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New Age Revival
February 14, 2014 12:46 PM   Subscribe

For New Age, the Next Generation.

Emeralds - "Candy Shoppe"
Laraaji - "Unicorns In Paradise"
Bitchin Bajas - "Consciousness 2"
Iasos - "Rainbow Canyon"
Dolphins into the Future - "Lone Voyager"
Juliana Barwick - "The Magic Place"

I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990

Ad Hoc: Notes on New Age
posted by naju (54 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought "New Age" as a genre disappeared into ambient.

Or maybe that was wishful thinking. Give me a nice gloomy sppoky dark ambient track, or a glitchy "soft noise" ambient track, or the likes of Lovesliescrushing, or a good textured drone and I'm happy.
posted by Foosnark at 12:57 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Ambient (I think) mostly excised the mystical and spiritual aspirations of this music. This is music for enlightenment, unambiguously.
posted by naju at 1:04 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


New New Age: It's Not Music For Your Waiting Room, It's Music For Your Living Room
posted by oceanjesse at 1:06 PM on February 14


I would trace the roots of the genre to the kind of ambient stuff that they used to play on the old "Music From The Hearts Of Space" radio show.

***

Alex de Grassi described doing a concert once, and the MC announced him thus: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, Wyndham Hill!". He said, that's when I knew I had to get out.

***
Some musicians who I wouldn't expect ended up with successful careers on the New Age charts: Craig Chaquico (Jefferson Starship, and, I don't know, maybe he was still around in Starship), Patrick O'Hearn (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons. Although he went out on a tour playing bass for John Hiatt a few years ago, so maybe he is tired of burbling around on his synths).
posted by thelonius at 1:17 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


From the Ad Hoc article: "It has traditionally been easy to dismiss these people as kooks who make weird music, especially considering the fact that an increasingly secularized America has grown more and more suspicious of spiritualism ever since the flower children bought condos."

I nearly snorted my lunch when I read that.

(Also nearly snorted again at thelonious' comment about Windham Hill. One of my exes was way into that end of the music--the ones who won the Grammys--and I can imagine the look on the poor guy's face.)
posted by immlass at 1:20 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


"Now you're playing a Yanni lick. Now hold it down for an hour, now hold it down until you get a record contract from Wyndham Hill"
posted by naju at 1:20 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Laraaji! So glad he's still around. That record he did for Eno's original four-volume "ambient" series is a timeless classic, as that NYTimes piece appropriately makes note of.
posted by eric1halfb at 1:20 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


I have honestly never really understood new age music, and after listening to some of this, I can't say I notice a distinct difference in this new guard, other than perhaps the switch from nylon string guitars and ocean sounds to more electronically produced sounds. But what is it about lots of heavily reverbed droning and flighty melodies that make people feel 'spiritual' in the crystals have healing properties sense? I mean like, have these folks not heard Mahler?

Tbh, a lot of this really sounded to me like bad Brian Eno knock offs.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:21 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


A lot of people in the recent new age phenomenon actually come from the DIY noise scenes - I've seen both Emeralds and Dolphins into the Future play at experimental noise festivals, for example. I don't know if it's necessarily present in the tracks here, but it informs the music in interesting ways. In some ways, you'd think noise and new age would be complete opposites of each other - one is often about punishing, uncompromisingly harsh sounds, and the other is about babbling brooks and cosmic light rays of bliss. And yet, the two are simpatico in more ways than you'd think. That's actually a big discussion in noise now, and "post-noise", or whatever you want to call the new guard who realize that new age / ambient / drone / noise are all part of a fluid spectrum.
posted by naju at 1:33 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


...the old "Music From The Hearts Of Space" radio show.

Still going strong: https://www.hos.com/
posted by gyusan at 1:35 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


A friend told me I was remiss to not include Steve Hillage's "Rainbow Dome Musick" in my pseudo-playlist, which is indeed an oversight.
posted by naju at 1:37 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


gyusan, I think that show is at least 35 years old, wow...I'm pretty sure I can recall a friend's Mom playing it back in the 70's. It's possible that the fondue and macrame affected my recall, though.
posted by thelonius at 1:40 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


~...the old "Music From The Hearts Of Space" radio show.

~Still going strong: https://www.hos.com/


Every Sunday night on my local NPR station.

True story...When my kids were in pre-school way back in the 80's, the school they went to always played Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast at nap time. I can put it on today and they immediately flash back.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:40 PM on February 14 [7 favorites]


> That's actually a big discussion in noise now, and "post-noise", or whatever you want to call the new guard who realize that new age / ambient / drone / noise are all part of a fluid spectrum.

