My habit has been, for some time now, to fall asleep listening to ambient music by either Brain Eno or Harold Budd or both. When it's Brian Eno, the playlist is called Anthropocene; when it's Harold Budd, it's called Acropolis; when both, which includes Budd's collaborations with and Robin Guthrie (cofounder of Cocteau Twins), it's called "Oort Cloud." I basically can't sleep without this music and the artificial sounds of an overwhelming body of water. But the playlists have been the same for almost a decade—the same tracks, night after night. The soundtrack for my dreams consists primarily of the pop-minimalism of Music For Airports, the neo-impressionism of The Pavilion of Dreams, and the synthesis of the two, The Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl

As far as I could tell, the music for my sleep was complete and would go with me to the "six feet deep." But this certainty was shaken when I learned, on November 17, 2023, that one of the most famous rappers in the 50-year history of hip-hop, André 3000, dropped, of all things, an ambient album, New Blue Sun. Was he to become our age's Brain Eno? Was this album his "Discreet Music," another piece of music that sends me to sleep? Three nights ago, I went to bed with New Blue Sun and, though I love the album (read Dave Segal's review), I found its soporific powers not up to snuff.

The main problem with New Blue Sun is precisely what makes it great: it's too creative. André 3000's experimental flute and Carlos Niño's expert percussions do not follow the key program of Satiean musique d’ameublementmusic that sinks into the background, into the furniture, into chambers and palaces of your dreams. Even the album's most soothing track, “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time”—track which became, last week, "the longest-running song ever to have hit the chart, surpassing Tool’s ‘Fear Inoculum,’ at 10:21 in length”—is still too busy, too inventive, too absorbing. André 3000 is not searching for inner peace; he is searching for answers. This is the thinking on every track. In Twilight of the Gods, Friedrich Nietzsch claimed he was "philosophizing with a hammer"; in New Blue Sun, André 3000 philosophizes with a flute. 

But is this ambient album good for the morning? My playlist for this time is called Pacific. It includes music from the leading figures of Japan's environmental music movement (Satoshi Ashikawa, Yoshio Ojima, and, of course, Hiroshi Yoshimura), which began in the 1980s and is collected in a superb album released by Light in the Attic Records (Kankyō Ongaku). And the ambient and Pacific Northwest dub of Vancouver BC's Loscil. Maybe New Blue Sun would fit into my morning sounds? To be honest, it also failed this test. It was still too active. One only has to compare Loscil's "Angle of List," a key part of my mornings, and André 3000's "Ghandi [sic], Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J.C. / Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy," to hear the difference. The former is a pure mood and movement; the latter, does move but is lost in each of its moments.

On Sunday, December 4, I decided to take New Blue Sun for a walk to the park, Genesse Park, which is next to Lake Washington. Maybe, I thought, André 3000's instinctual approach to the ambient genre is best suited not for sleeping, or my rise-and-shine reading (the first rays of light on the pages). But all I could think about during the walk was the relentlessness of rain, which transformed a big part of my beloved park into mud that, at nearly every step, sucked at the soles of my water-soaked sneakers like soul-starved demons. This was not an ideal situation for flute philosophizing in the 21st century.

So, what is this album good for? For now, for me, it helps make sense of this fascinating and recent article in PsyPost, "New neuroscience research upends traditional theories of early language learning in babies."

The article concerns a discovery made by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin. It comes down to this: the rhythm of speech "is crucial for language learning in infants." This music of language precedes the meaning-making sign system of language. Before we speak; we dance. 


The findings challenge traditional theories of language acquisition that emphasize the rapid learning of phonetic elements. Instead, the study suggests that the individual sounds of speech are not processed reliably until around seven months, and the addition of these sounds into language is a gradual process... “We believe that speech rhythm information is the hidden glue underpinning the development of a well-functioning language system,” said Goswami ["a professor at the University of Cambridge"]. “Infants can use rhythmic information like a scaffold or skeleton to add phonetic information on to. For example, they might learn that the rhythm pattern of English words is typically strong-weak, as in ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy,’ with the stress on the first syllable. They can use this rhythm pattern to guess where one word ends and another begins.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? A brilliant rapper abandons rapping for the flute, for music, for sheer rhythm. It now makes more sense. This album is a sort of homecoming, a return to the essence of rap itself.