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New-age music

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New-age is a genre of music intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation,[1] and reading as a method of stress management[2] to bring about a state of ecstasy rather than trance,[3][4] or to create a peaceful atmosphere in homes or other environments. It is sometimes associated with environmentalism and New Age spirituality;[5][1] however, most of its artists have nothing to do with "New Age spirituality," and some even reject the term.[citation needed]

New-age music includes both acoustic forms, featuring instruments such as flutes, piano, acoustic guitar and a lot of instruments of non-Western acoustic instruments, and electronic forms, frequently relying on sustained synth pads or long sequencer-based runs. New-age artists often combine these approaches to create electroacoustic music. 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.[6][7][8][9]

There is no exact definition of new-age music. However, it is often judged by its intent according to the Grammy screening committee in that category.[7] 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".[10] Many consider it to be an umbrella term[11] for marketing rather than a musical category,[8][12][13] and to be part of a complex cultural trend.[14]

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.[13][15] Paul Horn (beginning with 1968's Inside) was one of the important predecessors.[16] Irv Teibel's Environments series (1969–79) featured natural soundscapes, tintinnabulation, and "Om" chants and were some of the first publicly available psychoacoustic recordings.[17] Steven Halpern's 1975 Spectrum Suite was a key work that began the new-age music movement.[18]


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;[10] 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, classical, jazz, electronica, world, chillout, pop, and space music, among others.[12][13][19]

The two definitions typically associated with the new-age genre are:

  • New-age music with an ambient sound that has the explicit purpose of aiding meditation and relaxation, or aiding and enabling various alternative spiritual practices, such as alternative healing, yoga practice, guided meditation, or chakra auditing. The proponents of this definition are almost always musicians who create their music expressly for these purposes.[20] To be useful for meditation, music must have repetitive dynamic and texture without sudden loud chords or improvisation, which could disturb the meditator.[10][9] It is minimalist in conception, and musicians in the genre are mostly instrumentalists rather than vocalists.[21] Subliminal messages are also used in new-age music, and the use of instruments along with sounds of animals (like whales, wolves and eagles) and nature (waterfalls, ocean waves, rain) is also popular. Flautist Dean Evenson was one of the first musicians to combine peaceful music with the sounds of nature, launching a genre that became popular for massage and yoga. [22] Other prominent artists who create new-age music expressly for healing or meditation include Irv Teibel, Paul Horn, Deuter, Steven Halpern, Paul Winter, Lawrence Ball, Karunesh, Krishna Das, Deva Premal, Bhagavan Das, and Snatam Kaur.[23][11]
  • Music found in the new-age sections of record stores.[20] This is largely a definition of practicality, given the breadth of music classified as "new age" by retailers that are often less interested in finely grained distinctions between musical styles than are fans of those styles. Music that falls into this definition usually cannot be easily classified into other, more common definitions, but can contain almost any kind of music; it is more of a marketing slogan rather than musical category.[10]

Debate and criticism[edit]

Kitaro, a prominent new-age music artist from Japan

Stephen Hill, founder of Hearts of Space, considers that "many of the artists are very sincerely and fully committed to New Age ideas and ways of life".[24] Some composers like Kitarō consider their music to be part of their spiritual growth, as well as expressing values and shaping the culture.[25] Douglas Groothuis stated that rejection of all music labeled as "new age" would be to fall prey to a taboo mentality, as most of the music belongs to the "progressive" side of new-age music, where composers necessarily do not always have a New Age worldview.[25]

However, it is often noted that "new-age music" is a mere popular designation that successfully sells records.[25] J. Gordon Melton argued that it does not refer to a specific genre of music, but to music used for therapeutic or other new-age purposes.[26] Kay Gardner considered the label "new age" an inauthentic commercial intention of so-called new-age music, saying "a lot of new age music is schlock", and how due to record sales, everyone with a home studio put in sounds of crickets, oceans or rivers as a guarantee of sales.[27] 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 electronica, among other styles, with the former, markedly different musical and theoretical movement.[7][28][9][13]

Under the umbrella term, some consider Mike Oldfield's 1973 progressive rock album Tubular Bell one of the first albums to be referred to under the genre description of new-age.[29] Others consider music by Greek composer Vangelis and general modern jazz-rock fusion as exemplifing the progressive side of new-age music.[22][30] 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, Era, Tangerine Dream and Enigma.[11][12][13][31]

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 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".[12]

"New age is a spiritual definition more than a musical definition. Some musicians began by associating themselves with new-age music. Now they've thrown everybody in there. But it would be silly to associate with this particular music".[19]Yanni on new-age music definition (1992)

