Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The peg for the New Age story stems from a Zamfir sample that Animal Collective used for their Fall Be Kind EP from 2009. Yet their love and appreciation for such New Age fare extends beyond that. The Geologist hepped me to Claire Hammill's ephemeral all-vocal album Voices a few years back and even amid their pop noise scramble, there remains a focus on tone and sustained sound that hints at much deeper listening practices. It was crucial to have their input for the piece and both Brian and Dave Portner obliged:
Brian "The Geologist" Weitz
I came to new age music through drone and ambient records that would be considered more experimental or minimalist than new age. I did a radio show on WKCR in New York that went from 1-5 AM and some nights I would just choose 4 long pieces to play. Things like Alvin Lucier and Charlemagne Palestine were big for me. This was in college and during those years I spent a semester living in the desert in Arizona which had a big effect on my music listening habits.
My pace of life slowed down a lot from when I lived in New York and it was easier to notice the subtle changes in the natural day, which required a certain amount of patience and willingness to concentrate on small details that unfold over longer periods of time. I wanted the same kind of feeling from records I was listening to. I'm not sure I'd describe the effect this has as relaxing. I suppose it is, but it's more the hypnotic quality of it that I find appealing.
Eventually, I came to hear some private press new age records that weren't all that different from something like Terry Riley and the boundaries started to disappear for me. I think the reason there is a stigma attached to a lot of new age music is because of the personalities associated with it. I don't have a problem with it, but I think there is sort of a naive optimism to the aesthetic. It's the same thing that turns a lot of people away from hippie psych records. I like those too though.
I think the recent popularity is similar to the popularity of a lot of hippie psych folk stuff from a few years ago, but I'm not sure I know why it's happening. Maybe it's a distance thing. Those personalty types typically associated with those music styles aren't as prevalent and people who have a more punk attitude don't have to interact with them and feel the need to push back. In fact these days the people making experimental music that sounds a lot like new age stuff have a more underground punk aesthetic, which maybe makes it easier to swallow.
Dave "Avey Tare" Portner
Where did that Zamfir sample come from?
I came across it because I was getting more into Eastern European music, Bulgarian, Hungarian, etc. that melody on the record stuck out. The flute stuff is really crazy. It was tough to work into a song.
It didn’t dawn on me that people would have the reaction that it was a New Age flute thing. It seemed normal and something that would work.
I know Zamfir’s music because of those infomercials in the 80s.
I didn’t even associate it with that; I just stumbled upon that record.
I think Gang Gang Dance goes for that kind of stuff as well, the cheesier the tone the better.
There’s a side of me that really loves this ambient space-out music. A few of us trade these ambient records every now and then. Like Iasos, just music like that. That record I suggested to you, Syrinx, I think those guys even played with Zamfir. To me, the world treads the line between…you look in the New Age section, the experimental section, similar records fall into either one.
They’re both into suspension and drones.
My love of New Age music comes from me liking drone and minimalist music, things with microtones. But there’s also this side of me that comes from my mom, who listened to a lot of New Age music when I was growing up. We used to go to Miami a lot, and there was this New Age store that had all these tapes. I remember looking at the covers with dolphins on them. I remember my mom bought Deep Breakfast by Ray Lynch. I love that record. That’s the side that’s super cheesy to me, adult contemporary. Yoga videos my mom used to watch with people sitting in front of waterfalls doing yoga poses. I associate it a lot with certain childhood things.
I guess people are getting into it. A lot of it is ‘out there,' if you get into that kind of thing. Ambient music has gotten more popular. People are into the peacefulness and it’s good music for being calm. I listen to that kind of stuff around the house and on tour. I have things on my iPod. Being on tour and listening and playing loud music, I want to listen to something that’s going to calm me down.
Friday, July 15, 2011
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.
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!).
Monday, July 11, 2011
This fall, the RVNG Intl. label will release another entry in their highly ambitious FRKWYS series, this one documenting a studio meeting between experimental noise duo Blues Control and one of the godfathers of ambient/ New Age music, Laraaji Nadabrahmananda. Once known as Edward Larry Gordon, Laraaji released the seminal Ambient 3: Day of Radiance on Eno's label and continues to create some of the most transcendent music around. So it made sense to talk about this collaboration for the New Age story, so I reached out to both parties:
Were you surprised that a new band like Blues Control they reached out to you?
A: LEA AND RUSS'S INVITE STIMULATED MY CREATIVE PERFORMANCE IMAGINATION. I FELT HONORED THAT THEY WANTED TO REACH FOR AMBIENT EXPERIMENTATION WITH ME.
