Consider the virtually simultaneous appearance on earth of the following: Ambient music (mid-1970s); the Sony Walkman (1979); MTV (1981). Coincidence? Yes, but...
Admit it: you have spent time -- valuable time -- imagining what a TV show or film based on your life would look like. Who would play you? Who would play that jerk of a kid who picked on you in junior high? (May I suggest Seth Green?) And, most importantly, what would be on the soundtrack?
Music has always been personal, but the Walkman made it private. And what is private music, if not a soundtrack? Yes, before the Walkman it was possible to take one's music along to a picnic, but boomboxes actually were a means of sharing music. Although the gentle (ha!) folks at Apple like to claim their iPod as the revolutionary music player of the modern era, they're just wrong.
The advent of MTV and other cable channels dedicated to niche pleasures (food, animals, home decor, etc.) further encouraged consumer citizens to see the world as one's own personal pleasure dome. We could all star in the biopic of our own lives. Fun! It was nice to listen to The Smiths' "How Soon is Now" while feeling glum and riding the bus around town... alone... (sniff, we were fourteen) but what about the moments in life -- in the ongoing film of one's life -- when pop songs don't apply? That's when you need ambient music, something without vocals or attention-drawing solos, to simply enhance the mood of the moment -- your own, private moment.
Thus, John Davis. Well, not exactly. Perhaps the San Francisco-based artist John Davis is the anti-ambient musician, in the sense that his music and his entire aesthetic project is designed to engage the listener. Is that capital-A Ambient? I don't know. But his use of found sounds and love of long chord progressions tags him for the genre anyway. Sound recordings are just a part of his ongoing artistic oeuvre, which can be experienced at various artsy establishments around town. But his newest CD is the sweet and clever At Home and Afield, released by local label Root Strata. It's a 3", two-track CD that sounds like the inner yearnings of an old television antenna. Don't just take my word for it, according to Davis's website the instrumentation includes "field recordings, guitar, bowed cymbals, and household objects." Think metal whisk, not George Foreman grill. It's beautiful and slow and would make the perfect soundtrack to your six o'clock meander through an abandoned industrial warehouse. Find an old boombox, record the CD onto a cassette tape, pop it into a Walkman, and go.
The CD is packaged in a lovely little hand-stenciled case, and included in the reasonable price of $4.98 are the makings for your own tiny contact microphone, which can be used to record pretty nature sounds or to spy on your arch-nemesis. Davis has created an online archive of found sounds and would love to post your recordings there, too. Now that's what I call personal -- if not private -- music.