Harold Budd said, "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 to be a style that "gave the opportunity for untalented people to make very boring music".[32] Yanni stated that "I don't want to relax the audience; I want to engage them in the music, get them interested",[16] 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."[13] David Van Tieghem, George Winston and Kitarō also rejected the label of new-age artist.[9][16][33] David Lanz said that he "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".[13] 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".[19]

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, Windham Hill's managing director Sam Sutherland argued that even the label's founders William Ackerman and Anne Robinson "shied away from using any idiomatic or generic term at all. It's always seemed a little synthetic", and 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 helped move merchandise, and that new-age music would be absorbed into the general body of pop music within a few years after 1987.[12]

The New York Times music critic Jon Pareles noted that "new-age music" absorbed other styles in more softer form, but those same, well-defined styles do not 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; he also said the Andean, Asian and African traditional music influences evoke the sense of "cosmopolitanism", while nature in the album artwork and sound evoke the "connection to unspoiled landscapes".

Alternative terms[edit]

The borders of this umbrella genre are not well-defined, but music retail stores will include artists in the "new-age" category even if they belong to different genre, and those artists themselves use different names for their style of music.

Kay Gardner called the original new-age music "healing music" or "women's spirituality".[34] Paul Winter, considered a new-age music pioneer, also dismissed the term, preferring "earth music".[19]

The term "instrumental music" or "contemporary instrumental" can include artists who do not use electronic instruments, such as solo pianist David Lanz.[35] Similarly, pianists such as Yanni[36] and Bradley Joseph[37] 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.[38] 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.[19]


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.[25][9] With the demand of a large market, the major recording companies began promoting new-age music in the 1980s.[12][39]

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, progressive rock acts such as Pink Floyd, ambient pioneer Brian Eno, synthesizer performer Klaus Schulze, 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.[40][28][9][16][41][42][43]

Tony Scott's Music for Zen Meditation (1964) is sometimes considered to be the first new-age recording,[44] but initially it was popular mostly in California, and was not sold nationally until the 1980s.[22] 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.[22] 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.[45] Mike Orme of Stylus Magazine writes that many key Berlin school musicians helped popularise new-age.[46]

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".[47] His work on the East Coast is considered to be one of the most important musical expressions of new-age spirituality.[47] 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.[48]

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).[9]

Between the intentional extremes of the U.S.' coasts 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.[9] Most of Nakai's work, with his 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.[49]

In 1981, Tower Records in Mountain View, California added a "new age" bin.[50] 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.[50] Most of the major record labels accepted new age artists by the beginning of the next year.[51] 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.[9]

Stephen Hill founded the new-age radio show Hearts of Space in 1973. In 1983, it was picked up by NPR for syndication to 230 affiliates nationally,[52] and a year later Hill 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.[9][52] 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".[52] 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,[12] while in 1988 the Billboard's New Age weekly charts.[7] In 1989 Suzanne Doucet produced and held the first international New-Age Music Conference in Los Angeles.[7] 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.[53]

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.[54] 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 Narada Media predicted that the genre would develop in the direction of world music (with Celtic, Irish and African influences).[55] 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.[56]

