The DoveSong

The Text Library
   Positive Music
        Movement (2004)
   Through the Centuries
        Gregorian Chant
        15th Century
        16th Century
        17th Century
        18th Century
        19th Century
        20th Century
        21st Century
   Gospel Music
        Black Gospel
        Mountain Gospel
        Southern Gospel
   World Music
        Chinese Music
        Indian Music
        Persian Music
   Popular Music

 The MP3 Library
(no longer operational)
   Western Classical
        Plainsong (Chant)
   Gospel Music
        Mountain Gospel
        Black Gospel
        Southern Gospel
   World Music
        Middle East

The Twentieth Century
by Don Robertson

Part Six: New Age Music

© 2005 by Rising World Entertainment


Out of the 1960's arose a social and art movement that few people understand today (You had to be there). Dozens of English expressions in common use today were born at that time, and the acceptance of Eastern philosophies and music came into our lives then. Organic farming, ecology, human rights...Our eyes were opened in a way that we never at first expected, and we began to deal with a new world. Some carried their visions from the 1960s forth as a mission for the remainder of their lives. Then, of course, others just became the casualties.

The Beginnings

What is "new age music?" Does anyone really know?
    I will tell you from my perspective just how the genre was born, what its original goals were, how it became a genre, and how that genre was changed when the major labels and other interested parties entered the picture. 
    I personally moved in the direction of "new age music" after my 1968 realization that the so-called 'contemporary' classical music that I had been writing and was involved with was, in fact, negative music! The following year I recorded my first album, Dawn, which explained musically and graphically (I made a collage for the back cover) what I had discovered about music and its effects. Then I listened only to the Moody Blues (the positive rock group) for a year. They had a tremendous purifying effect on me. In 1970, I gave away my radios, unplugging myself from the "machine," and began an intensive study of the classical music of our European tradition: from Gregorian chant to current day, beginning with chant. I had  already been a student of classical music, but this new study that occupied me during the 1970s went far beyond what I had experienced to that point. My goal was to determine which music was positive, and which was not, through meditation.
     I listened and studied my way through Gregorian chant, the sacred music of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, then the music of the baroque era followed by the classical and romantic periods. From the books of Corinne Heline, from which I had already gotten good direction, I discovered three great composers of the romantic era, Richard Wagner, Cesar Franck, and Alexander Scriabin, the most spiritual composers since Beethoven. I spent about two years studying Wagner, and several more years on Franck and Scriabin. Except for a single piano piece, I wrote no music during the 1970s.
     By 1979, I had listened to music from -- and studied the eras of -- classical music from Gregorian chant to closed to the present time. I had satisfied my goal of discovering positive music in the classical tradition. At that point I began to wonder what kind of positive music was being composed during that present day. For several years I had heard about a fellow named Stephen Halpern who had recorded some albums of meditation music, and I decided to find out more about him. To accomplish this, I attended one of his seminars.
     I was very happy to find someone who was interested in the same kind of music that I was interested in, so at the end of the seminar, I invited him to dinner at my home, which was nearby. During dinner we talked about new music and issues such as the use of a drone in place of chordal harmony. As he was leaving, I asked him about his album Spectrum Suite. The liner notes claimed that the series of seven pieces, each in a different key, could be used in meditation to attune the seven chakras. I wanted to know how he knew which chord matched a particular chakra. I pressed him because I though maybe he had found some mystical gold mine. He finally laughed and said it was just a gimmick. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed, and our relationship ended there. 

Music From the Hearts of Space  

     I got one thing from Steven Halpern's seminar that was absolutely important to me: the name of a radio show, and I went out and bought a radio to begin listening to it. That show was Music from the Hearts of Space. It had  begun as a San Francisco late night radio show in 1973 with host Stephen Hill, who originally used the name Timetheo. The following year, Anna Mystic -- who was really Anna Turner -- joined him as co-host. The show went national on public radio ten years later and grew to nearly 300 stations. Although most of the music that they played could be described as new age music, they never called it by that name and used the term ‘space music’ instead. Stephen's interest was in large ambient halls and reverberation and he had an uncanny understanding of it. 
    The show was heard at 11 pm every Thursday night on the famous far-left Pacifica radio station KFPA out of Berkeley and it lasted 3 hours. Individual shows typically consisted of long, slow reverberant and ambient pieces which Stephen artfully blended one after another using nature sounds to tie the end of one piece into another. You usually didn't hear from either Anna or Stephen for at least an hour into the show when they would finally speak very quietly and slowly, identifying themselves and the show with large amounts of reverb that gave their voices a great other-worldly effect. It was an amazing show, and it introduced me to a wealth of music that not too many people had ever heard before.
    At that time, there was no "new age" genre of music, per say. What there was was music that various musicians had created for meditation, relaxing, and healing. Some people, like myself (my 'new age' album Dawn came out in 1969) referred to our music as new age music, but others used different terms. At any rate, it was never in the least extent associated with any movement as it usually is today.
    To my knowledge, the concept of a new age movement did not occur until the book The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson was published in the 1980s. Before this, the term "new age" was one that came from astrology and it referred to an astrological principal that described the Earth as very gradually moving from the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aquarius. During the 1960s, many people were experimenting with psychedelics and were learning about spirituality and astrology through yoga, ti chi, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, esoteric Christianity, and other spiritual practices. This knowledge was available in books that were sold in metaphysical book stores. 

