trying to come up with new musical themes for space music. Listen to some music (any style) and then break it down into elements to see what musical structures you can pull from it and modify (don’t plagiarize it!).
2. If you love music, then I’m willing to bet that you have music floating around in your head throughout the day (whether it is someone else’s music or your own). Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will find that a melody just seems to show up and you are unable to get it out of your mind. Listen to that inner music and try humming it or singing it – this will make the melody or harmonic structure more concrete for you. Then, get to your audio workstation, guitar, keyboard or some other instrument and play it! Once you have the phrasing and theme figured out, you can get down to recording/producing it.
3. Anyone can find an interesting atmosphereic synth patch, put their finger on the keyboard, and call it “ambient music”. That said, I recommend that you stretch yourself to do something more interesting! Add melodic themes and variation! Play with different contrasts and textures to create interesting soundscapes. Don’t get me wrong, playing out single note drones in ambient music has its place; it can be a great technique to set a mood but it is not necessarily unique or memorable music composition in and of itself.
Ultimately, remember that music is magic and you are the magician. You must draw from the formulas of the masters, prepare and make sure the conditions are right, invoke the appropriate energies, and cast a spell on your listening audience!
I'd love to hear from you so feel free to post your comments. Also, be sure to visit my facebook site.