Kankyō Ongaku

Design cover

Design

Interior
Une Collection des Chaînons I: Music for Spiral cover

Une Collection des Chaînons I: Music for Spiral

Yoshio Ojima
Eyelashes of the Sun cover

Eyelashes of the Sun

Yoichiro Yoshikawa
Mkwaju cover

Mkwaju

Mkwaju Ensemble
彩 [Colours] cover

彩 [Colours]

Hideki Mitsumori
Jomon-Sho cover

Jomon-Sho

Yas-Kaz
The Law of the Green cover

The Law of the Green

Saeko Suzuki
Through the Looking Glass cover

Through the Looking Glass

Midori Takada
Seigén cover

Seigén

Seigen Ono
Still Way (Wave Notation 2) cover

Still Way (Wave Notation 2)

Satoshi Ashikawa
BGM: 1980-2000 cover

BGM: 1980-2000

Various Artists
World Standard cover

World Standard

World Standard
Morning Picture cover

Morning Picture

Yoshio Suzuki
水の中の八月 [August in the Water] cover

水の中の八月 [August in the Water]

Hiroyuki Onogawa
Plant Planet's cover

Plant Planet's

Mich Live
森の人 [Forest People] cover

森の人 [Forest People]

Masami Tsuchiya
Prologue for Post Modern Music cover

Prologue for Post Modern Music

Phonogenix, Masashi Kitamura
水 [Iroha (Sui)] cover

水 [Iroha (Sui)]

Stomu Yamash'ta
作品 [Concentration] Vol. 1 cover

作品 [Concentration] Vol. 1

Toyo B.G.M. Corp.
Natural Sonic cover

Natural Sonic

Yoshiaki Ochi
Ambient Hawai'i cover

Ambient Hawai'i

Ambient Hawai'i
Tokyo Mobile Music 1 cover

Tokyo Mobile Music 1

Various Artists
からだは宇宙のメッセージ [The Body Is a Message of the Universe] cover

からだは宇宙のメッセージ [The Body Is a Message of the Universe]

Shiho Yabuki
Water & Violin cover

Water & Violin

Masatsugu Shinozaki
Jasmine Talk cover

Jasmine Talk

Koyohiko Semba
向日葵 [Himawari] cover

向日葵 [Himawari]

Akira Mitake
夕映え [Silence] cover

夕映え [Silence]

Shinsuke Honda
Marine Flowers (Science Fantasy) cover

Marine Flowers (Science Fantasy)

Akira Ito
Get at the Wave cover

Get at the Wave

Takashi Kokubo
Music for Commercials cover

Music for Commercials

Yasuaki Shimizu
Lisa cover

Lisa

Masahide Sakuma
Continuous Performance No. 3 cover

Continuous Performance No. 3

Akio Suzuki, Takehisa Kosugi, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Riri Shimada
Music for Nine Postcards cover

Music for Nine Postcards

Hiroshi Yoshimura
Geography cover

Geography

Culturemix
omni Sight Seeing cover

omni Sight Seeing

Haruomi Hosono
Tenkawa Isuzu cover

Tenkawa Isuzu

Fumio Miyashita
Cyprus cover

Cyprus

Yoichiro Yoshikawa
Aragon cover

Aragon

Aragon
Série Réflexion 1 cover

Série Réflexion 1

Oscilation Circuit
Intaglio cover

Intaglio

Motohiko Hamase
Passages cover

Passages

Osamu Kitajima
ダンジンダン・ポジドン [Danzindan-Pojidon] cover

ダンジンダン・ポジドン [Danzindan-Pojidon]

Inoyama Land
NEO GEO cover

NEO GEO

Ryuichi Sakamoto
海潮音 [Before Spring] [Original Soundtrack] cover

海潮音 [Before Spring] [Original Soundtrack]

Jun Fukamachi
Reality in Love cover

Reality in Love

Toshifumi Hinata
海の動物園 [The Long Living Things] cover

海の動物園 [The Long Living Things]

Masahiro Sugaya
風の使者 [Messenger of the Wind] cover

風の使者 [Messenger of the Wind]

Eitetsu Hayashi
Soundscape 2: Nova cover

Soundscape 2: Nova

Yutaka Hirose
Night Mirage cover

Night Mirage

Ippu-Do
カルサヴィーナ [Karsavina] cover

カルサヴィーナ [Karsavina]

Akira Inoue

“Ambient” is possibly the most broad description you can apply to music. It’s widely understood to be music that can (or sometimes should) be listened to passively, but this isn’t always true. Brian Eno’s famous quote that ambient music should be “ignorable as it is interesting” needs no introduction; this fundamental axiom from the mind that coined the term enshrined the idea that it ought to work at any level of attention. Other common signifiers of ambient music—like a lack of structure or rhythm—don’t necessarily apply either. Everything from amorphous drone to funky world fusion has been branded with the term, and it’s rare that the technicalities are as hotly disputed as other genres. (It’s likely you’ve encountered some scuffles about what it means to be “emo” or “punk,” for example.) Ambient, more than any other genre descriptor, is a philosophy. Most people agree on the aforementioned sonic qualities of ambient—but it’s an all-encompassing word that has room for ideas too. If you have an opinion about where, when, and at what volume your music should be played, you can make a case that your music is ambient.

With kankyō ongaku, this philosophical bent becomes abundantly clear. The Japanese term, translated literally as “environmental music,” was coined primarily to describe the kind of music Brian Eno was making starting with Ambient 1: Music for Airports. As Eno’s landmark record arrived on Japanese shores in the late 70s, several things were happening. The island nation was experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, generating plenty of money to go around for the funding of art and culture. These monetary blessings were spreading in the wake of what many were calling a “quiet boom,” where interest in the works of 19th century French composer Erik Satie was reaching a fever pitch with working musicians and students. (His “furniture music,” which was arguably the first conceptualization of music you weren’t supposed to pay attention to, was of particular note.) As economic interest converged on the arts in service of making Japanese public life more beautiful, many of the benefactors were students of Satie and Eno.

Music would be commissioned to play for department stores and communal areas, advertisements, film, ballet, prefabricated homes, and anything else you can imagine. The albums on this list cover a wide spectrum; few of them sound similar, and they differ significantly in the purpose of their creation and the attentiveness they demand of the listener. What they all have in common, however, is most important: a shared ethos of combining sound with an experience.

Shy Thompson