New Age music had its 15 minutes of fame in the mid/late 1980s. A diverse group of artists made New Age music hot and marketable. Patti Jean Birosik‘s book The New Age Music Guide – Profiles and Recordings of 500 Top New Age Musicians from 1989 was published as a result of the genre’s sudden popularity. It is a great read, and a piece of New Age music history as well.
The text on the back cover says a lot about the popularity of the genre at the time of publication:
The genre’s Golden Age was a result of both sociological and technological changes. The new synths of this period gave new possibilities in terms of sound. Perhaps the 1980s also had a need for something a bit more otherworldly and thoughtful, and New Age music had something to offer in this respect? The genre is also a by-product of the hippies movement and their love for New Age religion. But most importantly; there was still a big marked for recorded music. Everyone bought cassettes and LP records. Music really did matter, at least in terms of sales and revenue. In the back of Birosik’s book is an index of the many New Age music labels at the time; over 200 dedicated labels were created in the mid/late 1980s to publish in the new genre.
Patti Jean Birosik, or P. J. Birosik, was a music promoter, reviewer and author. She was married to New Age music producer Paul Scott. She died in January 2006. P. J. was a great writer and her New Age music reviews are some of the best ever written.
Though as a book, index and guide, The New Age Music Guide feels somewhat rushed. The artist profiles contain the name of the albums – but not the year of their initial release. P. J. explains that this is because of chaos in the information supplied by the artists and lables. The artist profiles are mostly short, and does not add much information about the artists in question.
But what makes this into a great book is the way P. J. divides the New Age music genre into sub-genres. She has also invited music writers and artist to give their description of a selected sub-genre. P. J. herself has selected artists that belong in each sub-genres. The artist profiles are also labeled with one or more sub-genres. Tangerine Dream for instance is labeled as Space Music.
The book has a nice foreword by Steven Halpern. It is one of the best articles ever written about our genre, and well worth the book’s current second hand price. He gives an interesting introduction to the different aspects of New Age music – like its harmony, timbre and texture – though I disagree that our genre does not have rhythm and a pulse. In the foreword to the book released 10 years later, Henk N. Werkhoven’s The international guide to new age music (1998), Halpern is much more in favor of removing the New Age music genre label all together and the term Contemporary adult instrumental.
The book has little value today as an artist index. But interestingly enough, most of the major artists today were already big in 1989 (Yanni, Deuter, Peter Kater, Suzanne Doucet – and the list is even longer). There are some very obscure artists here too, which are likely not to be found anywhere but here – and in a long forgotten cassette box somewhere.
The New Age Music Guide – Profiles and Recordings of 500 Top New Age Musicians is a nice piece of New Age music history, and a statement of our genre’s success in the mid/late 1980s. If you love our genre, you’ll love this book! But if your are looking for a hard format New Age music artist index, the Henk N. Werkhoven’s The international guide to new age music (1998) is a better and more updated choice.
The book is available on Amazon from various global bookstores.