Good musicians generally have more expansive tastes than their fans. Locally, I see updates in the local arts & entertainment rag about respected death metal guys whose current gigs are with their bluegrass side projects. The EDM guys frequently verge on hip-hop terrain, and the punks all seem to secretly (or not particularly secretly) love country.

But yeah, on topic, the drone/noise spectrum shades heavily into new age. And that's not such a bad thing. Sonically, The Harmonic Choir never seemed all that far away from Grouper to my ears. Main difference maybe is the latter is a lot more interested in exploring a range of textures rather than trying to master one or two.
posted by ardgedee at 1:42 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I have honestly never really understood new age music

Remedying that can probably only be done after you say what other music you like, so we could find a path from where you are to New Age. While I am not super into New Age and others might be able to provide better suggestions, I'd recommend Patrick O'Hearn.
posted by Jpfed at 1:47 PM on February 14


Remedying that can probably only be done after you say what other music you like

I like all kinds. Doesn't everyone? As a short derail (and I really in no way mean this as a personal thing to you, Jpfed, because everyone does this) but this is the most frustrating question in the world because it makes no sense to say I like x music therefore I will like y. It's like when Wittgenstein says, "if you like some Schumann quartet, you cannot say give me another. They are not the same." This is especially true of new age music and similar, because it isn't just music.

And yeah, part of my hangup with new age music is simply the culture, I totally admit. I can't get down with the crystal healing power, and the culture of the music is a critical and defining piece of the music itself. Things like experimental music and ambient music, which I love, frequently employ similar technical aspects of new age music, but without the spiritual baggage. And this being free from the sort of extra-musical purpose of new age music often manifests in music that is more interesting, because the music is solely about the music and not this other thing. I don't think this is absolutely true, but definitely the general trend.

I don't think this phenomenon is unique to new age music in particular. I think this is the sort of relationship most 'functional' musics have (functional frequently meaning some variety of religious). Because the music serves a sort of extra-music function, it tends to be reduced to sort of a shell of what it could be, not unlike what, e.g., praise and worship music does to pop/rock, modern yoga music to kirtan, etc. Taking a few technical aspects from some culture's music and then making it simpler and more repetitive for collective joy type purposes I think is a pretty ubiquitous ethnomusicological thing.

I'm trying not to sound judgey about it, because I think music can serve a lot of different purposes for different people. But I do think it's pretty hard to consider new age music pour l' music.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:04 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990

I picked this up when it came out and along with Cosmic Machine, it became my favorite release of the year.

(If I were making "New Age" suggestions, my first would be Steve Roach's Quiet Music albums. They were as good as pills for taking my mind off the pain of a bad sprain a while back.)

OT: this 1979 documentary about Iasos is a must-see. He's hilariously full of woo, but he's so happy about it that it's really hard not to love him for it. And if your interest is piqued, Numero has an Iasos comp for you.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:05 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


For myself - even though I have to admit to having a bunch of it in my own music collection - the two words get run together into one - newage - and pronounced like ... sewage. But that is really a reflection of the 'woo', rather than the music ...
posted by woodblock100 at 2:08 PM on February 14


Bullshit is timeless
posted by C.A.S. at 2:13 PM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I think most of us come to the idea of "new age" music with hangups about it. I certainly did up until recently. Due to the perception of noxious woo culture that's grown around it, it's very easy to dismiss, and that's the prevailing attitude for it, as both the NYT and Ad Hoc pieces make clear. But if you're given an opportunity to reassess it, as some have done, and find some shimmering jewels there, then that's something worthwhile. Consider this an opportunity to think about the genre with an open mind, and try to separate it from the chakras and healing energy stuff you associate it with. Or maybe even approach your perception of that culture with an open mind too. The world is always ready to show you wonder, if you let it. If nothing else, the earnest, open-hearted seeking that this music embodies is all too rare in our contemporary world.
posted by naju at 2:13 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Also see this great piece on The Wild Hunt You Are The Center: Julianna Barwick, Julia Holter, and New Age Music
posted by melissam at 2:18 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Bullshit is timeless

thank you.

I endured the initial wave of New Age back in the day, and even owned a Windham sampler. It was nice to put on every now and then. But an entire genre? That quickly grew tiresome to the point of psychosis inducing. So at some point, I decided I'd call all the ethereal, cool, meditative, expansive stuff I liked "ambient", and the stuff that made me want to take the muffler off my car and go bombing around "new age".

