The Most Beautiful Ambient Song You Have Ever Heard
A brief tutorial on making sounds to feel calm and slow down
Ambient music is incredibly relaxing. Those slow, gentle synthy textures just lull me into ease. They don’t beg for my attention. They just hug it. I feel something similar with downtempo music. I slow down. My thoughts and body meet the pace of the slower rhythms. A few minutes later I’m calmer. The sounds just soothe me.
What’s going on in the world right now is terrifying. With the general tone of anxiety, worry, dread, and fear, any way to soothe oneself feels like an essential tool.
In this tutorial, I’ll share how to take a sound from youtube, and make it into an ambient track. The technique we will use draws from musique concrète. We will begin with some recorded sound as a source material, and manipulate it. More specifically, we will slow down the speed of the playback. This reveals certain sonic qualities, reduces the tempo, and generally makes the sounds even more soothing.
If you’re curious what it feels like I made this video:
With the general tone of anxiety, worry, dread, and fear with what’s happening in the world right now, any way to soothe oneself feels like an essential tool.
Find a sound you love
The first step is to find a sound you love, and that makes you feel wonderful. I encourage you to find sounds with generally pleasant harmonies. These help with relaxing. There are many sounds available on YouTube, which is why we’ll start there. Here is a sound I love.
It is so stunning. Take a moment to thank Boards of Canada for this magic.
You might wonder why we don’t just slow down the sound using the feature in the YouTube player. It doesn’t sound as wonderful.
Get the tools
We’ll need a few tools. youtube-dl will stream from youtube and mplayer will slow down the playback. On macOS you can install both of these using Homebrew. Once you’ve installed both of these, you can plug it all together.
With the terminal open, the following command will create a stream of the youtube URL. Here I’m using my URL example from above.
>youtube-dl -o - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA8pOHZz4M4
Now pipe this stream into mplayer. Two arguments become useful.
-speed let’s you change the playback speed, which is what we will be using to slow the track down.
-loop 0 will play it forever. This is good for when you want to take a nap.
In the following command I slow down playback by 0.5 and loop it forever.
>youtube-dl -o - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA8pOHZz4M4 | mplayer -novideo -speed 0.5 -loop 0 -
If you already have a sound file, you can just use the mplayer part, without creating the stream and the pipe with youtube-dl.
>mplayer -novideo -speed 0.5 -loop 0 <your-video-or-audio-file>
You’ve found bliss
As it plays, notice how it feels. Sit with the sounds a bit. Maybe lie down. Let your body settle. Let your attention settle to the sounds. What do you notice now? What textures become more apparent? Let your curiosity guide you closer to the sound. You can replay it even slow if you like. Gradually going slower and slower, become more and more settled. Calmer, and calmer.
This is wonderful.
The process is similar to taking a vinyl record and playing it back slower. Each moment, each sound on that finite record is prolonged. Perhaps that vinyl record is my day, and what I do. My day to day activities are limited right now. I stay inside. I have an opportunity to slow down. Being in the same space, going between the same things, maybe I can relish in this slowing down, rather than it feeling forced.
Applying that process to sounds here brings me some affirmation. Slowing them down. Spending more time with them. It becomes easier to slow down myself.
Bonus sound ✨ Have you heard of the fujara? It is an absolutely beautiful instrument. It’s an overtone flute, and the sounds of the harmonics are brilliant. You can run this with the sounds of the fujara.
>youtube-dl -o - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-yt7DWJ7iI | mplayer -novideo -speed 0.4 -loop 0 -
gaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh ily fujara