Friday, March 4, 2016

The Genesis of New Age Music (Part One) The Dawn of New Age Music

The Genesis of New Age Music - Part One

By Don Robertson

In this eight-part series, I provide the true story of the birth and development of the new age music genre. This series will reveal how we, the new age composers and musicians, began placing the first new-age recordings into distribution, how writers and critics transmogrified what we were doing into some kind of "new-age movement," and finally, when we were beginning to have international influence, how the music and radio industries hijacked the name "new age music," and in order to make money, created a false new age music genre, forcing me and some of my colleges to leave the genre altogether, never looking back.
     Out of the 1960's arose a social and art movement that few people understand today (you had to be there). Some called it "the hippies," others the "counterculture." 
     Dozens of English expressions in common use today were born at that time. The acceptance of Eastern music and philosophies happened then as well as the awareness of organic farming, ecology, human rights, spirituality, healthy diet, clean water, sexual liberation... our eyes were opened and we began to deal with a new world.
     Some of us who were a part of this movement carried forth our vision from the sixties as our life mission. Then of course, others just became the casualties. Meanwhile the whole counterculture movement was ridiculed, infiltrated, misrepresented, and dumbed-down for the ingestion of those who looked in from the outside via the corporate-controlled mass media.
     “New age music” was one of the products of the sixties. Presented here is my own perspective of 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, radio, and other interested parties entered the picture.

     I was there....
The Dawn of New Age Music
     A child of the 1960s, new age music was born among the experimentation with psychedelics and the unfolding of spirituality that ensued, fostering interest in astrology, yoga, Ti Chi, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, esoteric Christianity and other spiritual practices. It first appeared as music for meditation. 
     In 1964, the first major-label album of music for meditation was recorded by Tony Scott, a jazz clarinetist who had been living in Japan. His Music for Zen Meditation was recorded in February, 1964 in Tokyo. The album consisted of relaxing clarinet improvisations accompanied by Japanese koto and an occasional shakuhatchi.

"Is it All Not One?" from Music for Zen Meditation

     The next album of meditation music was called Inside. Another jazz woodwind player, flutist Paul 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 the result was Inside, which consisted of a set of beautiful flute solos blended with the reverberation of the great building. It's a great album:
"Prologue" from Inside the Taj Mahal by Paul Horn
     Horn went on to produce not only other albums of flute playing in reverberant halls, but collaborated with Ravi Shankar on an album, recorded another with other Indian musicians, and collaborated with Indian musicians on Paul Horn in India and Paul Horn in Kashmir.
"Raga Kirwani" from Paul Horn in Kashmir
     On another album, called Inside II, Paul Horn overdubbed flutes for a rendition of a Palestrina kyrie. This piece demonstrated that Horn considered his new meditation music inclusive of more than one type of music, regardless of culture and time. These records were not considered to be “new age music,” but they absolutely were.
Palestrina Kyrie from Inside II by Paul Horn

Corinne Heline - New Age Music Prophet
     Personally, I had been thinking about the idea of “new age music" beginning in 1967, when I first began studying the books by the American metaphysical writer, Corinne Heline:
  • The Esoteric Music of Richard Wagner (1948)
  • Healing and Regeneration Through Music (1952)

  • Beethoven's Nine Symphonies (1963)

  • Music - The Keynote of Human Evolution (1965)

  • The Cosmic Harp (1969)
     She talked about a coming new age, and the music that would be associated with it. Corinne Heline’s goal, however, was not to establish a genre or a movement. Her thesis was that, according to astrology, we were very slowly evolving into an enlightened age: the Age of Aquarius. In this age, music would return to its proper role as an agent for healing, meditation and upliftment.
     The best reference material that I have found about the idea of a new age is the book Lost Star of Myth and Time by Walter Cruttenden. It talks about the 25,920-year cycle called the "Great Year." I discussed this subject in my 1970 book "Kosmon."
          Find this book here on Amazon

I Become the First New Age Recording Artist
     Based on what I learned from Heline Corinne, I recorded my first album in San Fransisco in 1969 for Mercury Records’ new Limelight label. The title, Dawn, was a play on my first name, Don, and a reference to the dawning of a new age.
       As a composer and musician, I had first began moving in the direction of "new age music" after a 1968 realization that the so-called "contemporary classical music" that I had been composing for the previous five years was, in fact, negative music… the opposite of healing and uplifting positive music. It must be understood that composing music that was based on discords had become de riguer by that time. The Dawn album explained musically and graphically what I had discovered about music and its effects. It presented for the first time my understanding of positive and negative music.
     With this pioneer album, I clearly demonstrated that as in all things in creation, music too had an “up and a down” based on the alignment of scales, chords and overtones with the harmonic structure of creation, as demonstrated centuries ago by Pythagoras and Plato.
     To illustrate the difference between positive and negative music, Side One of the record presented the positive side - the “new age” music - and the other side, the negative. The opening music of Side One, the positive side, is a long piece that I improvised on a multi-stringed Indian-type of instrument in the natural pentatonic (five-note) scale that is common the world over – the most harmonious of all scales – along with a recitation from the ancient holy scriptures called the Upanishads.
"Dawn" from the Dawn album, with quotes from the Upanishads for openers

