Friday, July 15, 2011

Greg Davis interview

Researching New Age music and its reincarnation, it became imperative to chat with Greg Davis. (As introduction, I had to come clean on writing this review of his work.) While gaining renown as a musician/ composer, Davis has also curated the incredible Crystal Vibrations blog. There's too much good stuff tucked away in there, but you'd be remiss in not aligning your skull with albums like Laraaji's Essence/ Universe, Steve Roach's Structures From Silence, and more.

Greg Davis

I’ve been a big record collector for years and years (probably since I was about 14-15 years old). And in the past 6-7 years I started to buy and try to find good New Age records. They are often the cheap records at the store and so I've bought alot over the years and just slowly weeded through them to find the gems and the good music.

A lot of the best New Age albums, to me, are the ones that are an outgrowth of the hippie / psychedelic scene of the 60s - 70s. People had been living in communes for years and digging into alternative spiritualities and lifestyles and getting blissed out and started making some amazing music. It seems that New Age music really got its start in the late 70s (although there are a couple of isolated earlier examples). Some of those first Stephen Halpern records or the first Iasos records are often cited as the original New Age records. Halpern's 'Spectrum Suite' especially has all of the trappings of New Age: The New Age speak on the back cover, chakra zones, sound healing, sonic incense, all that good stuff. And it was released by Halpern himself on his own label. Halpern, Iasos, Joel Andrews and others were part of a California scene that probably started in 1973 at the festival to honor the Comet Kohoutek, it kinda started there and blossomed and that coincides with the following...

It’s really hard to say what the first New Age record is. There was stuff coming out of the German music scene like Ashra, Deuter, Cluster, Peter Michael Hamel and others that might be considered New Age. Paul Horn goes back to the late 60s with 'Inside', but I see him coming more out a jazz background then into hippie / eastern mystic vibes. 'Inside' was a very successful record and he mined that for all it was worth. Along with Horn, people like Vangelis, Paul Winter, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, etc and others helped lay the foundation and groundwork for New Age.

It really was an outsider music, made on private press labels and distributed to local gem shops and New Age bookstores and things like that but like any genre or style of music, it eventually becomes commercialized --especially given the climate of the 80s-- and New Agers started to see $$$$$ in their eyes. And I think by the mid 80s, the soul and the original inspiration for New Age music died out and left and now it’s become this big huge business (even for many of the original artists). So my main window for good New Age music has been from about 1975-1985.

It wasn’t too hard for me to work past the baggage of the New Age genre. I'm always interested in giving any kind of music or sound a chance even if it’s totally maligned. Plus I seem to resonate with core New Age ideas and beliefs in some ways so it doesn’t always turn me off. And being a big fan of drone, ambient, cosmic and psychedelic musics, all of this can be found in the New Age world.

I started the Crystal Vibrations blog in 2007 because I wanted to share GOOD New Age music and try to give it a better name again and show some people that there are some really great records out there that are considered New Age. To me, good music is good music, I really don’t care what the label / genre / style is. Also, when I decided to start a music sharing blog, I wanted to have something unique. I didn’t want to just make another jazz blog or African music blog or psych blog or something like that, there are hundreds of those out there and they do it well already. So I felt this could serve a little niche and turn some people on to some weird old record and cast them in a new light.

I think people are gravitating towards it because of what has happened in the cassette underground in the USA. There was a very prominent noise cassette / show culture bubbling up again that was becoming the hot new thing for awhile, but then bands like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never started to come out of this scene playing a different kind of music using synths and pointing back to kraut rock / kosmiche / Berlin school / New Age styles. And then eventually many folks in the noise scene started shifting from making harsh noise music to making placid ambient spacy droney musics over the course of a few years. 

It was a remarkable transition to watch (I've also been loosely a part of it with my own music). And I think this movement into a softer, more spacious music has fueled an interest in some older New Age musics that share some similarities. All of the lines get blurry as you know...(I won’t take the time to talk about new bands / musicians that have co-opted New Age fashion and ideas just to be cool or different, I'm more interested in how New Age music has influenced the music of today)

I think New Age music can serve as a remedy for ADD music listening habits or help people cool and calm their minds a little bit. And especially with longer pieces, it gives you time to get immersed in a space and chill out. I think the ubiquity of drone music (New Age or not) was also a response to the internet / information / cell phone / Ipod age.

I've been able to move my threshold for liking pretty cheesy New Age music pretty high at this point. But I feel like I still have a perspective on what’s good and what isn’t. I think the cringe worthy stuff is the New Age music that is all talk and no play if you know what I mean. There is a bunch of New Age rhetoric / jargon and then the music is lousy or tossed off. Mostly the music where the artists just seem to be in it for the money is the ones that turn me off. I wholeheartedly love the spirit of New Age music (when its right) and I really gravitate towards the synth side of things (I tend not to dig strictly instrumental New Age, although there are some fine exceptions).

I do get a bit of feedback from the blog. It has quite a few followers if that means anything. And people really dig the fact that I'm curating and unearthing these musical treasures. Its not an easy job but someone's gotta do it. I've noticed since I started my blog that some other share blogs have started posted some of their favorite New Age records too. My best story about the blog is one guy got in touch with me who I think used to own a New Age bookstore or something and he said he had a box of like 200 New Age cassettes, so he donated them to the blog, I just had to pay shipping on them. So the majority of the posts in the near future will be from that collection. There is a lot of great stuff in there (and a lot of bad stuff!).