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New Age Music as American Folk Art


The New Yorker’s Nathan Taylor Pemberton has published a story called “The Case for New Age Music as American Folk Art”. It is about J. D. Emmanuel and his career. Emmanuel says: “You don’t make music to make money. You make music because you’re moved to do it from your heart. I just cared about having fun, doing the music.”

It goes like this: 

“Recently, a group of people armed with tote bags and wearing subdued clothes settled into the wooden pews of a Unitarian church in Brooklyn Heights to watch the final performance of a New Age musician named J. D. Emmanuel. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt in an unnatural blue and a leather safari hat, Emmanuel announced to nearly three hundred people who were in attendance that he wanted to share a story before starting. He explained his creative journey, from his earliest recording experiments in his Texas home to the present moment, when, at seventy years old, he stood as an unlikely legend of experimental music who has become a catalyst for the resurgence of New Age in the past decade.

Emmanuel spoke over a soundscape of chirping birds, running water, and rustling leaves—a field recording that he made in his backyard; the pews creaked restlessly as audience members strained to hear him. He jumped from subject to subject—the composer Terry Riley, tape loops, mindfulness, neuro-linguistic programming, and the activity that changed the course of his life as a teen: listening to music on his couch, while laying down with his eyes closed. The only accurate way to describe the sensation, Emmanuel told the room, was “time travel.”

The sensation was so satisfying, as Emmanuel tells it, that he started to make music that could heighten that feeling. During the years 1979 to 1985, he made recordings in a bedroom converted into a home studio, filled with four analog synthesizers, a four-track reel-to-reel recorder, and an echo effects box. His sound was ethereal and murky—without horizon, words, or classical structures. He liked to layer his synthesizers, locking them together in contrasting cycles, creating a sense of surging movement. At the time, Emmanuel lived in Houston, home to ZZ Top. A hub of hard-rock and crude oil. Unable to draw inspiration from “cow country,” as he calls it, Emmanuel looked to the “kosmische musik” (or cosmic music) of Germany, made by groups such as Cluster and Tangerine Dream.”

Read the complete story here

While you are at it, check out the amazing “Electronic Minimal Music, 1979 – 1983” by J D Emmanuel: