To ensure the proper state of mind for reading this post, find a comfortable chair, do some deep-breathing exercises, and let it all go. We’re about to get mellow.
At the end of last year, the fantastic reissue record label Light in the Attic put out the wonderfully blissed-out I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990, compiling twenty new-age composers, both well-known and obscure.
I should note that well-known is an extremely relative term when speaking of New-Age music, a genre generally cast aside as being boring, cheesy, and generally laughable. Auftouren argues that “Spätestens seit dem Italo-Revival ist „cheesy“ kein klares Schimpfwort mehr,” that is, “Since the Italo-revival, ‘cheesy’ is no longer an insult”. Take a look at Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco:
If Giorgio is no longer cheesy, then it follows that nothing else can ever be cheesy ever again.
Anyway, I feel like New-Age music as a whole is grossly misrepresented in the public imagination. Die Presse makes the argument that “New-Age” tends to be a pseudonym for poorly-produced soundtracks, used to dress up pseudo-spirituality, and I’m sort of required to agree. But you don’t have to buy into all of the metaphysics of it in order to appreciate it. The point isn’t to be catchy, nor to be popular, but rather to be meditative and serene, and if you don’t like it, then get out. New-Age musicians wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d be a lot more mellow about it.
So, if an American compilation of New-Age music is getting German-language press– favorable press at that, then what is the German connection? It’s a story that goes back to the heady days of 1960s West Germany, where people were taking loads of drugs and messing with huge synthesizers. German groups like Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel are the direct progenitors of New-Age music worldwide, and I dare you to listen to Ashra’s New Age of Earth without being swept away on waves of synthetic bliss.
In response to the publication of I Am the Center, the New York Times ran an interesting post entitled “For New Age, the Next Generation“. It’s well worth a read, but I’ll summarize for you here: New-Age music and German progressive electronic music of the 1970s and 1980s has crossed the pale of “cheesiness” into the safe harbor of popular appeal.
The Times includes a quote from I Am the Center mastermind Douglas McGowan, and I’d like to use it to close out this post.
“Getting away from the noise of society is such a central idea in that space is silence and nothingness and emptiness…Once you wrap your head around nothingness as being a virtue, it becomes so much easier to appreciate the music on its own terms”- Douglas McGowan
Maybe we should all just get away from the noise of work, traffic, the kids, what have you, and slip on some headphones and embrace wonderful, peaceful, beautiful nothing.