Were you familiar with their music at all?
A: NOT AT ALL BUT INTUITION SAID THIS WOULD BE A FUN AND MEANINGFUL
EXPLORATION. I TRUSTED THAT WE ALL WOULD CONTACT MAGIC IN THE STUDIO.
How did you feel about the music you enacted together?
A: THE MUSIC RESULTS NEEDED SOME REMIXING TO LOCATE THE BLEND THAT FELT BALANCED TO US ALL.. I WELCOMED THE CHANCE TO JAM THROUGH SPONTANEOUS INSPIRATION AND THEN EDIT DOWN TO VERY NEW ENERGY MOVING MUSIC. I ENJOYED THE FUN SPIRIT WE ALL HELD AND WHICH CAN BE HEARD IN THE MIX DOWN.
Do you ever worry that younger listeners might not take the time to be more contemplative and receptive in this culture?
A: I HAVE FOUND YOUNGER LISTENERS ACROSS THE PLANET WHO DO DIVE DEEP INTO CONTEMPLATIVE LISTENING. AND I FEEL THERE ARE DEVOTED MUSICIANS CULTIVATING THEIR ROLES AS BRINGERS OF DEEP LISTENING INSPIRATION. I ACCEPT MY ROLE IN HELPING LISTENERS YOUNG AND ELDERLY TO LOCATE THEIR DEEPER STILLNESS THROUGH CREATIVE AMBIENT MUSIC LISTENING.
Or has there always been such a struggle for higher consciousness through each age?
A: THERE SEEMS TO BE A PRESENCE OF RIGHT ARTISTS GUIDANCE IN EACH AGE PROVIDING INSPIRATION FOR HIGHER EMOTIONAL SELF CONNECTION. THE STRUGGLE TO IDENTIFY THE ESSENTIAL SELF IN EACH AGE APPEARS REAL, BUT THE WAY SHOWERS AND THE TOOLS ARE HERE.
How did you become aware of Laraaji's music? What did you think about it? Were you into other "New Age" artists as well or did that type of music not appeal to you?
We first became aware of Laraaji's music when we bought Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. That release seems to be the usual gateway to his music. We loved it so much that we started including it in gifts to family and friends for a while. We had already been listening to other new age artists by that time; Laraaji wasn't our first trip into the genre. This was in the early 2000s when our interest in noise music was waning, and consequently we started exploring different types of psychedelic music more avidly, including new age, krautrock, synth and electronic music.
We started our own new age band Watersports in 2003, and we were looking for new age-related lps/cds/tapes wherever we could find them - from dollar/thrift stores and used lp stores, to big chains like Target and Virgin Megastore cutout bins. Thankfully always cheap! There was a Barnes&Noble near Russ' dad's house in the suburbs that had an awesome new age CD section in the early 2000s. Every time we visited, we'd pick up anything that looked interesting or old. They eventually downsized the store, but for a while the new age section was extensive. We always joked that we were dying to meet the new age buyer and find out who this person was.
When we started Watersports in 2003, we didn't know anyone at all who was playing new age music, and we only knew one person who listened to it (our former roommate Joel St. Germain). I remember playing new age records at our house for friends around this time and getting fully laughed at. People would shake their heads, and just say "I don't know, man." We bought an Envirascape fountain at the Fulton Mall, and we included it in our early shows, mic'ing the water and nature sounds, and using it as a visual focal point. People ridiculed us for that too, hah. Our influences when we started out were Deuter, Golden Voyage, Environments LPs / Nature sounds CDs, Paul Winter, Klaus Wiese, Henry Wolff/Nancy Hennings, Wendy Carlos - Sonic Seasonings, Shadowfax, Georgia Kelly, Steve Hillage, Vangelis, Eberhard Schoener, Jade Warrior, Synergy, Messaien organ works, Charles Lloyd, and many more.
As Watersports evolved, we explored a lot more new age/kraut/synth/electronic music and also got deep into our classic rock/blues/hard rock interests, and that's how the idea for Blues Control started. The influences for BC are diverse, but we still include a lot of new age in what we do. I remember a review of an early BC show compared us to Kitaro, which was meant to be a diss at the time. Musically, I took it as a compliment.
Who's idea was it to collaborate, RVNG's or yours? What made you think that Blues Control would be a good fit with him? What was it like improvising with him in the moment? Did you do his deep listening meditations as well?
