Ian William Craig makes ambient music that grabs people's attention

Ambient music composer Ian William Craig talks about his unique sound, which he is presenting Friday at the National Music Centre

Turning old casettes into a new sound comes naturally for Edmonton post-classical composer

Ambient music creator Ian William Craig describes his sound as 'a kind of a space into which you can walk.' (Courtesy National Music Centre)

Ian William Craig breaks things and along the way when transforming sound into a contemporary kind of symphony.

The Edmonton-based, post-classical composer and vocalist spoke to Doug Dirks on The Homestretch Friday, just ahead of a performance at the National Music Centre.

While Craig's music might elude easy definition — Rolling Stone described it as "a junkyard of busted tape machines crooning a melancholic lullaby," in 2016, when it declared Craig one of "ten new artists you need to know" — which works just as well as any other metaphor out there.

Craig, a classically trained singer and composer, has as much of a way with words and images as he does with sound.

"Ambient music is best described as a kind of a space into which you can walk," he said. 

"There's a really interesting interplay between something that you can pay attention to or something that works equally well as something  that you can just kind of exist with."

"An ambient space is the kind of music that does both of those things at the same time."

Craig said that people experience his music in a variety of different ways.

"Some people I've seen lie down on the floor and let it wash over them. Some people are very actively engaged with it," he said.

"Some people like to have it on in the background. Some people meticulously pull it apart. So yeah, there's all kinds of different levels that people can assume with it."

The nature of sound

Ambient music might not be on the radio, but it's hardly hiding, Craig said.

"One of the things that ambient music gives you an appreciation for is the nature of of sound," he said. "And just listening and paying attention to our ambient environment, so you can find it in any place where that needs to be amplified or where attention is required."

Craig's sound comes from manipulating tapes with reel to reel or cassettes and feeding them back into each other. (National Music Centre)

Craig's music-making technique sounds as if it's one part post-classical composition, one-part junkyard dog.

"I have tape decks that I've manipulated," he says. "So I've taken them apart and put them back together in kind of the wrong way.

'They dictate how things go — so being a vocalist, I am able to kind of generate a motif on the fly and then the tape decks will grab it and change it and give it back to me and then I'll dialogue with them.

"It's kind of a conversational process."

And then he adds words.

"When I was growing up, I was really into hair metal and that sort of thing," he said. "So the notion of a ballad or the lyric really resonates.

"Unfortunately a lot of that stuff as I grew older got a bit cheesy for me, but I still really like the notion of of playing with words," he added. 

"Not that the [ambient music] genre is really known for its word play — but having something that can kind of anchor the listener. Putting a lyric into the tape deck right, and having it transform both the meaning and the sound is something that's really interesting for me."

With files from The Homestretch

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Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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