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New Age Music Searches For Its Proper Niche

One of the most interesting aspects of New Age music is that the genre has, to this day, never really been defined. Enjoy this New York Times article from August 1986 called “New Age Music Searches For Its Proper Niche”, and see that there is nothing truly new under the sun. “What is New Age music” is a question not easily answered. 

John Rockwell writes: 

“The proliferation of so-called ”new-age” music into our record stores, our radio stations and our national consciousness poses a categorical confusion and an esthetic dilemma. The confusion has to do with just what this lulling, restful stuff actually is – new? old? interesting? boring? sincere? exploitive? – and where it should be filed in record stores, record catalogues and home collections. The esthetic dilemma is how one establishes any convincing critical standards for a music whose seeming purpose is to call as little attention to itself as possible.

These troubling thoughts came to mind recently upon hearing a two-disk album entitled ”The Well and the Gentle” by Pauline Oliveros (Hat ART 2020, LP’s only; distributed by New Music Distribution Service, 500 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012). Miss Oliveros is an experimental avant-garde composer with plenty of credentials for ”seriousness.” This album is on a Swiss label devoted primarily to serious new jazz, and is hardly being marketed as a crossover new-age pop record.

And yet, the music is simple and even restful, full of unashamed beauty and evocations of folk music, exotic ritual and meditational calm. This is just what the new-agers do, yet their music is routinely dismissed by rock and jazz critics (the people who pay most of the critical attention to it) as simple-minded schlock. Modernist composers think Miss Oliveros and her experimental ilk are schlock, too. How is one who likes her but doesn’t much like the typical new-agers to make any kind of plausible distinctions?”

Read the complete article in New York Times

If you want to check out the mentioned piece of music, this is the wonderful “The Well and the Gentle” – as magic today as it was in 1986.

Pauline Oliveros – The Well and the Gentle