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.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b New-age music at AllMusic
  2. ^ Paul M. Lehrer; David H. (FRW) Barlow; Robert L. Woolfolk; Wesley E. Sime (2007). Principles and Practice of Stress Management, Third Edition. New York: Guilford Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1-59385-000-5.
  3. ^ Marini 2003, p. 169.
  4. ^ Whittall 2003, p. 184.
  5. ^ Newport 1998, p. 475–483.
  6. ^ Newport 1998, p. 475–479.
  7. ^ a b c d e Hale and Payton 2000, p. 26.
  8. ^ a b Shuker 2002, p. 212.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jon Pareles (November 29, 1987). "Pop View; New-Age Music Booms, Softly". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d Newport 1998, p. 476.
  11. ^ a b c John Schaefer (December 1985). "New Sounds". Spin. Vol. 1, no. 8. p. 63. ISSN 0886-3032.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Steven Rea (February 22, 1987). "New-age Music: Hard To Define, But It Sells It Even Has A Grammy Category Of Its Own". articles.philly.com. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Don Heckman (February 27, 1994). "Trends: New Age Enters a New Phase: Call it what you want, but the sound of Yanni and his similarly minded pals ... is reaching far beyond its old image of ambient mood music". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ Newport 1998, p. 476, 478.
  15. ^ "Roots of Space". Hearts of Space. Season 7. Episode 200. 1989-07-14.
  16. ^ a b c d Gregg Wager (December 2, 1988). "Artists Bring a Variety of Styles to New-Age Music". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ "Irv Teibel Obituary". Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  18. ^ Wright, Carol. Spectrum Suite—Steven Halpern. AllMusic.
  19. ^ a b c d e Roger Catlin (April 26, 1992). "New Age Artists Want A New Label". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on 2014-12-17. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  20. ^ a b Steven Halpern, New Age Voice Magazine, June 1999 issue
  21. ^ Marini 2003, p. 168.
  22. ^ a b c d Newport 1998, p. 478.
  23. ^ Newport 1998, p. 478–479.
  24. ^ Newport 1998, p. 480.
  25. ^ a b c d Newport 1998, p. 479.
  26. ^ Newport 1998, p. 475.
  27. ^ Marini 2003, p. 181.
  28. ^ a b Seaward 2011.
  29. ^ Birosik, Patti Jean (1989). The New Age Music Guide. Collier MacMillan. p. 138. ISBN 0-02-041640-7.
  30. ^ Cope, David (2001). New directions in music. Michigan University: Waveland Press. p. 259. ISBN 9781577661085.
  31. ^ "Tangerine Dream In Concert: Moogfest 2011". NPR. 29 October 2011.
  32. ^ Peter Culshaw (6 January 2005). "My Greek odyssey with Alexander". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  33. ^ Steve Appleford (October 28, 1994). "Playing to Emotions: Kitaro brings his New Age blend of rock, classical and folk to Universal Amphitheatre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 24, 2016. 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.
  34. ^ Marini 2003, p. 180–181.
  35. ^ "David Lanz Website Bio". Archived from the original on 2006-12-23. Retrieved 2006-12-05.
  36. ^ Yanni; Rensin, David (2002). Yanni in Words. Miramax Books. pp. 123, 202. ISBN 1-4013-5194-8. Puckett, Jeffrey Lee (April 26, 2012). "Yanni up close: Musician known for larger-than-life venues also loves the Louisville Palace". The Courier-Journal. Archived from the original on April 29, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  37. ^ Wheeler, Fred (2002). "Interview with Bradley Joseph". Indie Journal. Archived from the original on 2005-09-08. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  38. ^ Puckett, Jeffrey Lee, "Yanni up close: Musician known for larger-than-life venues also loves the Louisville Palace", The Courier-Journal, April 26, 2012.
  39. ^ Newport 1998, p. 475–476.
  40. ^ Marini 2003, p. 167.
  41. ^ Derk Richardson (Nov 1986). "The Sounds of Sominex". Mother Jones. Vol. 11, no. 8. Mother Jones Magazine. p. 60. ISSN 0362-8841.
  42. ^ Birosik, Patti Jean (1989). The New Age Music Guide. Collier Books. ISBN 978-0-02-041640-1.
  43. ^ Werkhoven, Henk N. (1997). The International Guide to New Age Music. Billboard Books / Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8230-7661-1.
  44. ^ "Roots of Space". Hearts of Space. Season 7. Episode 200. 1989-07-14.
  45. ^ Marini 2003, p. 173–175.
  46. ^ Orme, Mike (7 December 2006). "The Bluffer's Guide: The Berlin School". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 16 February 2022. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  47. ^ a b Marini 2003, p. 166.
  48. ^ Marini 2003, p. 166–167.
  49. ^ Marini 2003, p. 167–168.
  50. ^ a b Geoff Mayfield (October 25, 1986). "The Independents: Oasis of Individuality Offering Welcome Relief from the Volume Wars". Billboard Magazine. Nielsen Business Media. p. 22.
  51. ^ Barbieri, Susan M. (January 2, 1990). "New Age Lives With A Bad Rap Artists Dislike Labels Attached To The Music". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  52. ^ a b c Balfe, Judith H. (1993). Paying the piper: causes and consequences of art patronage. University of Illinois Press. pp. 279–81. ISBN 0-252-06310-4.
  53. ^ PJ Birosik (March 1989). "Dreamtime Return". Yoga Journal. Active Interest Media, Inc. pp. 94–95.
  54. ^ Weinert, Ellie (1995-03-04). "Billboard Vol. 107, No. 9 – Casebook: Enigma". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. p. 58. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
  55. ^ Steve McClure; Robbert Tilli (March 22, 1997). "New Age Activity In The International Marketplace". Billboard. Vol. 109, no. 12. p. 45. ISSN 0006-2510.
  56. ^ JD (April 1, 1995). "Rebels And Refugees: Artists Express Independence By Establishing Own Labels". Billboard. Vol. 107, no. 13. p. 68. ISSN 0006-2510.
  57. ^ John Diliberto (December 29, 2001). "The Year In New Age: Big Changes, Rainless Days' Reign". Billboard. Vol. 113, no. 52. p. 76. ISSN 0006-2510.


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