Some musicians I know are not comfortable with the term "New Age Music". I mean, what is really new about it? Can we be that presumptuous to believe we somehow have a magical music that does something no other music has done? Perhaps not. But there are a few characteristics and distinctions I thought I would explore (Along with sub genres such as Ambient, relaxation, spiritual, World Fusion, Native American, Chill, progressive and others.).
It was Andreas Vollenweider who first introduced me to what was being called "New Age Music." It was a wonderfully eclectic mix of romantic instrumental music that had the rhythm, drive, and vitality of Rock, and well as the virtuosity of Jazz. BUT, with something different. Something deeper, and something a bit well - joyous. Something that expanded my listening experience.
I guess this "jived" with my 60's sensibilities and happened about the same time I discovered the wonderful music coming from the Windham Hill label. Specifically the minimalist piano of George Winston, the guitar of William Ackerman, and the beautiful synthetic textures of now famous film composer Mark Isham. The year was 1981.
This was music that invited one to read between the lines, yet it was more accessible and perhaps less clinical than classical. While it was soothing in the background, it seemed to be something that actually stimulated the environment. It was then that I realized that I had heard this years before. 1974 to be exact. I was studying Ethnomusicology at Southern Illinois University and heard the most wonderful guitar music in the background of the art museum. It turned out to be Robbie Basho, a very eclectic guitarist (And a HUGE influence on my guitar playing) connected to what was called the new "American classical guitar" movement as represented by John Fahey, Leo Kottke and others. Robbie offered the finger style approach of Fehey, but the structure could be almost like a meditative Indian Raga.
Well, THAT'S when I realized that , no, the first time I heard this deep soothing music was when I discovered the music of Ravi Shankar (Of coarse, via The Beatles.). It didn't settle into a 3 minute format that mourned lost love of teenage angst heard on the radio. This was something deeper. AND, it was really starting to penetrate the western world. The great violinist Yehudi Menuhin did a number of albums with Ravi called West Meets East . A dynamic and incredible fusion of eastern and western music that at once thrilled, as well as invited the audience to meditate or focus on ones sense of spirit. The great Jazz flutist Paul Horn came along with his wonderful recordings done in The Taj Mahal. His improvisations took advantage of the wonderful and mystical natural reverberations of the building itself. These melodic explorations floated and haunted one into a deep sense of inner searching.
Later I head about Paul Winter and his explorations of using music with the sounds of nature and wild life. This wasn't just a blend of soothing sounds from the environment, but an interaction of sound WITH the environment. His work in utilizing a sort of "call and response" with animals in the wild was quite unique ( He experimented by actually playing with wolves and hump backed whales. He found they would "interact" with his short melodic phrases). Even though Paul was considered a "Jazz musician," his compositions with The Paul Winter Consort were more melodic and romantically based. It focused on melody, beauty, and passion, rather than a purely abstract dance of the harmonic spectrum heard within jazz.*
In reading about this music that stretches outside the previously mentioned three minute format, I realized that ignoring classical music would be unfair. Classical is a sophisticated musical form that definitely allows room for inner exploration and expansion (As does Jazz.). I discovered that some New Age music fans found classical to be a bit clinical. It didn't always have those romantically based repeated "hooks" or melodies that resolved, and pulled at the heartstrings. Perhaps it wasn't as accessible. With its exploration of tension and resolution, Classical is a form that expresses the complete sphere of the human existence - from great heights, to utter tragedy. Just as non verbal sound can be used by people in communication ( Facial expression, hand movement, a stance), music can also use non melodic and non harmonic sound to make a point. In other words, it expresses all of the emotional sphere from positive to negative. I believe many of those that are drawn to New Age music want less expression of tension, and more of an expression of resolution and peace. In the defense of formal classical music, we live in a world of duality. There is no dark without light, no happy without sad. That's why I accept that music isn't always there to message the pool of positive human emotion.
BUT, the purpose of using music to enhance positive experiences is completely valid. It can be a valuable tool in helping one learn to deal with tension, and LACK of resolution in ones life. So I completely understand the viewpoint. I remember seeing the movie THE NATURAL with Robert Redford and Glenn Close. I was so taken by the nobility and serene beauty and grace of Glenn Close's character that it was hard for me to see her in THE RAZORS EDGE where she played a sociopath bent on destruction. But, as an artist, I understood her desire to be able to use her skills in a wide range of roles. She wanted to express the completeness of her craft.
