|Cultural origins||1960s and early 1970s, Europe and United States|
New-age music is a genre of music intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation,reading as a method of stress management to bring about a state of ecstasy rather than trance, or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments, and is associated with environmentalism and New Age spirituality.
New-age music includes both acoustic forms, featuring instruments such as flutes, piano, acoustic guitar and a wide variety of non-Western acoustic instruments, and electronic forms, frequently relying on sustained synth pads or long sequencer-based runs. Vocal arrangements were initially rare in the genre, but as it has evolved vocals have become more common, especially those featuring Native American-, Sanskrit-, or Tibetan-influenced chants, or lyrics based on mythology such as Celtic legends.
There is no exact definition of new-age music.An article in Billboard magazine in 1987 commented that "New Age music may be the most startling successful non-defined music ever to hit the public consciousness". Many consider it to be an umbrella term for marketing rather than a musical category, and to be part of a complex cultural trend.
New-age music was influenced by a wide range of artists from a variety of genres. Tony Scott's Music for Zen Meditation (1964) is considered to be the first new-age recording.Paul Horn (beginning with 1968's Inside) was one of the important predecessors. Irv Teibel's Environments series (1969–79) featured natural soundscapes, tintinnabulation, and "Om" chants and were some of the first publicly available psychoacoustic recordings. Steven Halpern's 1975 Spectrum Suite was a key work that began the new-age music movement.
New-age music is defined more by the use and effect or feeling it produces rather than the instruments and genre used in its creation;it may be acoustic, electronic, or a mixture of both. New-age artists range from solo or ensemble performances using classical-music instruments ranging from the piano, acoustic guitar, flute or harp to electronic musical instruments, or from Eastern instruments such as the sitar, tabla, and tamboura. There is also a significant overlap of sectors of new-age music with ambient music, classical music, jazz, electronica, world music, chillout, space music, pop music and others.
The two definitions typically associated with the new-age genre are:
Stephen Hill, founder of the Hearts of Space in 1973, considers that "many of the artists are very sincerely and fully committed to New Age ideas and ways of life".Some composers like Kitarō consider their music to be part of their spiritual growth, as well expressing values and shaping the culture. Douglas Groothuis stated that rejection of all music labeled as "new age" would be to fall prey to a taboo and quarantine mentality, as most of the music belongs to the "progressive" side of new-age music, where composers necessarily do not have a New Age worldview.
However, it is often noted that "New-age music" is a mere popular designation which successfully sells records.J. Gordon Melton argued it does not refer to a specific genre of music, but to music which is used in therapeutic or other new-age purposes. Kay Gardner considered that the label "New Age" is considered an inauthentic commercial intention of the so-called new-age music. She commented that "a lot of New Age music is schlock" and how due to records sales everyone with a home studio put in some sounds of crickets, oceans, or rivers, as a guarantee of sales. What started as ambient mood music related with New Age activity, became a term for a musical conglomeration of jazz, folk, rock, ethnic, classical, and electronic, among other music styles, with the former and markedly different musical and theoretical movement.
Thus under the umbrella term, some consider that the Mike Oldfield's progressive rock album Tubular Bells (1973) became one of the first albums to be referred to under the genre description of New Age.Others consider that music by the Greek composer Vangelis, and general modern jazz-rock fusion, exemplify the progressive side of new-age music. Other artists included are Jean-Michel Jarre (even though his electronic excursions predate the term), Andreas Vollenweider, George Winston, Mark Isham, Michael Hedges, Shadowfax, Mannheim Steamroller, Kitarō, Yanni, Enya, Clannad, Enigma among others.
However, many musicians and composers dismiss the labeling of their music as "New age". When the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album was first created in 1987, its first winner, Andreas Vollenweider, said "I don't have any intention to label my music... It's ridiculous to give a name to anything that is timeless". Peter Bryant, music director of WHYY-FM (90.9) and host of a New-age program, noted that "I don't care for the term... New-age has a negative connotation... In the circles I come in contact with, people working in music, 'new-age' is almost an insult", that it refers to "very vapid, dreamy kinds of dull music... with no substance or form or interest", and that the term has "stuck".
Harold Budd commented how "When I hear the term 'new-age I reach for my revolver... I don't think of myself as making music that is only supposed to be in the background. It's embarrassing to inadvertently be associated with something that you know in your guts is vacuous". Vangelis considers it a style which "gave the opportunity for untalented people to make very boring music".Yanni stated that "I don't want to relax the audience; I want to engage them in the music, get them interested", and that "New age implies a more subdued, more relaxed music than what I do. My music can be very rhythmic, very energetic, even very ethnic". David Van Tieghem, George Winston and Kitarō also rejected the label of new-age artist. David Lanz argued that he had "finally figured out that the main reason people don't like the term New Age is because it's the only musical category that isn't a musical term". Andreas Vollenweider noted that "we have sold millions of records worldwide before the category New Age was actually a category", and shared the concern that "the stores are having this problem with categorization".