Please don't make me have to re-examine my assumptions here. They've served me well for almost thirty years.
posted by philip-random at 2:28 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


I think most of us come to the idea of "new age" music with hangups about it.

Even during the first wave of "New Age" there were musicians (Liz Story was one if I remember right) who weren't at all into the crystals-and-white-light thing and resisted the name of the genre, while making music that fit right in to the (admittedly vague) definition. And "New Age" sold records when "ambient" didn't.

I still think it's kind of unfortunate that the name is coming back.
posted by Foosnark at 2:39 PM on February 14


(Hope I'm not threadsitting, I just find this stuff fascinating!) I think part of the revelation is that the Windham Hill stuff was largely a cynical cash grab, but prior to what we all collectively thought of as New Age (i.e. way, way before it broke into middle class yuppie homes and Deep Breakfast went platinum), it was essentially weirdos doing outsider folk art, in almost a punk DIY sort of way. Reframing new age in that way really does change things. On the other hand though, bullshit is timeless.
posted by naju at 2:41 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I like all kinds. Doesn't everyone?

Perhaps I should have been more clear. I wasn't trying to say "what genres do you like?", but "what bands/songs do you like?". Presumably you don't like every song or every band. Of course, a complete listing would not be possible, so hopefully you would be able to narrow it down to what is likely to be relevant- things as close as possible in your reckoning of the graph of song-similarities to songs or artists that you consider New Age.

I'm also not trying to say that we would be able to provide you with a 100% certain way to find something you like, but knowing what bands you like that are roughly in the neighborhood might allow us to give you a better-than-chance recommendation. If you were interested in listening to metal and said that the closest thing you liked was Riverside, than we would be better off recommending Opeth than Pantera, but had you said AC/DC, then the reverse would be true.

It may be that for whatever reason, for you the graph of song similarities looks different than the graphs of others (perhaps because you judge different song features to be relevant); this would make others' recommendations just not work. A shortest path using my graph would not be a shortest path on yours.

And yeah, part of my hangup with new age music is simply the culture, I totally admit. I can't get down with the crystal healing power, and the culture of the music is a critical and defining piece of the music itself.

I'm with you in terms of hating the woo-ey aspects of New Age. For me, what worked is to consider music as having different modes of consumption. For example, if I'm listening to Dar Williams, who Dar Williams is (or who I imagine her to be through her lyrics) and what she is trying to say is pretty central to the experience. But I came to New Age via electronic music and its comparatively anonymous practitioners; I pay no mind whatever to the artist that made it or the cultural connections it might have.
posted by Jpfed at 2:44 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Every massage I have ever gotten has been to a soundtrack of New Age music, so I can't hear this without a sensation of oiliness and feeling very relaxed.

Also, if I get stuck in a bad traffic jam I will put in the new age station on Pandora, for exactly those relaxing qualities. All of has similar soothing tonal sounds, and stays flat, never getting to a crescendo or loud drum solos or anything else that isn't a happy droning noise.

I have no idea if they liked crystals, but sonically Dead Can Dance seems indistinguishable from new age to me now, though those would have been fighting words when I was sixteen.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:55 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


all you crystal haters should remember that it's pretty hard to have a vintage fuzz box without them
posted by pyramid termite at 3:06 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I've been listening to Emeralds lately and I had no idea it was "New Age". It doesn't sound anything like Barwick, or Enigma, or whatever to me. There's a lot of stuff out there right now that's sitting on the edge of so many genres that I don't know how to label it. There's new hip hop that sounds like ambient. There's new edm that sounds like opera. Am I too old to pay attention to the details, or is there so much cross-pollination now that it's pointless to build up these weird genre firewalls to begin with?

or maybe I should just dub everything "Most-Podernism" and go to bed
posted by phooky at 3:11 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah, cross-pollination is where all the fun is now. If I had to pick one genre for Emeralds, it would actually be the 'kosmische music' portion of the krautrock spectrum, which was itself inspired by new age and ambient, and trying to delineate all of these different threads and categories can get exhausting pretty quickly.
posted by naju at 3:14 PM on February 14


I think the (unfortunate?) name "New Age" and some of the cruft grown around it create a certain perception that's often either not there in a lot of notable artists in the genre, or there with enough subtlety that the compositions can be enjoyed for their own sake. So for me, "New Age" mostly means Tim Story (Perhaps, Flame and Circle, both from Shadowplay, one of the most beautifully understated, melancholy albums I've ever heard), Steve Roach (who I think of more as just "ambient," and whose Structures from Silence is, again, one of my very favorite albums in any genre), Michael Whalen, Patrick O'Hearn, Dead Can Dance, Masashi Hamauzu to a certain extent, Will Ackerman and now, yeah, Julianna Barwick. There are deeper roots here in ambient, classical and drone than crystals and woo.

