The frigid air, a fresh snowfall, snow-covered streets exposed by artificial lights — winter is a time for reflection of place. We sense nature in a new way, and the perspective of beauty and art is appreciated under a canopy of glistening stars persevering over a sea of darkness. Some find comfort in winter through its gentle isolation while others wrap warm sentiments in glimmering aural lethargy. We take deeper breaths. We reflect longer. We move slower. Winter can be relentless. . . desolate. But for some, it’s a spark of creativity.
For the following artists, winter is in the hearts of the imagination, and these ambient selections give us breathtaking winter soundscapes. Perception impacts differently during the day as it does at night. From the minimal to the fantastical, this is a modest look at ambient music and their winter interpretations.
Harold Budd, Brian Eno — The Chill Air
What a way to start this humble adventure than with two legends. The second installment in Brian Eno’s Ambient series, Eno joins back up with Harold Budd to create 1980’s “The Plauteux of Mirror.”
Two years earlier, Budd and Eno had their first collaborative work with “The Pavilion of Dreams.” It would not be until 1984 when they would fully collaborate again. However, Eno brought in Budd to join the series. “Ambient 2″ is mainly Budd’s improvisational compositions with Eno producing. The album builds open spaces with different thematic tones under minimal piano cadence. “The Chill Air” stands out as the perfect aural definition to the essence of winter. The song does not last long, just long enough to define one of Eno’s greatest achievements, thanks to Budd’s eclectic compositions.
Vangelis — Antarctica Echoes
“Antarctica Echoes” comes from the 1983 soundtrack to the film “Antarctica,” directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara. The album was nominated for “Best Music Score” by the Japan Academy. With the album comes feelings of isolation through a vacuum of vast space. However, with “Antarctica Echoes,” there is a degree of whimsy with his vibraphonic keys. We get a degree of fantastical electronic surges and pulses that add to Vangelis’s minimal pedigree. Through the listener’s melancholy, there is beauty. And out of that comes one of the more breathtaking songs of the genre.
Yagya — Snowflake 6
Capturing the beauty of the world through gentle electronic synopsis, Rhythm of Snow is Aalsteinn Gumundsson’s 2012 reaction to seasonality. Yagya’s dulcet aural long strokes simply glow while overlaying sporadic pulsating drum taps that keep a minimal pulse to the low frequency. The song is best as a pure headphone experience. There’s comfort that lies in the strength of Yagya’s synth layering and a unique perspective to ambient cold wave.
Fionnlagh & Warmth — Glow
The title track to their December 2023 release of the same name, Mark Findley and Augustin Mena (known as Fionlagh & Warmth) create a glowing soundscape that points far north. Confined in a simple pop song construction and wrapped up in just over three minutes, the droning textures form prismatic spectacles of wonder.
Runes Order — Drifting
Founded by Claudio Dondo in Genoa, Italy, the project started in 1988 as Order 1968. Inspired more by industrial landscapes, the early days was sterilized synth structure. The band transformed in 1992 into Runes Order. And in 1994, Dondo added Daniele Margarelli and his wife Paola to the roster.
The band looked more toward cosmic order and nature as influence through the inspiration of Tangerine Dream and krautrock. “Winter” is not an album that is often recited during their 1994 heyday, dwarfed by a trilogy of releases (“The Land of Silence”, “Odisseum” and “Waiting Forever”) the same year. “Drifting” feels more like retro synth dawdling under the canopy of 1970s giallo film score, but then transcends into a mesmerizing dark synth masterpiece.
Glässbird — Overwinter
The final album in the A Sonic Expedition Series, Glässbird looks at the extreme southern pole to foster inspiration into the endearing sound environment that makes up this album. What really sets this song apart are the plucked strings meandering like light reflecting on ice crystals. Released in October 2023, “Antarctica” is a majestic voyage into the ever-evolving snow-capped world that bears gentle grace over an unrelenting landscape of polar caps and frigid environments.
Boards of Canada — Cold Earth
Sometimes our winter inspiration does not come from the natural beauty of snow-capped mountains or intimate winter adventures under a canopy of pines. Here, we journey down urban pathways engulfed in the grays of skyscrapers.
“Cold Earth” is the intrusive light pouring over city streets as a cold wind stirs up the starkness in overcoats smothering a population of people just trying to survive life in the city. The song is escapism as it’s easy to get lost in yourself as synth swells flow over chilled beats. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” emerged in 2013 as a Record Store Day release. It turned out to be one of Boards of Canada’s more interesting releases.
Hiroshi Yoshimura — Clouds
Hiroshi Yoshimura is a key figure in the history of Japanese ambient music. Home recorded on a minimal setup of keyboard and Fender Rhodes, “Clouds” takes cues from Erik Satie and Vangelis in ways of sparse note meanderings, painting distant daydreams through iced windows.
“Music for Nine Post Cards” may be Yoshimura’s first concrete collection of music, it’s also an endearing recording of soft sounds.
Biosphere — Poa Alpina
“Poa Alpina” is like standing on the sand banks and staring into the abyss only to find a natural cadence of repetition that is soothing. Biosphere just knows how to make it feel a little mysterious. What lies under the surface? Flawlessness thanks to legendary Norwegian synth artist Geir Aule Jenssen.
In the 1980s, Jenssen was a part of moody synth group Bel Canto, landing a North American deal with Netwerk Records. Jenssen flirted with Acid House and New Beat until landing as Biosphere. Throughout the 1990s, he collaborated with various avant garde artists including Pete Namlook to Hector Zazou. By the late 1990s, Jenssen released the purely atmospheric album, “Substrata,” in which “Poa Alpina” resides. Such an interesting composer with a well-storied career!
Mount Shrine — Winter Restlessness
We end this journey with something we all can feel intently: the anxiety of time stretched out. It’s why we pre-occupy ourselves during this time. “Winter Restlessness” is a 10-minute field guide into a space that is as otherworldly as it is ethereal. Funneled by static and what sounds like radio signals of scientists, machinists, engineers, astronauts, whoever. Unknown sounds by unknown people feed into the strangeness of the moment.
Cesar Alexandre’s layering is eternal. And as dissonant in emotion this song feels, the beauty in the world that Alexandre has created spans into the universe, reminding us of the wide-angled scope of reality and human’s role in nature, working diligently to understand it all.
You can find the full playlist here on Spotify.