Ron Goldstein, president of Private Music, agreed with such a standpoint, and explained that "Windham Hill was the hub of this whole thing. Because of that association, New-age has come to be perceived as this West Coast thing". However, the label managing director Sam Sutherland, argued that even founders of Windham Hill, William Ackerman and Anne Robinson, "shied away from using any idiomatic or generic term at all. It's always seemed a little synthetic", and as a company they stopped making any kind of deliberate protests to the use of the term simply because it was inappropriate. Both Goldstein and Sutherland concluded that the tag has helped move merchandise, and that new-age music will be absorbed into the general body of pop music within a few years from 1987.
The New York Times music critic Jon Pareles noted that "new-age music" absorbed other music styles in more softer form, but those same well defined styles don't need the new-age category, and that "new-age music" resembles other music because it is aimed as a marketing niche—to be a "formula show" designated for urban "ultra-consumers" as status accessory, that the Andean, Asian and African traditional music influences invoke the sense of "cosmopolitanism", while nature in the album artwork and sound the "connection to unspoiled landscapes".
As described in this article, the borders of this umbrella genre are not well defined; however music retail stores will include artists in the "new-age" category even if the artists belong to different genre, and themselves use different names for their style of music. Here are some other terms used instead of "new-age":
Kay Gardner called the original new-age music "healing music" or "women's spirituality".Paul Winter, who is considered a new-age music pioneer, also dismissed the term, and preferred "earth music".
The term "instrumental music" or "contemporary instrumental" can include artists that do not use electronic instruments in their music, such as solo pianist David Lanz.Similarly, pianists such as Yanni and Bradley Joseph both use this term as well, although they use keyboards to incorporate layered orchestral textures into their compositions. Yanni has distinguished the music genre from the spiritual movement bearing the same name. The term "contemporary instrumental music" was also suggested by Andreas Vollenweider, while "adult alternative" by Gary L. Chappell, which was the term by which Billboard called the new-age and world-music album charts.
The concept arose with the involvement of professional musicians in the New-Age movement. Initially, it was of no interest to the musical industry, so the musicians and related staff founded their own small independent recording businesses. Sales reached significant numbers in unusual outlets such as bookstores, gift stores, health-food stores and boutiques, as well as by direct mail.With the demand of a large market, the major recording companies began promoting new-age music in the 1980s.
New-age music was influenced by a wide range of artists from a variety of genres—for example, folk-instrumentalists John Fahey and Leo Kottke, minimalists Terry Riley, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and Philip Glass, classical avant-garde Daniel Kobialka, synthesizer performers Brian Eno, and jazz artists Keith Jarrett, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul Horn (beginning with 1968's Inside), Paul Winter (beginning in the mid-1960s with the Paul Winter Consort) and Pat Metheny.
Tony Scott's Music for Zen Meditation (1964) is considered to be the first new-age recording., but initially it was popular mostly in California, and was not sold nationally until the 1980s. Another school of meditation music arose among the followers of Rajneesh; Deuter recorded D (1971) and Aum (1972), which mixed acoustic and electronic instruments with sounds of the sea. Kay Gardner's song Lunamuse (1974) and first recording Mooncircles (1975), which were a synthesis of music, sexuality and Wiccan spirituality, were "new-age music before it got to be new-age music". Her A Rainbow Path (1984) embraced Halpern's theory of healing music from that time with women's spirituality, and she became one of the most popular new-age sacred-music artists.
Paul Winter's Missa Gaia/Earth Mass (1982) is described as "a masterpiece of New Age ecological consciousness that celebrates the sacredness of land, sky, and sea".His work on the East Coast is considered to be one of the most important musical expressions of new-age spirituality. On the West Coast, musicians concentrated more on music for healing and meditation. The most notable early work was Steven Halpern's Spectrum Suite (1975), the musical purpose of which was described as to "resonate specific areas of the body... it quiets the mind and body", and whose title relates "to the seven tones of the musical scale and the seven colors of the rainbow to the seven etheric energy sources (chakras) in our bodies". In the 1970s his music work, and the theoretical book Tuning the Human Instrument (1979), pioneered the contemporary practice of musical healing in the United States.
In 1976 the record label Windham Hill Records was founded, with an initial $300 investment, and would gross over $26 million annually ten years later. Over the years many record labels were formed that embraced or rejected the new-age designation, such as Narada Productions, Private Music, Music West, Lifestyle, Audion, Sonic Atmospheres, Living Music, Terra (Vanguard Records), Novus Records (which mainly recorded jazz music), FM (CBS Masterworks) and Cinema (Capitol Records).