When Matt invited us to do a FRKWYS collab record, it didn't take long for us to suggest Laraaji, and Matt was all for it. Aside from loving Laraaji's music, we had already communicated with Laraaji in the past and always got a good vibe from him. The first time we went to see him play live was in 2004 at an in-store benefit for Tribal Soundz in Manhattan. His set that night was amazing, and I had a pleasant conversation with him afterward when I bought a CD. Then in 2010, I emailed him to see if he would play with Blues Control at an ESP Records in-store. He declined due to previous travel plans, but my communication with him via email was great - he was and still is a really open, joyful, down-to-earth person.
I had no idea if he would be interested in the collab idea, but his response turned out to be very positive. We scheduled a phone call to discuss details, and it all came together quickly after that. The only things he wanted to work out beforehand were instrumentation and key, so as to encourage a spontaneous and inspired improvisation. We met at Black Dirt Studio in upstate NY in December 2010. The first serendipitous sign was when everyone started setting up gear in the studio, and I realized for the first time that our setups were incredibly similar. Laraaji brought along a musical friend, Arji Cakouros, who joined in occasionally, and we all improvised for 4 hours on a single day. The jams frequently went as long as 45 minutes, and Laraaji deftly moved between very different soundworlds with ease. Everyone, including the engineer, was marveling at Laraaji's coordination, timing, and musicality.
Improvising with Laraaji was an emotional, spiritual, positive, healing experience. I really can't convey the immensity in words... It's rare that I cry from sheer joy, gratitude, and awe of beauty, but I was holding back tears at one point during the session. The experience affirmed my initial love and understanding of music and the inscrutable/infinitely beautiful/meaningful universe, and made inconsequential a lot of negativity I had come to associate with modern life and modern music.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
As Oneohtrix Point Never, Daniel Lopatin has staked out a previously uninhabited/ inhospitable ground between bracing electronic noise and the warm washes of New Age. With albums like Rifts and Returnal, OPN was one of the acts that drew what it needed from the New Age aesthetic while leaving the rest behind, and sure enough, Dan waxed eloquently on the subject (though he later apologized for being too intellectual).
Can you tell me how you first got into New Age music or what got you to see beyond the stigma of such sounds?
A lot of new age is slightly more watered down kosmische musik made with very specific purposes in mind, like I remember certain Michael Hedges records came with instructions. Although I doubt they'd ever admit it, some of it was made by otherwise legitimized kosmische musik legends like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. The only difference is there's no discreet new age rhetoric, although Vangelis was very much into glorifying epic terrestrial landscapes and that is very new age in its own way.
I always enjoyed the idea that somehow certain striated musical textures (kosmische, krautrock) are considered high brow and how smoothened (new age) textures signal something more pop. For a while I was into seeing how you could take something smooth and make it more striated via synthesizers and samplers and loopers. Because I mostly listen for texture, new age was is a huge resource for all kinds of non rhythmic texture that can act as a sort of jumping off point.
Does such music have a mental effect for you when you listen to it?
It does but it's not very relaxing. It often stresses me out in the sense that I think about how strange it is that an artist would feel that relinquishing their role as composer and letting music just freely float and just be would ever be a good thing. There's a superficial dissolution of the ego in both new age music and western mysticism that I find amusing. It's also very creepy in a sexual sense. Deuter, Andreas Vollenweider and even 80s Vangelis to a certain extent make perverted sounding new age music. They introduce this smooth jazz sexiness that is like some weird form of headphone molestation. It's uncomfortable.
It's contested whether or not my favorite new age records are actually more pure "ambient" records but often I can't really tell the difference other than the wrapping. But I love Steve Roach - Structures From Silence. For me it's on par with Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II in terms of emotionality. A more obvious and actual new age record that I love and don't find sexually creepy is Iasos - Elixir, whose title says it all.
Do any of the other aspects of New Age music (be it vegetarian lifestyle, yoga, crystals, etc.) resonate for you at all?
Not at all -- I'm pretty pedestrian in terms of my lifestyle choices. I think people love the sounds because they heighten or color reality in an interesting way that music on FM radio or MTV2 or whatever doesn't really do. At least not at the moment.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
This past Sunday, I wrote a large piece for the LA Times about what I dubbed "The New Age of New Age," the wave of new artists and producers drawing on the soothing, chakra-massaging sounds of New Age music for their own purposes. For the story, I talked to artists like Animal Collective, Blues Control, Oneohtrix Point Never, Laraaji, and Greg Davis, as well as Douglas Mcgowan of Yoga Records. lots of interesting insight was offered, so over the next few weeks, I'll be posting their interviews in full here.