New Age Music, known as a combination of mostly instrumental pieces creating sounds of a soothing, romantic, mood-elevating and sometimes sensual nature for general relaxation, appears to derive from a background that is thousands of years old. New Age Music was closely related to the New Age movement of beliefs and its contents have been constantly associated with mystical matters clearly present within the cultural movement. This type of music is usually taken lightly by most listeners, although a strong mystical perspective is often presented through the packaging of the music and the venues of purchase. The mysticism that is a part of the New Age sounds appears to be characteristic of the Twenty-First Century New Age Movement. It draws freely from religious traditions around the world with very little deference to the clarity of the traditions' histories. This freedom also can be applied to the music structures, instruments, and timbres. Composers will often utilize traditional instruments (or synthesized versions of them) with little relation to the musical context of their origin. For many critics, ethnomusicologists, and the like, this is a major criticism of this musical style, due to its homogenous appropriation of musical material and instruments.
Music of the Spheres is cited in old scriptures, and the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was adept in his teachings on the metaphysics of music. The healing properties of music as well as the therapeutic qualities were always known by shaman, masters and initiates. There are many traditions in virtually all cultures that incorporate music in rituals, prayers, healing and psychology and therapy. The knowledge of the metaphysics of music has been preserved over the centuries and was always part of esoteric knowledge (see Sufi Music, Gregorian Chants, Indian Classical Music) Moreover, several classical composers in the West had knowledge about the metaphysics of music and subsequently wrote what is now termed as New Age Music. With technological advances and the age of information, knowledge was widely spread especially in the last century and is virtually accessible for anyone. A spiritual movement and renaissance which started at the beginning of the last century flowered tremendously in the 1950s and 1960s and a whole new paradigm and lifestyle developed. Composers, musicians, and listeners became more conscious and "spiritual" than ever before. New Age Music became popular because it expressed this "spiritual", non-sectarian, and consciousness expanding lifestyle, that allowed millions of people all across the planet to study and practice spirituality without the limitation of organized religion. Since there is a vast variety of New Age Music with influences from every culture, one will find a spectrum that may defy traditional theoretical analysis. Influences reach from meditation music to classical, world, ethnic, folk, rock, electronic, pop, jazz and modern avant garde and minimalist music. New Age Music is probably the most diverse genre in existence.
Although New Age musical structures can be understood in relation to many other forms of music that are taken more seriously, most New Age Music falls under the category of the repetitive or the static. Examples of this can be experienced in trance music which is also influenced by the music of other cultures. East Indian music and culture influenced the minimalism of Terry Riley, Tony Conrad, and LaMonte Young which utilizes drones dating back to the early 1960s. The music of Ghana in West Africa became the foundation of the tonal minimalism of Steve Reich. A more direct connection is with the less formal and more popularized take of Brian Eno. There is also a resurgence of interest in Gregorian Chants during the 1960s.
The large percentage of musical sounds described as New Age Music is instrumental and electronic, although vocal arrangements are also common. In many cases, very few acoustic instruments are used. For example, Enya, who won a Grammy for her new age music, sings in a variety of languages, including Latin and her native Irish, in many of her works. Medwyn Goodall, who is becoming more widely known, relies mainly on electronic keyboard effects, and includes acoustic guitar as well. Although more rock than new age in genre, the 1967 successful musical Hair with its opening song "Aquarius" and the memorable line, "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius," brought the "New Age" concept to the attention of a huge world wide audience. Arguably, this music has its roots in the 1970s with the works of such free-form jazz groups recording on the ECM record label such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Group, and other pre-ambient bands as well as ambient music performers such as Brian Eno and Ray Buttigieg. It is often claimed that Mike Oldfield's, "Tubular Bells," was the first new age album.
Music labeled as New Age often is intended to represent a vision of a better future and to express an appreciation of goodness and beauty, even an anticipation, relevant to some event. Rarely does New Age Music dwell on a problem with this world or its inhabitants and is generally apolitical. It tends to offer a peaceful vision of a better world. Since most of the music is instrumental, rather than vocal, these interpretations are often left to the listeners' imagination. The music is often celestial, such as when the title depicts stars, planets, or deep space explorations. Ennio Morricone wrote the entire score for the movie Mission to Mars, and while the credits flash we hear All the Friends, New Age orchestral style. In addition to the name "New Age," some composers and listeners refer to the music as "Space Music." An interesting connection to make here is with other composers interested in metaphors of space, but with contrasting aesthetics such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sun Ra, and even Parliament/Funkadelic. In all cases, notions of space are generally related to salvation in one way or another.
The titles of New Age music are often illuminating because the words used by the artists attempt to convey their version of truth in a few words. On listening to the music, one may understand the idea within the title. Examples of titles include Bond of Union, Sweet Wilderness, Shepherd Moons, Animus Anima.
Other artists and record labels related to New Age music include Solomon Keal, Abandoned toys, Windham Hill Records and Tangerine Dream.
The "Concordium" utopian community in Richmond, England promoted vegetarianism in the period 1842-48. They also published two magazines - "The Heatian" and "New Age." It may be a coincidence that throughout the 1980s this style of music achieved more sales in alternative medicine shops than in music stores.
All links retrieved January 5, 2015.
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