Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Genesis of New Age Music (Part Three) - California Composers Part 2

The Genesis of New Age Music - Part Three

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.

Digital Symphonies
     The most important music that I discovered from listening to Steven Hill and Anna Turner's "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio show during 1980 was the amazing electronic music from Europe. I dedicate Part 4 of this series to that subject. I will only say that at this point in my narrative, I had realized for the first time that by my using synthesizers and electronic equipment, I could "orchestrate" the piano improvisations that I had been playing for six years. I have always visualized my music as orchestral from the time that I started composing music in my head as a small child.
     As quickly as I could, I put together an electronic music studio in our Santa Rosa bedroom. I began by buying a minimoog synthesizer from my friends, the duo Emerald Web. They were a part of the burgeoning new age music scene in the Bay Area.
Emerald Web circa 1981

Valley of the Birds, by Emerald Web

     I also purchased a small Roland string synthesizer to create sustained chords to provide a smooth string-like chordal sound. With it and my minimoog instruments in conjunction with my Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder, I immediately created two spontaneous pieces of music, one of which I later released on a compilation called Favorites. It is called "Cry of the Infinite." I have recently made a video using that piece of music:

Cry of the Infinite, by Don Robertson

     Next, I purchased a professional 8-track tape recorder to enable me to overdub different tracks, and an Oberheim sequencer that I could use to create repeated note-patterns. I then set to work on my first synthesizer album called Resurrection. I worked on it for six months. 
     I learned a lot making this album, as I had no previous experience in recording, mixing and mastering music, let alone producing cassettes. I joined the Audio Engineering Society and went down to Los Angeles to attend conventions where I would learn from professionals.
     When I had completed the album, I was unsure of the final result and asked Michael Sterns if he would remix the album properly for me, but he told me the tape sounded fine. And so Resurrection became the first album on my new DBR Music cassette label.
     Resurrection landed like a lead balloon in the "new age" market. I sent it to a magazine called "New Age" but their review was not very favorable. However, in England it became a sensation in the synthesizer music field and Resurrection entered the top twenty on the synth music charts, inspiring the successful UK composer Clifford White to change his career and become a synthesizer musician.
     My friend, the great visionary artist Brian MacGovern, had created an amazing cover for the album, but I received so many complaints about it, and because I wanted to sell the album in my own country, I changed the cover to a banal nature photo. Still, this album wasn't making it in America.

Original Cover by Brian McGovern

           Resurrection, by Don Robertson

The Genre Starts to Take Off
     Ethan Edgecombe, the new age music distributor, was very aggressive and was now selling music recordings not only in metaphysical bookstores, but in places like Star Magic that had two stores that sold space-related gifts. One was in San Francisco and the other in New York City.
     He was setting up special displays and really marketing the product, and people began buying this new music. Because the stores were gradually being tagged with the "new age" moniker, the music was being called new age also.

Constance Demby
     Constance Demby moved to the San Francisco area from Boston, and we began doing concerts together in the Bay Area. She would perform her music with a number of exotic instruments, some especially made for her like her "space bass," the large metal structure behind her in the photo below.
Joint Concert with Don Robertson and Constance Demby with Norman B. Miller - San Rafael, California 1980

     I introduced Connie to Stephen Hill and Anna Turner of Hearts of Space, and Anna helped her create an electronic album called "Novus Magnificat." The album was released in 1986 on a new "Hearts of Space" record label created by Steve and Anna. It ended up selling over 200,000 copies. 
Novus Magnificat, by Constance Demby

Inner Sanctum
     The artist Aeoliah, whose painting I had used on my Celestial Ascent album, wanted to become a recording artist. He wasn't really a musician, but he could play a few chords on the keyboard, and so he and I recorded an album of music in my bedroom studio. On this album I recorded one of my piano improvisations for the first time. This album, called Inner Sanctum launched Aeoliah's career and he became one of the highest-selling artists in the new age genre.

"Heartflame" - Don Robertson, piano

  I traded my work on Aeoliah's album for his original painting called "Rainbow Ray." It's hanging in my studio.

"The Rainbow Ray" by Aeoliah

Song of the Reed
     I also recorded a song "Shower of Nectar" with Steve Coughlin in my home studio. Ethan Edgecombe had started his own record label, called Fortuna records, and this album was one of his first releases.  

Shower of Nector, by Steve Coughlin and Don Robertson

    As sales of new age music began to take off, other distributors entered the fray. Vital Body Marketing and Narada were the second and third new age distributers to emerge.
My Favorites
     OK, what was the American "new age" electronic music from this period that I liked the most? Let's start with San Francisco Bay Area composer Iasos, the originator of truly angelic music. His "Angels of Comfort" is a masterpiece. I thank him for helping getting me started in electronic music.

     Angels of Comfort, by Iasos 

"Mother Earth's Lullaby" by Synchestra was a cassette tape:
Excerpt from The Mother Earth's Lullaby Album, by Synchestra

Ray Lynch was creating great music:
"No Blue Thing," by Ray Lynch - His music was just awesome

     Ray hit the nail on the head with his masterful album called Deep Breakfast. Listen to "Celestial Soda Pop":
Celestial Soda Pop, by Ray Lynch

In the next installment, Part Four of Genesis of New Age Music - The European Composers

© 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.


  1. My father really loves The Genesis of New Age Music. And they have collection of their beats. Hope they have a more bright future in music industry.

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  3. Nice piece of history on the genesis of the then "new" style/genre of music people had started to create. NA music was a big influence on me as a teen in the 1980s albeit I was a fan of the new wave scene it was Kitaro and Steve Raoch's music that took me on my way towards the new listening highways of electronic music. Needless to say I have recorded over 2 dozen electronic music cds of my own in the ambient/new age genre and think this music has a very positive effect for many a listener.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and history. I would really LOVE to see a Don Robertson cd box set of all the early recordings...

  4. I love The Genesis of New Age Music and i have many collection of these artist in studio. Hope to see some best upbeats from this artist in 2016.

  5. I am proud of the great one who creat that music. It must be said as a masterpieces, a perfect contribution for music of Beethoven. He overcame his hard circumstance, fate, illness to come up with music. Girl

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