Ambient music is music that creates a mood or ambiance. While the style has its roots at the beginning of the 20th century, the term was not coined until the 1970s when it really evolved as a genre.
One of the first people known to experiment with this type of music was Erik Satie. A French composer, he wanted to develop music that would play well in the background during dinners and other such activities. Composers continued to experiment with this type of background music until Brian Eno really helped the genre take form in the 70s.
Eno was influenced by Satie and wanted to create music that would work well in the background and capable of being ignored. However, he also wanted this music to be interesting enough that one could just sit and listen to it if desired. He is generally credited as being the first person to coin the phrase ambient music and helped to solidify it as a true genre of music.
Some composers have chosen to focus on ambient music as their genre of choice while others have experimented with it as part of an expanded repertoire. Examples of the latter are such well-known groups such as Pink Floyd and Yes.
Variations of the style have since come into being including ambient house, ambient dub and ambient industrial. It could be argued that these are not quite as much background music as the true genre as it was described by Brian Eno. However, as with all music, that is subjective.
Chillout is another category that is similar. This type of music has gained notoriety through clubs such as the Buddha Bar in France and, especially, through a variety of compilation CDs featuring music played in them.
Because this style of music is often used in soundtracks, people are exposed to it all the time without realizing it. Films such as Dune and Clockwork Orange feature ambient music scores. It is also used in various television shows and video games.
Ambient music is also often heard in the background at spas and classes such as for yoga. This is a more New Age type of the style and is frequently used for creating the mood at various health or spiritual types of classes or treatments.
With all of these varieties to choose from, there is the right style to provide the soundtrack for any activity. From meditation to skateboard competitions, ambient music can create just the right mood.