Also I like "excuses to share/discover music" threads.
posted by byanyothername at 3:15 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski: I can't get down with the crystal healing power

That is why you will be left behind when the Singularity occurs.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:43 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Lutoslawski: "Because the music serves a sort of extra-music function, it tends to be reduced to sort of a shell of what it could be, not unlike what, e.g., praise and worship music does to pop/rock, modern yoga music to kirtan, etc. Taking a few technical aspects from some culture's music and then making it simpler and more repetitive for collective joy type purposes I think is a pretty ubiquitous ethnomusicological thing."

Functional music is "reduced" to a shell of what it could be if you want it to function as abstract music, yes, but I may not be understanding your distinction here, since I would consider kirtan especially and a good deal of rock as basically functional. In either case, I think functional music as I understand it is a good salve for this kind of fetishization of the musical object. I'm always surprised at people who don't think that the notion of music for music's sake can be quite restrictive in itself.
posted by invitapriore at 3:59 PM on February 14


That is why you will be left behind when the Singularity occurs

That's interdimensional elves. Iasos works interdimensional UFOs into his shtick in that doc. What struck me most in that doc was how Iasos' extravagant techno-optimism, his time and place, and his actual work with electronic instruments locates him as a missing link between hippie love-ins and the early cyberculture.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:15 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


there was this space in the 70s where the line between home production and true commerical viablity was being sorted out, it was kind of the end of the counter culture at that point, the new comp really makes that argument in a really interesting way.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:17 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


it would actually be the 'kosmische music' portion of the krautrock spectrum, which was itself inspired by new age and ambient,

to be crystal clear, ambient as a named concept didn't really exist until at least 1975 which is when Brian Eno put out Discreet Music. The first album of his to feature ambient in its title was 1978's Music For Airports (and he did coin the term). Meanwhile, krautrock had peaked before 1975. New Age music didn't come along until the 1980s.

So yeah, you've got your inspirations backward.
posted by philip-random at 4:26 PM on February 14


"Ambient", "new age", "drone", "raga", "atmospheric", "cosmic" music - as I understand the sounds representative of those adjectives - were around decades before the 70's. We codified this stuff with names and specifics after the fact. I'm saying kosmische stuff was inspired along those lines. New age was around since at least 1950, according to that Light in the Attic comp. It just didn't have that particular name associated with it yet. I don't think I have my inspirations backward at all. (In fact, the perception that Eno invented this form of music is probably somewhat problematic and worth correcting, even though I'm sure you don't believe that either.)
posted by naju at 4:32 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I've spent twenty years arguing that my slow, quiet, drifting music is not "new age," largely because I would rather jab my eardrums out and hurl my instruments down a storm drain than let myself be included in the genre that includes the wretched Ray Lynch and his beatifically grinning, facile ilk, but I have to wonder if I should just stop chasing money away, learn to say "namaste" with the asinine cultural imperialist loverliness of the wealth-addled whitey-whitingtons from Potomac, and sell my soul.

Of course, I've tried, but I'm told that my music contains too much discord for Yoga™, which just makes me happy that I'm still, at my core, faithful to the Eno precept that the big problem with new age music is that there's just no evil in it, even though I will thus never pay my bills with any substantive assistance from my music.


Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 5:11 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


New Age music didn't come along until the 1980s.

As a named genre maybe, but the music itself goes back to at least the mid 60s. Tony Scott was one of the first, in 1964.
posted by woodblock100 at 5:12 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


to be diamond crystal clear, I did say:

ambient as a named concept didn't really exist until at least 1975

Because yeah, Brian Eno is on record for saying he didn't invent the idea of creating music that was to serve primarily as ambianc -- he just coined the term Ambient Music.

Unfortunately, I neglected to add the same "named as a concept" qualification to:

New Age music didn't come along until the 1980s.

Which gets us to:

"Ambient", "new age", "drone", "raga", "atmospheric", "cosmic" music - as I understand the sounds representative of those adjectives - were around decades before the 70's. We codified this stuff with names and specifics after the fact.