Between the intentional extremes of the West and East Coast are some of the most successful new-age artists, like George Winston and R. Carlos Nakai. Winston's million-selling December (1982), released by Windham Hill Records, was highly popular.Most of Nakai's work, with first release Changes in 1983, consists of improvised songs in native North American style. During the 1990s, his music became virtual anthems for new-age spirituality.
In 1981, Tower Records in Mountain View, California added a "new age" bin.By 1985, independent and chain record retail stores were adding sections for new age, and major labels began showing interest in the genre, both through acquisition of some existing new-age labels such as Paul Winter's Living Music and through signing of so-called "new-age" artists such as Japanese electronic composer Kitarō and American crossover jazz musician Pat Metheny, both signed by Geffen Records. Most of the major record labels accepted new age artists by the beginning of the next year. In the late 1980s the umbrella genre was the fastest-growing genre with significant radio broadcast. It was seen as an attractive business due to low recording costs.
From 1982 to 1989, working on his own and with Lura Jane Geiger, Adam Geiger, New Age Composer/Keyboardist, produced and sold a series of cassette tapes of New Age music on the LuraMedia recording label.
Stephen Hill founded the new-age radio show Hearts of Space in 1973. In 1983, was picked up by NPR for syndication to 230 affiliates nationally,and year later was started a record label Hearts of Space Records. On Valentine's Day in 1987, the former Los Angeles rock radio station KMET changed to a full-time new-age music format with new call letters KTWV, branded as The Wave. During The Wave's new-age period, management told the station employees to refer to The Wave as a "mood service" rather than a "radio station". DJs stopped announcing the titles of the songs, and instead, to maintain an uninterrupted mood, listeners could call a 1–800 phone number to find out what song was playing. News breaks were also re-branded and referred to as "wave breaks". Other new-age-specialty radio programs included Forest's Musical Starstreams and John Diliberto's Echoes . Most major cable television networks have channels that play music without visuals, including channels for New age, such as the "Soundscapes" channel on Music Choice. The two satellite radio companies Sirius Satellite Radio & XM Satellite Radio each had their own channels that played new-age music. Sirius—Spa (Sirius XM) (73), XM—Audio Visions (77). When the two merged in November 2008 and became SiriusXM, the Spa name was retained for the music channel with the majority of Audio Vision’s music library being used.
In 1987 was formed the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album,while in 1988 the Billboard's New Age weekly charts. In 1989 Suzanne Doucet produced and held the first international New-Age Music Conference in Los Angeles. By 1989, there were over 150 small independent record labels releasing new-age music, while new-age and adult-alternative programs were carried on hundreds of commercial and college radio stations in the U.S., and over 40 distributors were selling new-age music through mail-order catalogs.
In the 1990s many small labels of new-age style music emerged in Japan, but for this kind of instrumental music the terms "relaxing" or "healing" music were more popular. Enigma's Sadeness (Part I) became an international hit, reaching number one in 24 countries including UK, also number five on the US Billboard Hot 100, selling over 5 million worldwide.At the time Holland was the home of two leading European new-age labels—Oreade and Narada Media. Oreade reported that in 1997 the latest trend was "angelic" music, while from Narada Media predicted that the genre will develop in the direction of world music (with Celtic, Irish and African influences). In 1995 some "new-age" composers like Kitarō, Suzanne Ciani and Patrick O'Hearn moved from major to independent record labels due to lack of promotion, diminishing sales or limited freedom of creativity.
In 2001 Windham Hill celebrated its 25th anniversary, Narada and Higher Octave Music continued to move into world and ethno-techno music, and Hearts of Space Records were bought by Valley Entertainment. Enya's "Only Time" peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album A Day Without Rain at #2 on the Billboard 200, being the number one new-age artist of the year.
Today, new-age music flourishes on streaming sites like Spotify and Tidal.
Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of instrumental music, it may lack net composition, beat, or structured melody. It uses textural layers of sound which can reward both passive and active listening and encourage a sense of calm or contemplation. The genre is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. Nature soundscapes may be included, and the sounds of acoustic instruments such as the piano, strings and flute may be emulated through a synthesizer.
The term Electronica encompasses a broad group of electronic-based music styles such as ambient, house, techno, jungle and other styles intended not just for dancing. Sometimes the term is also used to refer electronic music generally.
Industrial music is a genre of music that draws on harsh, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes. AllMusic defines industrial music as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music" that was "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments and punk provocation". The term was coined in the mid-1970s with the founding of Industrial Records by members of Throbbing Gristle and Monte Cazazza. While the genre name originated with Throbbing Gristle's emergence in the United Kingdom, concentrations of artists and labels vital to the genre also emerged in the United States, namely in Chicago.
Psychedelic trance, psytrance or psy is a subgenre of trance music characterized by arrangements of rhythms and layered melodies created by high tempo riffs.