Corinne Heline

     Personally, I had been talking about and thinking about "new age music" since about 1967, after becoming engrossed in the writings of Corinne Heline who wrote six important books:

1) The Esoteric Music of Richard Wagner (1948)
1) Healing and Regeneration Through Music (1952)
2) Beethoven's Nine Symphonies (1963)
3) Music - The Keynote of Human Evolution (1965)
4) The Cosmic Harp (1969)

    Corinne Heline wasn't establishing a genre or a movement. Her thesis was that, according to astrology, we were very slowly evolving into an enlightened age and that in this age, certain music would be used for healing, meditation and upliftment.

The First New Age Albums

    The creation of new age music records actually began in 1964 when the first album of music dedicated to meditation was recorded by a jazz musician named Tony Scott who had been living in Japan. Music for Zen Meditation was recorded in February, 1964 in Tokyo. Tony recorded slow, relaxing improvisations on clarinet accompanied by a Japanese koto and occasional shakuhatchi.
    The next album of new age music was called Inside by Paul Horn (the title was later changed to Inside the Taj Mahal). Jazz flutist Horn had flown to India in 1966 to study meditation with  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. On April 25, 1968, in the midst of making a documentary, Paul and a couple of friends went into the Taj Mahal, turned on some recording equipment, and Inside was the result, a set of beautiful flute solos blending with the wonderful reverberation of this great building. It was also an album certain to inspire Stephen Hill! Horn went on to record not only other albums of flute in reverberant halls, but collaborated with Ravi Shankar on an album, recorded another called Cosmic Consciousness, and collaborated with Indian musicians on Paul Horn in India and Paul Horn in Kashmir. I also remember another album on which Paul Horn multi-tracked four flutes in a rendition of a Kyrie from a Palestrina mass. This piece was absolutely beautiful and demonstrated how Horn considered his new meditation music inclusive of more than one kind of music, regardless of culture and time. 
    As I mentioned, I recorded my own new age album Dawn in San Francisco during 1969 for Mercury Records. The title of the album was a play on my first name, Don, and a reference to the dawning of a new age. The album presented for the first time my realizations of positive and negative music.
    The original concept for new age music was all-inclusive, wrapping its arms around all healing and spiritual music. For example, in 1974 I started a cassette label that I called New Age Music and it included recordings of Josquin, Palestrina, Wagner and Victoria that I had transferred from LPs and mastered onto a 2-track Revox reel-to-reel tape deck. In the spirit of the music, I didn't sell the tapes, just gave them away.
     In 1975, Steven Halpern, whom I mentioned previously, released his ground-breaking Spectrum Suite album, which included his friend Iasos on flute, and during that same year, Iasos released his first album Inter-Dimensional Music. Iasos is a pioneer in electronic meditation music and it was with his help and friendship that I found the right electronic equipment to use in the making of some of the compositions on my first electronic album, Resurrection.

    Now at this point you begin to see two kinds of healing and meditation music, one acoustic, the other electronic.

