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The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Moby--The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age Paperback – September 3, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (September 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582343233
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582343235
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #842,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"The Ambient Century does what the best music books should do: It makes you hungry to hear the notes again." -Boston Globe

"A wealth of detailed information and cogent observations ... Prendergast has an astonishing grasp of the global scene in popular music and writes with authority and conviction." -Library Journal

"Prendergast's highly stimulating book courses across the last century, criss-crossing happily between classical, jazz, rock, and its subdivisions, charting the myriad ways composers, musicians, and galloping technology have expanded our sonic horizons."
-The Times (London)

"A vast and cogent treatment of the sound that changed the way we experience music...An exceptional piece of music history." -Kirkus Reviews


"The Ambient Century does what the best music books should do: It makes you hungry to hear the notes again." (Boston Globe)

"A wealth of detailed information and cogent observations � Prendergast has an astonishing grasp of the global scene in popular music..." (Library Journal)

"A vast and cogent treatment of the sound that changed the way we experience music..." (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Mark Prendergast has written about ambient and electronica for newspapers, journals, and magazines worldwide. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

I can't begin to describe how bad this book is, but I will try.
Kenneth M. Osowski
Passing over the rock era (I'm not competent to comment much on this genre), I must take issue with his treatment of electronic music, which is somewhat US-centric.
Christopher Culver
Good for those who want to name-drop, but not for real students of music.
demomo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mark Prendergast's THE AMBIENT CENTURY is an encyclopedia of the biggest names in "ambient music", a style that's never defined, but which might be a) music that the author digs, and b) music that the author doesn't like so much but which lends respectability to later figures.

Prendergast starts off all the way at the beginning of 1900s with innovative classical music figures such as Debussy, Mahler, and Ravel. There is little that these figures have in common with what came later, but Prendergast seems like he has to start early and so comes up with these guys. His inclusion of Schoenberg and the other Viennese composers is just crazy, since most of the minimalists (the real inspiration of techno, house, and drum & bass in the 80s and 90s) were trying as hard as possible *not* to write like that. Ditto for the inclusion of Pierre Boulez, although his friend Stockhausen merits inclusion.

Passing over the rock era (I'm not competent to comment much on this genre), I must take issue with his treatment of electronic music, which is somewhat US-centric. Sasha is presented as a minor figure that didn't achieve much until 1999, when his Ibiza compilation came out, when he had really be earning praise since 1990 (when the British press was calling him "The Man Like God"). The book then says that Sasha left the U.K. entirely for Australia, which is simply false. Frequent collaborator John Digweed is called "The James Brown of DJing", leading me to suspect that the author has never seen Digweed live.

This is a really disappointing and often-wrong book, and a bit of an odd duck because, expect for the "coolness" of it all, the people mentioned here have little in common. If you are interested in innovative classical music in the 20th century, try Griffith's MODERN MUSIC AND AFTER: Directions Since 1940 (Oxford University Press, 1995). Similarly, those interested in electronic music would do well to find a more focused guide.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. on September 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
When I first came across The Ambient Century in 2000, I was just out of music school with a confused and fragmented musical mind constantly questioning the value of academic vs. pop, high art vs. low art, complexity vs. simplicity, etc.

Really and truly, this is the book that helped me start putting the pieces back together.

As its backbone, The Ambient Century discusses how a HUGE range of artists used expanded sonic possibilities (20th century technology) in their own idiosyncratic way to form their own signature style. (This is instructive without being pedantic; what makes "that" band sound like "that" band?) And, unlike elitist music professors and students, rather then putting so-called "classical" artists and "pop" artists on different planes, Prendergast gives them all a refreshing degree of equality.

I most enjoyed the sections on Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Vangelis, the Grateful Dead, Jean Michel Jarre, The Cocteau Twins and The Stone Roses. While other readers will find their own favorites, one thing is certain: this book will remind you of (and even reintroduce you to) artists and albums you've sort-of forgotten about. And then the book will lend you fresh ears with which to hear them again! (The author also provides an excellent annotated listening list of recommended titles at the end of each article.)

You won't need to look hard at other reviews on this page to see that this book has its detractors. Some have even suggested that more "academic" books are superior...But in a book "about music," isn't this to be expected? When people are writing things such as, why isn't "this" or "that" artist included? or "How come the author didn't mention "their" awesome concert in San Francisco in 1971?" they miss the point.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By demomo on October 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is much more of a "who I think is cool" book than one with any information or analysis. Good for those who want to name-drop, but not for real students of music.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth M. Osowski on December 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
I can't begin to describe how bad this book is, but I will try. Luckily, I bought it on sale. I would have immediately chucked it, but I held on to it for two reasons. First, I love a lot of the music discussed. Second, there are some decent photos. These are also the reasons why I bought it in the first place. I eventually got rid of it, but not before it gave me a few laughs. How did this author get a contract for this book? It's basically an incoherent collection of musings on his own record collection. His writing on the early 20th century masters (Mahler, Satie, Debussy, etc.) is spectacularly awful. If you are new to classical music, PLEASE do not read what this author has to say about it. How do Mahler's symphonies qualify as "Ambient"? The author attempts to label any music he finds "cool" as "ambient." His writing style represents the absolute worst in pop music criticism - not only is it vapid, but it's remarkably awkward, a fact he attempts to conceal by including many flowery adjectives and catch phrases. AVOID, PLEASE!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on April 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
(This is my 3/27/01 review of the original hardcover edition, which is available used for a lot less than this out-of-print paperback edition. For some reason the paperback is listed separately, which I only just now realized.)

Your evaluation of THE AMBIENT CENTURY will depend on what you're looking for. I expected serious analysis, and by that criteria would give it 1 star. If what you're interested in, though, is an eclectic encyclopedia of interesting 20th century musicians, loosely grouped by the theme of "ambience," which is never defined, then you might think this is great. (I can't comment on the fact-checking criticism, but to me it's a secondary point.) Prendergast moves from "high art" composers including Debussy and Stockhausen, to "minimalism," to rock, broken into categories such as psychedelic, krautrock and synthesizer music, to the '90s techno/house/drum&bass/ambient trend.

However, his definition of "ambient" involves "music being deconstructed" by Mahler and Debussy (sounds really "postmodern," but what does it mean?), and developments in technology/electronics, along with an "interest in pure sound." He pronounces: "[T]he bleeding heart of electronic progress had by its very nature rendered all recorded music, by definition, Ambient." (4) Given this sort of cosmic perspective Prendergast could have included all music, and what he does include seems to be more or less "cool stuff that I like." Harsh, I know, but does Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," by any stretch of the conceptual imagination, belong on a list of the Essential 100 Recordings of 20th Century Ambient Music? If so, our author fails to offer any explanation.
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