There is no doubt that I am the Center – Private issue New Age music in America 1950-1990 is one of the most important and interesting releases in our genre for years. Still, the most fascinating part is that there are no groundbreaking tracks here, no Tubular Bells-ish quality hidden on forgotten, dusty tapes. Instead we get a compilation that shows what New Age music could have been – and that is an even bigger achievement.
I am the center is a compilation released by indie label Light in the Attic Records. The Seattle label is famous for its re-release by artists such as Betty Davis, Serge Gainsbourg and Jim Sullivan. It is rare for a New Age music compilation to be released by someone with music business credibility. Last time was perhaps when Jack DeJohnette released his 2008 Grammy winning album Peace Time. It is mainly because of Light in the Attic Records that I am the center has received so much attention. Quote from one of the reviews – this from New York Times:
Among the most spectacularly odd and transfixing historical anthologies in recent memory, “I Am the Center” collects widely in the too often neglected area of new age music. This is soothing, sometimes disorienting music, from the dynamic harps on Joel Andrews’s “Seraphic Borealis” to the giddy flutes on Joanna Brouk’s “Lifting Off” to the breathtaking “Formentera Sunset Clouds” by the genre elder Iasos, who is also the subject of his own new stand-alone collection, “Celestial Soul Portrait” (Numero Group). “I Am the Center” comes with mystical and sometimes detailed liner notes, including anecdotes like the one about Brian Eno’s inviting Laraaji to collaborate by slipping a note into his zither case in Washington Square Park.
There seems to be a consensus here that, at some point, commercial and uninspired New Age music took the stage, and that there suddenly was no room for creative and radical artists. I don’t know if it’s true, but the massive success of highly melodic music in the mid/late 1980s may have had such an effect on artists with high artistic aspirations. To be associated with the genre – and perhaps even the New Age movement – could be damaging for your reputation. At the same time, we must not underestimate artists either. They are free to use their abilities to create music well outside genre conventions and people’s opinions.
Traditional New Age Music
I don’t know if it is true, but it seems like songs that are melody driven, positive and have lots of harmonies (“traditional New Age Music”) have been avoided. I am the center contains tracks from both obscure and famous artists (like Constance Demby and Steven Halpern). I especially like Lunar Eclipse (excerpt) by Mark Banning. It has a very ethereal feel. The sound quality on some tracks are below par because of poor original tapes. Most of them sound great though. Note that there are different versions available – notably the LP version:
There seems to be a consensus here that, at some point, commercial and uninspired New Age music took the stage, and that there suddenly was no room for creative and radical artists.
I am the center has created a lot of buzz about the New Age music genre, more than any release in the last 5 to 10 years. Perhaps the most interesting here is that the compilation shows that the people who said that New Age music was not a meaningful and relevant term were totally wrong. It was, is and will still be when Private Issue New Age music 1990-2030 is released, in about 2043 or so.