True. But the fact that they have been codified helps toward providing shorthand for discussions such as this. No?

And on the topic of the ... 'kosmische music' portion of the krautrock spectrum,, this is a great documentary: Kraftwerk + the Electronic Revolution
posted by philip-random at 5:54 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


It's like the music unites people . . . with . . . the players - there's no division . . .

I like the way they dress, the leather
posted by petebest at 6:20 PM on February 14


. It doesn't sound anything like Barwick, or Enigma, or whatever to me.

Enigma was definitely never New Age.

I just looked 'em up and Wikipedia calls 'em New Age. That seems really off to me. Enigma was music to put on in smoke-filled college dorm rooms to dance to, drink to, and have sex to. New Age was what your parents put on in the car. There's a big gulf between these, to me.
posted by Miko at 6:52 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Enigma just had a but of bass, but otherwise was total new agey. It probably holds the record for most sex in college dorms because of that, as you note.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:02 PM on February 14


It had a lot of percussion as well. I think it was much too Gothic to be New Agey. It was halfway to techno.
posted by Miko at 7:07 PM on February 14


Enigma and what was the other one (Deep Forest?) -- they both struck me as New Age with beats. And I really liked them at first, but the bloom went off fast. I think it's like someone's already quoted Brian Eno as saying. "Just no evil in it"

(even if Enigma did flirt with De Sade -- that was never deeper than putting a bit of orange peel in cake icing)
posted by philip-random at 7:31 PM on February 14


It was just sort of early electronica, I think. And it did really want to be sexy. I think only their first album was good; I'd really like to get a copy of it, since the one I had in the 90s was on cassette. The second one, and Deep Forest, I didn't like as much. I just didn't think the style really had that much in common with, say, Enya or Loreena McKennit, at the more ethereal/arty end of the spectrum, and certainly not with the likes of Michael Hedges, George Winston, William Ackerman, Shadowfax, and the other more Birkenstock-wearing end of the genre.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on February 14


I guess when I say New Age, I'm referring to the easy-on-the ears synth washes and sample choices: choral stuff in the case of Enigma's Sade, nature sounds in the case of Deep Forest (which was never going to go over well with me, reminding me of a mosquito repellent). You're right though -- a long way from likes of those Wyndham Hill types you mention.

My memory is that at the time, they called it Electronica, which annoyed in all manner of ways as the label came to apply to anything that might've had a sampled beat. So you had the likes of Skinny Puppy, Massive Attack, Future Sound of London and Deep Forest all getting filed in the same section.
posted by philip-random at 7:57 PM on February 14


There's new edm that sounds like opera.

You have my attention.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:26 PM on February 14


I go hard on that Pure Moods comp. I mean, that was my introduction to this whole thing.
posted by naju at 9:31 PM on February 14


> You have my attention.

The Knife and Mt Sims' Tomorrow, In A Year qualifies. The album is brilliant.
posted by ardgedee at 5:03 AM on February 15


Oh, the commercial for the Pure Moods comp. I was raised in a pretty strict Evangelical household, and New Age was vaguely associated with "witchcraft" in some way by that community, so I was definitely not allowed to listen to it. But I heard that commercial and I loved it. I was always excited for that commercial to come on.

I think a lot of people who heard that stuff when young are coming of age now and reviving the sound a bit. Some genres not mentioned in this thread where I do hear some New Age influence are Chillwave and Balearic, as well as the wishy-washy classification known as Seapunk.

I think my favorite of this kind of thing though is School of Seven Bells, which is sadly disbanded since Benjamin Curtis passed away recently.
posted by melissam at 7:01 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski, what was that middle part again?
posted by lometogo at 8:36 AM on February 15


I apologize as this is the only version I could find of the relevant Doonesbury cartoon.
posted by sneebler at 12:28 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I love love love western abstracted "pure music", but that said, the idea that music can be an isolated thing that is not an intrinsic part of a spiritual / cultural / ritual practice co-incorporated with dance and story telling and costume is a historical novelty. And in practice even western pure music doesn't really escape the cultural gestalt (find me a music that someone could name without being able to pick the costume and hairstyle that accompanies it from a lineup).
posted by idiopath at 4:38 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Woo and crystals aside... music with a delicious trancey, hypnotic, arpeggiated, spacey bent is ok by me. It's like audio cake. A slice hear and there is ok... just don't overdoit.
posted by panaceanot at 4:45 AM on February 16


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