Portland is a hotspot for ambient and experimental music. Maybe it’s because the city encourages long walks, and it seems like everyone is in their own head for many months of the year.
Some of the genre’s most interesting and influential artists hail from Portland, from the Japanese-influenced Visible Cloaks to the purifying noises of Yellow Swans and Daniel Menche to the synth magic of Jason Urick. This list shines a spotlight on five of the most original artists working in the city today, plus he’s been an enviable local legend despite being dead for nearly 30 years. I’m putting the spotlight on you.
This local piano teacher, designer and musician is adept at the art of hustle and bustle. Many of her releases are only available as limited edition cassettes, and her website offers everything from Circle of Fifths reference posters for musicians to sheet music for piano arrangements. Pokemon Themes (remember Lilycove City?). Her love of anime and video games permeates nearly everything she creates. vidya worlda 12-album series of “expansion packs” for video games that exist only in sound. Necessities: vidya world, heart scale
The longtime Portland resident, who records as Pulse Emitter and under his own name, was inspired as a child by listening to NPR’s “Space Music” program. hearts of space A 20 year career exploring the outer realms of synthesizer music. Groetsch has had at least seven of his releases this year. Self under his own name released his six ambient his albums. home again as primus inter pares and one Pulse Emitter album, eveningfrom the cranky Chicago label Hausu Mountain. Necessities: home again, evening
Ernest Hood has spent the last few years in hell for a man who died in 1995. neighborhood Having received a much-needed reissue from Freedom to Spend in 2019, the label unearthed an entire album of unreleased songs this year, in the mid-’70s. Return to Woodlandswhere the graceful proto-ambient palette of primitive synths and blossoming zither picks up neighborhood Stopped. Necessities: neighborhood, Return to Woodlands
One of Portland’s most prolific musicians has released over 17 releases on Bandcamp this year. S/T For powerful and personal sound collages Shadowboxing until your hands bleed (Not to mention sending out virtual pop star Hatsune Miku as “Hot Sauce Miku”). Matsui’s work epitomizes the recent move towards more personal themes in his ambient music and the freedom of Bandcamp to let artists flood the market with experiments and side his quests. Necessities: Shadowboxing until your hands bleed, S/T
On his album, longtime Ground Kontrol DJ Paul Dickow delves into the roots of the goofy rave tunes he incorporates into his sets. Skyburner of unknown cause this year. Yet his catalog spans decades and encompasses dance music, erratic glitch pop, gorgeous ambient music, his shimmering vocal distortions, his fantasias. His Bandcamp is worth digging deep into, and if it doesn’t have “something for everyone” at all, there’s definitely something for anyone who’s read this far. Necessities: joy of drum solo, music for ramping, Skyburner of unknown cause
Listening to Patricia Wolfe’s ambient music is like hearing the world through another ear.A local artist celebrates the year find you in othersa brilliant meditation on loss, and followed it with those who cheered shortly afterwards See-throughShe recently released an album of recordings from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. This benefits the American Bird Conservancy and allows Portlanders to travel to the other side of the state from the comfort of their speakers. Necessities: find you in others, Malheur Wildlife Refuge: late spring