Back To The Roots
Of course the 70's and early 80's brings to mind the impact of Brian Eno. Although formal music had it's representatives of "ambient - ish" music - say by Erik Satie,Gorecki, schoenberg and others, it was Brian that brought it to greater prominence ( One would also note Harold Budd, Steven Halpern, Kit Watkins, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Michael Stearns, and others in this genre.). Brian was able to rely on his own natural sense of what "felt" right - of what created and affected mood (The humorist in me sometimes imagines Brian saying to himself "what have I done?" when he sees the vast amount of this new music hitting the horizon). Stephen Halpern would take a more clinical approach. Terry Riley was a cross between the minimalist, classical and ambient-ish. He is a favorite of mine.
In the early twentieth century, painters became bored with reality. After all, the camera was around and "painted" reality quite well. Painters then sought to portray something more than a surface impression. They sought to paint or portray what lies beneath the human experience. This lead to vast explorations of the abstract. Their use of color, image, and shape, was able to create the same background wash that Eno did musically. You might not have been able to dance to it, or sing along a repeated melodic line, but you just "felt" that this was something beautiful, like the wash of soft blues blending into gray, and evolving into a bright sun. AND, these aural images left a lot to the imagination. They didn't say "I want you to think about this specific event, object, or story." It created an atmosphere that allowed one to be independently creative. It was in effect, music that stimulated thought, and allowed the listener to experience his own inner sense of being. The last four decades have also brought to the forefront the use of "new instruments" such as the synthesizer. Perhaps it's most well known composer is Wendy Carlos who's "Switched On Bach" (And subsequent albums) opened a new horizon for painting on the musical canvas. Matched with the continued evolution of technology, these sophisticated new "synthesizers" have allowed the composer a completely new pallet of colors to use in the compositional process. Of course, the "multi track" recorder has made quite a difference, and Mike Oldfield utilized it to the extreme with TUBULAR BELLS, his soundtrack for the movie THE EXORCIST. He showed 1.) how an unusual and unique piece of music can sell (Something most record industry executives have forgotten.), and 2.) what one man can do with a single recorder. One can't ignore the impact of Vangelis (And his work with Jon Anderson). Especially with his Oscar winning theme for the movie Chariots Of Fire. Lastly Enigma actually had a "massive" hit on regular radio. Pretty unusual. Their music has a sense and feel of "groove" as well as mysticism and hit the radio waves quite hard.
A Brief Influence of Radio
It can't be omitted that Public Radio became a vehicle for the exposure of some of this new music. Hearts of Space championed some of the best and most adventurous ambient/Space ambient music. It then grew into a label and expanded it's play lists beyond that considered just space music. Musical Starstreams grew into a similar vein but initially focused on commercial radio that dared to expand their horizons. ECHOES became another well known syndicated radio show known to offer the public something that enriched the musical pallet of listeners. Echoes host John Diliberto also writes for some publications and is considered to be very influential. He's a good one for focusing on quality and ignoring trends. Then came "The Wave" and what grew into instrumental music with a more commercial bent. Presently. Satellite radio such as Music Choice, DMX, Muzak, and Sirus have forged open a wide area and it remains to be seen how this AND the new internet stations such as LIVE 365 will do. I'm betting of a strong survival. The great thing about this movement within radio, is that it will continue to ensure a home for music the corporate world has ignored.
More past inspiration
During the 60's and 70's what some termed "art rock" or "progressive rock" came about. These musicians sought to merge many musical styles, and to expand the boundaries of rock & roll. Groups like Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Caravan, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Tangerine Dream, Happy The Man, Hatfield And The North, Matching Mole, Soft Machine, McDonald and Giles, and Gong, utilized many musical forms within popular music of the time. Elizabethan Recorders, a fusion of Jazz and Classical, as well as the creative use of time, rhythm, and melody, were utilized. Some could be a bit "in your face", and some could be gentle with a sense of mysticism at it's core. BUT, the name of the game was the shedding of limits and the championing of expansion and experiment. I can't say enough about this musical movement. I am especially excited about the musicians willingness to risk and experiment, as well as dive within. Artist-shop is a great place to find the most of these type of releases. Their catalog is vast.
The name of the game was to use music to explore "within." In 1980, the music industry started to shift back into the 3 minute format. It is my belief that the record companies were not successful in selling "art" music, and money seems to be a prime motivator.
Going back in time.
Of course if we were to follow this pattern back in time we will see a connection to music that has been with us throughout the ages. Think of Howard Hanson's Romantic symphony. Think of Aaron Copeland, Beethoven, Mozart, Ravel, Debussy, Erik Satie, and of coarse early music - especially Gregorian Chant. If we were to take a cultural "hop", we would also speak of Buddhist chants, Native American Flute and drumming, Japanese Shakuhachi flute, Javanese Gamalan and much more. All of these fantastic cultures "tap" into the reservoir of the human spirit and the rhythm of the earth.
