I've been listening to di.fm for several years now, and it's almost always my background music of choice while doing something creative. I usually go for the "Space Dreams" channel. This interest must ultimately come from the Cosmos soundtrack (Vangelis), which I've been familiar with since third grade. Over the Christmas break I began to experiment with my own ambient music creations, using my battered old synth/keyboard (which still works and sounds great, btw). Perhaps I'll share some links to that in the future. The process of doing that, however, made me ask the question: what exactly IS ambient music? As usual I went straight to wikipedia and found this great quote from Brian Eno regarding ambient music:
"Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening
attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable
as it is interesting."
That is interesting, because I've noticed with my own experiments I've tended to make the music "too musical" - even the simplest songs tend to have layered melodies and whatnot. My most successful ambient track so far has consisted mostly of long, low, sustained E minor and A minor chords interchanging, with stream-of-consciousness synth flutes popping in and out. There's very little to it. But when I sit down to listen, it's the only one so far that is properly "ambient" in that I can ignore it on the conscious level while it still affects my state of mind and helps set a mood.
According to what I've read, ambient music is intended to enhance a mood or environment. I hate silence, but when I listen to rock, jazz or classical, I mostly actually listen. Ambient music does enhance my creativity - it helps me get into a relaxed mood where I can let my subconscious bubble up. Most of what I create is fantastical or mysterious anyway, and most ambient music certainly helps bring that out.
My late friend Ian Thomas began experimenting with ambient music in the year before his death with a project called Vulture Club, which consisted mostly of long, sustained whooshes and low tides of deep vibrations. It was actually atonal - almost white noise, but not quite. He was interested primarily in vibrations transferred from speakers to body. Whenever I try to write or record ambient music, I always think of him. I like to believe his spirit is riding the cosmic vibrations.