Yiannis Chryssomallis, known professionally as Yanni, is a Greek composer, keyboardist, pianist, and music producer, who has resided in the United States during his adult life.
The Grammy Award for Best New Age Album is presented to recording artists for quality albums in the new-age music genre at the Grammy Awards, a ceremony that was established in 1958 and originally called the Gramophone Awards. Honors in several categories are presented at the ceremony annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to "honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position".
Raymond "Ray" Lynch is an American guitarist, lutenist, keyboardist, and composer. He began his musical career in 1967 by performing in The Renaissance Quartet in New York City before leaving in 1974 and giving up his musical career. During his hiatus, Lynch studied with his spiritual teacher, Adi Da, who would ultimately encourage him to return to music. Lynch released five albums during the 1980s and 1990s, including Deep Breakfast, No Blue Thing, and Nothing Above My Shoulders but the Evening. Initially producing his music independently, Lynch eventually worked with Music West. After Lynch sued and left the company, Lynch joined Windham Hill in 1992 before retiring in 2000. Lynch has won three Billboard awards.
Andreas Vollenweider is a Swiss harpist. He is generally categorised as a new-age musician and uses a modified electroacoustic harp of his own design. He has worked with Bobby McFerrin, Carly Simon, Luciano Pavarotti and in 1987 received a Grammy Award for the album Down to the Moon. Vollenweider's style has been described by The New York Times as "swirling atmospheric music, which evokes nature, magic and fairy tales".
Private Music was an American independent record label founded in 1984 by musician Peter Baumann as a "home for instrumental music". Baumann signed Ravi Shankar, Yanni, Suzanne Ciani, Andy Summers, Patrick O'Hearn, Leo Kottke, and his former bandmates, Tangerine Dream. The label specialized in New age music but made a sharp turn to the mainstream by signing Taj Mahal, Ringo Starr, Etta James, and A. J. Croce. Its albums were distributed by BMG, which bought Private Music in 1996.
Kitarō (喜多郎), born Masanori Takahashi, is a Japanese recording artist, composer, record producer, and arranger noted for his electronic-instrumental music, and is often associated with and regarded as one of the most prominent musical acts of new-age music. He is the winner of a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album and a Golden Globe Award for the Heaven & Earth (1993) original score.
Patrick O'Hearn is an American multi-instrumentalist, composer, and recording artist.
Chill-out is a loosely defined form of popular music characterized by slow tempos and relaxed moods. The definition of "chill-out music" has evolved throughout the decades, and generally refers to anything that might be identified as a modern type of easy listening. Some of the genres associated with "chill" include downtempo, classical, dance, jazz, hip hop, world, pop, lounge, and ambient.
Space music, also called spacemusic, is a subgenre of new-age music and is described as "tranquil, hypnotic and moving". It is derived from ambient music and is associated with lounge music, easy listening, and elevator music.
William Ackerman is an American guitarist and record producer who founded Windham Hill Records.
Return to the Source (RTTS) was a London-based Goa Trance club and offshoot record label run by partners Chris Decker, Mark Allen, Janice Duncan and Phil Ross. Along with the recurring Escape from Samsara party, which also had a monthly Friday night slot at The Fridge in the mid-1990s, it was an early mainstay of Trance in its underground days and through its breakout in the late 1990s. According to Allmusic, its "compilation series of the best trance music on the scene...brought Goa trance to the mainstream hordes".
Bradley Joseph is an American composer, arranger, and producer of contemporary instrumental music. His compositions include works for orchestra, quartet, and solo piano, while his musical style ranges from "quietly pensive mood music to a rich orchestration of classical depth and breadth".
Suzanne Doucet is an award winning German artist, composer and producer. She has been living and working in the USA since 1983. Suzanne was a well known singer, song writer, actress and TV host in Germany and Switzerland before coming to the USA, starting her career in New Age Music. She created the first New Age Music Conference in Los Angeles in 1989. Her German song “Bunter Drachen“ was featured in the Guy Ritchie movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E.(2015) In 2020 Fact Magazine listed Suzanne’s album Reflecting Light vol. 1 from 1983 at #4 of the 20 Best New Age Albums of all times. -
Steven Halpern is an American new-age musician. He is a Grammy-award nominee and considered to be one of the founding fathers of new-age music.
Steven Miller is an American record producer and executive. He is best known for his association with Windham Hill Records, where his ambient sound helped create notable instrumental recordings such as Michael Hedges’ Aerial Boundaries, Mark Isham’s Vapor Drawings and George Winston’s December.
Windham Hill Records was an independent record label that specialized in instrumental acoustic music. It was founded by guitarist William Ackerman and Anne Robinson in 1976 and was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
The category he seems least comfortable with is New Age, which remains a mystery to him. "Who came up with this name?" he asks. It seems to have little to do with the layers of rousing, emotional music he creates with elements of rock, classical and various international folk styles.