     For Side Two, I had been working on two kinds of negative music… one for each of my two lifelong musical genres: popular and classical. What I have named “duochordal contemporary classical music” represented the evolution of my classical music as of 1968, and the other was “heavy metal music.” However, the term “heavy metal” had not yet been coined. 
     I had been working on this dark heavy metal music for about a year, and my influence was Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum album. Blue Cheer was the first heavy metal rock band. 
     When I had signed with Mercury Records, Blue Cheer’s producer, the late Abe "Voco" Kesh, signed me on to be my producer also, and so I ended up with Blue Cheer rehearsing in the studio next to mine. Abe Kesh had unleashed the first heavy metal album with Blue Cheer, and the first album containing new age music with me. 
     To properly demonstrate the positive and negative polarity in music, in the Grateful Dead’s studio using their engineer Dan Healy, I recorded my ultimate piece of heavy metal negative music that I affectionately call The Bomb! The music was so awful, so frightening, that when I went back into the control room after we had performed this negative music, everyone in the control room, including my sister and famed San Francisco D.J. Dusty Street, was completely devastated… and my drummer had gone crazy… running around the studio naked, shouting. 
     The Bomb! was so negative that I was frightened to release it fearing what effect it may have had on people, and so I only included a few seconds in two places on Side Two:
     The following is the acclaimed sound collage that I created at the end of Side Two of the album. If you recognize the ominous and foreboding chords that I play on the celeste, yes you are right. They are duochords (explaned here):
     The realization that music could have both positive and negative effects effected me deeply. After all, the music that I had been composing before this 1969 album had been mired in discords. 

The Moody Blues
     My full cleansing from the years of discordant music took place during 1969. After I had completed the Dawn album I took a six-month sojourn in Mexico. It was there that a wide-eyed hippie named Wendell from Laguna Beach, California, continually stoned on LSD, told me about the rock band called the Moody Blues. My encounter with this music created an immediate love affair, and I listened to only the Moody Blues for at least a year. 
     The Moody Blues’ music from that period was an island of bliss in a sea of the cacophony being created by the emerging heavy-metal groups, such as Led Zepelin and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
     During my year listening to the Moody Blues, I gave away my radios, unplugged myself from the “Top 40” (the takeover of the US music culture by the conglomerates) and instead began my own intensive study of the classical music of the European tradition, from Gregorian chant to current day. 
Ten Years Study and Seclusion
     I had always 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. I would separate the healing from the confusing, the uplifing from the depressing. From what I had learned by reading Corinne Heline, I knew that within the classical music repertoire, I would make some great musical discoveries.
     I began these studies by studying and listening to the oldest music first: Gregorian chant. Slowly, I worked my way forward, listening, studying and learning about the sacred music of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. 
     It was a revelation when I discovered the great sacred choral music of the 16th century and some of its greatest composers. They were equal in stature to Bach and Beethoven, yet largely unknown: Orlando Lasso, Tomás Luis de VIctoria, Giovanni da Palestrina, Jacob Gallus/Handl and Christobol Morales and Josquin des Prez.
     Then came the music of the baroque era followed by the classical and romantic periods. From the books of Corinne Heline, from which I had already learned much, I discovered three great and totally misunderstood composers of the romantic era: Richard Wagner, César Franck, and Alexander Scriabin... the three most spiritual composers after the time of Beethoven. I spent about two years studying Wagner, and three or four more years on Scriabin and Franck. Except for a single piano piece that I wrote in one day, and a few pages of sketches, I wrote no music during the 1970s.
My 1973 New Age Music Cassette Series
     In 1973, I started a cassette series called "New Age Music." After purchasing a fantastic Revox reel-to-reel tape deck, I recorded my positive-music discoveries of Gregorian chant and Renaissance sacred music from LPs onto reel-to-reel tapes, and these became masters from which I produced cassette tapes that I gave away to friends and students. At this time, I was deeply involved in the discovery of the amazing sacred music of the 16th century. My New Age Music label consisted mostly of recordings of Josquin, Palestrina, Lassus, Gallus and Victoria.

I Discover a New Kind of Music
     While I was busy with my new age music cassette project and continuing my classical music research, something very special took place. It happened one morning when I awoke from a very powerful dream. In the dream, I had been composing a new kind of music, something completely new and original. I found that I could clearly recall the music, and I went to the piano and began playing it. This was a revelation for me. This is when I began improvising music in a new style, the result being over a dozen albums of music that would I would create during the 1980s through to today.
      During the following few days after this dream, I continued to in my new style, and new music continued to unfold. The following week I had another dream. In this dream, I was on a stage in a large room filled with people, all talking amongst themselves. I was seated at a piano, playing my new music and no one in the room… including those closest to me, was listening to me. This was an ominous dream, but absolutely prophetic. There would be many years of rejection that I would have to endure ahead.
     I explored this new music continually for the next seven years through improvisation at the piano as I perfected the music that I would later record. Every time that I improvised in the new musical style, I would deeply feel a great angelic host surrounding me. This was an absolutely magnificent experience. The new music was being given to me from another rhelm. No, I am not making this up.
     By the end of the 1970s, I had listened to and studied classical music from Gregorian chant through the music of the 19th century. At that point, when the 20th Century began, I did not proceed further into that century because I had already studied the music of the 20th century, including all of the negative, destructive music that had been composed during that period.
     I had now satisfied my goal of discovering positive music in the classical music tradition, but my studies and work in this area still continue today... 

Next - In Part 2 of this series, I will begin covering the recordings of New Age Music from California.
© 2005, 2016 by Don Robertson - Originally published in 2005 as a part of "Music Through the Centuries” by Don Robertson on This material was revised and expanded in 2016.

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