Klaus Schulze

    I know that if you ask many musicians today who the greatest pioneer of the synthesizer was, they would say that it was Walter Carlos (who later changed his name to Wendy). For me, however, the greatest pioneer was the German, Klaus Schulze, whom many people have never heard of, at least in America. It was Klaus who turned the almost 'toy' synthesizer keyboard into an art machine. He started out as the drummer for Edgar Froese's Tangerine Dream in 1969. Their first album Electronic Meditation was released in 1970. The group consisted of Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Conrad Schnitzler. Klaus soon left to form another group, Ashra Tempel. He recorded several albums with them, while he independently began work toward becoming a solo synthesizer artist: his goal to compose and play his own music, music that would revolutionize the synthesizer. His first album was called Irrlicht and was released in 1972.
     Klaus's first breakthrough album was Timewind. Released in 1975, it won the Grand Prix International. That same year he also created two albums with Japanese composer
Kitaro. In 1978 he released his masterpiece, the "X" album.
      In 1976, a very important album called Neuzeit der Erde (New Age of Earth) was released in Germany by Ash Ra Tempel, the group that Klaus had formed but left, and which by this time was really just the German guitarist Manuel Göttsching. The cut Ocean of Tenderness was a favorite on the Hearts of Space program and  a masterpiece of transportive electronic music.
     Soon came some electronic albums from America, such as the ever-popular and uplifting Golden Voyage tapes by the late Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter, who lived in the Los Angeles area. Another pioneer Los Angeles player was harpist Georgia Kelly who created her beautiful acoustic Seapeace album in 1978.
     Steve and Anna played all of this music, and much more, on the Hearts of Space program. They had a direct source in Archie Patterson, who started publishing the fanzine Eurock in 1973 and imported this great electronic music, otherwise unknown in America, from Europe. In addition to new age music, the rare European electronic music by Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Peter Michael Hammel, Jean-Michel Jarre that slowly made its way across the airwaves in the wee hours every Friday morning in the Bay Area, Steven and Anna played Gregorian Chant, Morton Feldman, Renaissance sacred music, Paul Winter and the music of my friend Bernard Xolotl. There was a lot, and it was all different from anything being played anywhere. Hearts of Space was an exclusive, and Steven Hill and Anna Turner are to be given the credit for being there first.

New Age Music in the Book Stores

     Another one of the original new age musicians was harpist and music healer Joel Andrews who in 1971 began "translating spontaneously the music he was hearing in higher dimensions." A man name Ethan Edgecombe worked his record table at concerts, selling his tapes and records. In 1980 Ethan went solo and started the first new age distribution business that he called Fortuna. We became friends and he encouraged me to start my own record label, which I did. I recorded the cassette Celestial Ascent in my Santa Rosa, California bedroom and gave it to Ethan to distribute.
     Constance Demby moved to the San Francisco area from Boston and we began doing concerts together in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, Ethan was very aggressive and was getting our tapes not only placed in lots of metaphysical bookstores and places like Star Magic (who had two really great specialty stores, one in San Francisco and the other in New York City), but was also setting up special displays, and people were really buying up the music. Many of us did not have LPs, so we sold cassettes.
     As the market began to take off, other distributors entered the fray. Vital Body Marketing and Narada came along after Fortuna began being successful. Meanwhile I recorded Aeoliah's first record -- called Inner Sanctum -- in my bedroom studio and launched him on his career with my beautiful piano piece that opens that album. 

Enter Windham Hill 

     Ethan expanded his catalogue by distributing the music of a guitarist friend who had started a label called Windham Hill. His name was Will Ackerman and he wanted nothing to do with the so-called new age music genre. His vision was a label that encompassed folk, classical, and jazz. But Edgecombe got Windham Hill records (their first albums were acoustic guitar instrumentals) into the bookstores and soon Windham Hill became as "new age" as Iasos and Halpern, despite the fact that the music wasn't anything any of us would use for healing and meditation purposes. Thus the new age genre slowly became filled with new music by people who had no idea what the actual new age musicians were doing. Next, Ethan discovered a great album by an unknown (in California at least) Japanese synthesizer performer and composer in the cut-out bin of the San Francisco Tower Records store. Ethan gave it to Stephen Hill to play on the radio and then began distributing the artist known as Kitaro. Soon Kitaro came from Japan to meet Ethan, and eventually he moved to Boulder, Colorado. Ethan also put George Winston on the map by taking Winston's first album to a popular San Rafael radio station who put cuts from the album into heavy rotation. Finally, Ethan started his own record label and put Celtic harpist Patrick Ball on the map.
     By 1986, I had over a dozen distributors selling my cassette albums and my ex-wife, Suzanne, and I were sending our music to cities all over America, and in Australia and Europe as well.
      I recorded my second album, Starmusic for the Hearts of Space radio program, and it sold very well, getting a lot of airplay on that show. Meanwhile, the community of artists in the Bay Area, myself, Iasos, Xolotl, Ray Lynch, Connie Demby, Aoeloah, among others, were working to put the fledgling genre of new age music on the national map. CBS Records, called Columbia at the time, was rumored to be looking for new age artists and the Bay Area artists were working with a lady who called herself Isis, who claimed to be setting up these record deals with the label. We assumed soon we would all be signed to CBS, but that didn't happen.