Mickey Hart , drummer for THE GRATEFUL DEAD, has written on this subject in his book Planet Drum. AND, there has been an explosion of groups using drumming as a tool for exploring that "sense of unity" deep within us all. Arthur Hull travels the world creating drum circles for various companies and organizations. He uses the drum as a tool and metaphor to show people how to work together, cooperate, and create on a deeper more global and communal level. Rhythm can embrace and surround you. It can be your partner in dance, creation, productivity, and spirit.
Presently on our planet, there is a concept of globalization, as well as the shrinking and redefining of borders. We are not just separate countries and cultures. We are one people, and music is integrating these various cultures within the structure of its form. Oregon was a band that really caught my attention. Their multicultural mix of music was always played with an astounding level of musicianship. As I said in the first paragraph, some musicians don't like the term "New Age". It's detractors felt the level of musicianship was well - if not sub par - perhaps a bit pretentious. Oregon was a band that really helped show that introspective music can be the real thing. Shadowfax (From Windham Hill) was another band that offered this solid level of musicianship. Armen Chakmakian formerly with Shadowfax is now releasing solo material that follows in the tradition of global/New Age-ish music that stands solid. Peter Gabriel has done much to champion "world Music" with his REAL WORLD label. It offers us music from many traditions such as Pakistan, India, Africa, and much much more. Clannad and Enya have provided great musings from Ireland. We are coming closer together, and these various cultural influences are an important part of what we call New Age Music. Popular musicians such as Paul Simon, Sting, and Led Zeplin have utilized world music in some of their work. Jai Uttal offers a remarkable blend of western jazz with his interest in the Hindu tradition. Ottmar Liebert championed a form of guitar he dubbed Noveau Flamenco. We are starting to look back and appreciate cultures that have been somewhat ignored. With the popularity of artists like R.Carlos Nakai and Douglas Spotted Eagle, the Native American musical tradition has left quite an impact within the New Age music community. The Aboriginal music of Australia has also achieved quite a bit of attention. Hopefully, we are learning to appreciate what was once almost lost. The spirit of Native Australian and Native Americans could not be destroyed or ignored. It's purity of truth and being was too powerful. We are looking to our roots. We are looking to find that part of ourselves we have not been able to find materially or physically. This inner searching may have allot to do with what most consider to ne New Age Music.
The Power of Music
Does what we call New Age music have an effect? Can it affect what we feel and think? Can it help create bodily change? Was I just imagining that listening to Robbie Basho in the art museum was somehow enhancing the experience? No. For me, it WAS enhancing it.
Today, what is considered to be New Age music is quite vast. Some believe it must be music that enhances a spiritual experience. It enhances meditation or stress management. Music that touches the heart and brings a feeling of warmth and comfort. Some believe it has an even deeper effect on the mind and body, and that some music can actually connect with spiritual as well as physiological aspects of our being. There is no doubt that music has a long history of being used in conjunction with spiritual practices. Whether used in ancient shamanic practices or church services, it IS an enhancement to the experience. Still others may look at it in more clinical or artistic ways. Whatever your leaning, what is called New Age Music, like any music or artistic experience, is dependent upon the person listening or observing the experience. Our own experiences integrate with music to create this physiological and psychological impression. WE are a part of the process of music.
Like all music, there is good and bad. Honest and dishonest. Some music may offer more richness and a sense of craft and art. It may also stimulate and perhaps even expand boundaries. Still, other music may be less imaginative and rely on cliche' and over use what is currently popular in order to stimulate sales. BUT, New Age music (Or any music for that matter.) needs the listener, and what the listener adds to the equation, to accomplish it's purpose. Does the music stimulate and touch the listener? Does it help or aid the listener in achieving the musical experience he or she seeks? Is it an aid of their path?
The political implications of globalization are vast. It might be wise for us to utilize what is termed as "New Age Music" as one vehicle to develop and evolve humanistically. The conjoining of societies, cultures, and religions dictates that we mature within, to temper through the changes that this technical evolution and globalization demands. Technology is a rocket ship of advancement, and all we can do is "hang on" for the ride. Hopefully we can use music in our attempts to allow interpersonal and cultural maturity to evolve keep pace with today's technological explosion .
There are various genres within what is termed "New Age Music."
Here are a few:
Environmental sounds and Music with environmental sounds
Acoustic (Solo piano, Solo Guitar, etc)
LINK to Zone Music Reporter. Essential for those wanting to follow the genre and for artists wanting to track their music. Good information. Find out where this music is being played. Support them.
He has a new project called HEAVENS. A gentle meditative album similar in vein to FLUTE MEDITATIONS FOR DREAMING CLOUDS.
Another new meditative album available is called CALMNESS OF SPIRIT by his friend David Hoffman
A world fusion and rhythm album with ex Ray Charles arranger
David Hoffman is THE NEURONS.
NEW AGE MUSIC