Styles & Forms | New Age | Electronic

New age music has become the most popular form of contemporary electronic music. Unlike the other variants, new age has become popular with a global mainstream audience, even more so than the most commercial strains of contemporary chill out.

Although similarities do exist between new age and ambient music – both styles were influenced by the same pioneers, and ambient, like new age, is often composed to evoke a sense of calm or well-being – these styles are, in many ways, radically different.

Unlike ambient, new age embraces a set of lifestyle choices, beliefs and philosophies and, though an electronic form, is more likely to take on classical, pop, folk and ethnic influences than modern chill out and ambient.

The other main difference is that whereas ambient is still a largely underground, specialist sound, new age has made the transition to a mainstream audience, and has become a ubiquitous part of popular contemporary music. An indication of the growing audience for this music is reflected by former Clannad singer Enya, who has sold over 10 million copies of her 1991 album, Shepherd Moons, worldwide.

Synth Pioneers

The easiest way to explain its popularity is to look at where new age evolved from. Greek synth pioneer Vangelis contends ‘nothing’s new, we didn’t invent anything. It’s just one particular moment where we take a piece of something and it belongs to us for just a little bit.’

Some of new age music’s initial reference points are similar to ambient music’s background, particularly the epic, haunting synthesized soundscapes of French artist Jean-Michel Jarre, evident on Oxygene And Equinoxe; German act Tangerine Dream’s spacey works like Phaedra and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Vangelis wrote the utopian soundtrack for cult sci-fi movie Bladerunner, which sowed the seeds for the fusion of the techno-Futurist and spiritual enlightenment creed associated with new age.

New age also took inspiration from the neoclassical work of Eno collaborator Harold Budd’s albums,The Pavilion Of Dreams and Abandoned Cities, and minimalists like Philip Glass, but, crucially, also looked to the healing music of Dr. Steve Halpern – especially his ‘Spectrum Suite’ work. Here, the origins of new age and ambient embark on separate journeys.

Healing Music

While Eno’s ambient concept was based on making music to think to as well as relax to, the message behind Halpern’s work was to promote inner peace and well-being. He intended his music be used as an accompaniment to yoga, massage, meditation, and other healing arts practices. This is where new age is different from all other electronic music forms. Although, like other forms, it is often of an instrumental nature, one of its key drivers is its attendant lifestyle. The Californian new age movement was a gentle wake-up call from hippy excess and the post flower-power era, a west coast philosophy of enlightenment, self-awareness and healing. Eastern philosophies and practices have heavily influenced new age music, but, interestingly,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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