New Age Music Goes National 

    The main event that we were waiting for, the event that we knew would trigger what we had been prognosticating for years as the New Age Music Explosion, was the inevitable article in Time Magazine that at that time was read by a huge amount of people, and was responsible for influencing their thinking. This would be the article that would "put us on the map," moving us from book stores to national record store distribution network with our own "new age" section in every little mall record store in America. We knew that as our sales exploded, that event was rapidly approaching. Finally in 1985 I got a call from Anna Turner. She told me that a Time Magazine reporter had just spent several days with them, and that the long-awaited article presenting new age music to America was going to appear in the music section of the magazine in a few weeks! And indeed, in a few weeks, the article appeared in the magazine. However, much to our shock and chagrin, the San Francisco Bay Area new age musicians who were really creating this music were almost completely excluded from the article! Even Stephen and Anna and their radio program, the one that was at the heart of the genre, was only given a glancing nod. 
     Instead, the magazine, based in New York, presented a completely false story about the genre, featuring musicians from the New York area that none of us had even heard of! This was not an article about meditation and healing music at all, instead it completely recreated what new age music was! It was amazing to see the power of the media in action! Many of us felt defeated. For us, New York City of the 1980s was a large, dark Eastern city where absolutely no one, except for our friend from New Jersey, Don Slepian, was involved in this music. After the article appeared, a large number of "newbies" from the East Coast jumped on what began to look like a profitable bandwagon.
    But that was just Blow #1, the next blow came when the first all-new-age music station went on the air, another event that we had been waiting for and that several people were actively working on making happen. The first "new age" radio station, dedicated to playing new age music, was called the WAVE and it was located in Los Angeles. Again we were shocked when it went on the air. The station didn't feature new age music at all! Instead it featured the kind of slow jazz music that by that time had become associated with Windham Hill. Quickly artists, labels, and radio shows started changing formats. Except in the niche market of the metaphysical bookstores, new age music was finished.
    I remember that Yanni was living in Minneapolis when he released an album of synthesizer music on his own label, just like we were doing, all of us working out of our basements, so to speak. This album was an altogether different kind of electronic music from what we were doing, and he was selling it, like we were, "out of his garage." The new age distributors didn't know what to do with it. It wasn't 'new age' music! In fact, Yanni was quick to explain that in no way was his music new age music at all, a genre he had absolutely no interest in. But quickly the music industry 'machine' changed all this, and suddenly, Yanni was transformed into Mr. New Age himself!
    When the major labels and distributors entered the new age fray, that's when things really changed. The 'machine' created a new age section in all of the mall record stores across the country and began dumping CDs by sudden new age converts into them. This created an interesting phenomenon. The record stores in America ended up with sections of "new age music," while the metaphysical book stores, which were gradually becoming known as "new age book stores" kept theirs. Thus there are two types of new age music, each calling their music "new age," but the metaphysical book stores kept the more 'meditative' music, while the record stores, along with radio, turned the genre to a new, and more lucrative, direction.

Disgusted and discouraged, I left the scene, and never looked back. I have no idea what has transpired with "new age music" during the past twenty years.

My Last Word

What can I say about the original "new age" electronic music? Listen to "Ocean of Tenderness" by Ash Ra, or Timewind and Blanche by Klaus Schulze, Harmonic Ascendant by Robert Schroeder, Antartica by Vangelis, Ecstasy by Deuter, For me, these were the great works that opened the door for the use of the synthesizer in music. At the time these works were being created, the synthesizer was still considered the ugly stepchild that few people knew anything about, and the guitar was God. One of the results that came from the influx of new age music of the 1970s and early 1980s was the perfection of electronic keyboard music.

The new age genre, as I have described it, really is not a genre at all, but a label that has been used to categorize music that doesn't seem to fit elsewhere. Although anyone can make a CD and call it "new age" music, there still has been a very active thrust on the part of musicians to create music that is harmonious, stripped of the discordant elements -- the stress -- that characterized so much of the music of the 20th Century. I feel that minimalism and new age music are the two currents of 20th century music that provide the lead-in for the 21st. The minimalists for the most part, even though they moved from atonality back to tonal roots, for the most part had not completely cleaned their music of the discord, the stress. This is true for some of the neo-romantic composers also. It was the early new age composers, like Iasos and Paul Horn, who moved out of the murky depths of stress, that really grasped the reality of positive music, as well as some of the very fine Celtic musicians, and some of the inspired native American composers and musicians. The correct understanding of music as a healing force is the actual (as opposed to commercial) heart of new age music.

Next in this series is the 21st Century. See you there! 

Don Robertson
Nashville, TN
October, 2005



Rising World Entertainment

Copyright © 1997, 2000, 2005, 2010 by RisingWorld Entertainment
All rights reserved.