Call it ambient, call it deep listening – whatever you call it, the gentle noise and healing power of The New Wave Of New Age is taking over. We talk to some of the artists and labels and hear why this once maligned genre is experiencing such a healthy second wind

We live in interesting times. In the age of Brexit, Trump and way too much plastic, could our salvation lie in a genre of music that was once more maligned than hair metal? In an era of mindfulness and talking therapy sessions, it appears that some of the most captivating and vital sounds are currently being made under the loose banner of, yes, new age.

Led by a new wave of artists and labels, the new age term is quietly creeping back into the musical vernacular. No longer the whale song and pan pipe-heavy CDs racked up by the dreamcatchers in head shops, it’s a genre undergoing quite a rehabilitation, and all within an ever-expanding school of beatless electronic music that encompasses everything from Max Richter’s neoclassicism through to Kali Malone’s early music-inspired experimental drone. Artists such as zither-playing mystic Laraaji – spotted by Brian Eno in a New York park back in the late 1970s – and California’s Deep Listening Band, led by the visionary genius of Pauline Oliveros, are also finding a new generation of listeners.

If you’ve yet to immerse yourself in the calm waters of this new wave of new age, as good a place to start as any is ‘Spaciousness’, a lovingly curated compilation on Jon Tye’s Lo Recordings label. ‘Spaciousness’ is the first volume in a series of releases that aims to explore the concept of “spaciousness” in music as expressed in the ambient, new age and post-classical form. Tye’s compilation includes tracks from heavyweight experimentalists like modular synth master Abul Mogard and first wave new age artists such as the aforementioned Laraaji, alongside names from the new school, including Matthewdavid’s Mindflight and Teleplasmiste.

“In many ways, it really is a new age,” says Tye. “Younger listeners are coming to the music without the baggage and ironic perspective of older listeners; people who are seriously interested not just in the music, but also related topics such as meditation, dietary, environmental and ethical issues. By looking within and seeking some kind of clarity, people feel better equipped to think about their place in the universe and how they can help and be involved – which is the opposite of the escapist image often attached to the new age stereotype.”

Tye is keen to point out the UK-based New Atlantis collective as well as the labels Leaving Records, Séance Centre and Music From Memory, who he feels are doing a great job in broadening perspectives of what new age/ambient music can be. Among the artists Tye mentions, Matthew David McQueen, and Teleplasmiste, stand out for different reasons.

Listen to California’s Matthew David McQueen’s Mindflight project, under the name Matthewdavid, and you’re almost knocked sideways by the elevating positivity. The devotional passion McQueen feels for the movement he’s part of is infectious, as is his unapologetic embrace around new age’s healing intent.

“We have a new breed of therapeutic music upon us,” he says from his Los Angeles home/studio. “This music is in itself therapy and its value is that it actually works. It’s often just simply labelled ‘ambient’, but to me ‘new age’ feels more radical. Yes, it has baggage, but I think that’s why I started getting interested. It’s an alluring world, full of more experimentally inclined weirdos, freaks and outsiders. What I’m looking for is a foreground experience that feels therapeutically active, I need to be moved, we all do. Humanity deserves to feel one another moving through life together.”

Teleplasmiste’s angle is different. The West Country-based duo that comprises Mark O Pilkingon and Michael J York are more psychedelically minimalist in orientation, and hugely original. Though certainly grounded in a form of spirituality, they’re cautious about the whole business of labelling.

“We wouldn’t consider our music new age as such,” says Pilkingon. “But we are extremely engaged with the concept of deep listening and are both very interested, personally and professionally, in unorthodox spiritualities.”

While York, who works at an occult bookshop and Pilkingon, who publishes cultural histories of esoteric ideas, enjoy a lot of new age music from the late 70s and 80s, they are wary of the perception of new age culture.

“It casts a net so wide that it inevitably encompasses a number of unhealthy philosophies and preoccupations alongside its more positive, potentially healing and life affirming aspects,” says Pilkingon. “With regard to deep listening, musically we tend to think of our pieces as environments for the listener to inhabit, rather than songs or tracks. And like a physical space, a piece of music needn’t give up all its secrets on a first visit. We also hope that our music – whether recorded or experienced live – has a physical and emotional effect on listeners, whether that be simply transportive, or entirely transformative.” 

Further, they’re fascinated by the physical and emotional potential of raw sound. They once performed in a disused aeronautical wind tunnel in Farnborough, through a 42-piece PA system laid out along the 100-metre-long passage.

“We were pumping out frequencies of around 19 Hz that can cause one’s eyeballs to vibrate in their sockets,” says Pilkingon. “Afterwards, people excitedly told us that as they walked around the space they could see the concrete walls rippling. Actually it was the surface of their eyeballs that was responding to the extremely low frequencies we were producing – that’s magic of a sort!” 

One of last year’s most outstanding new wave of new age releases was Denver-based Ann Annie’s ‘Atmospheres Vol 2’, released on the German Modularfield imprint. Annie’s dreamlike keyboard-led compositions levitate effortlessly with deep organic warmth, casting an open-hearted, undeniably new age spiritual spell.

“We aim to guide the listener between different soundscapes with the intention of igniting a spark that could be the first step into exploring the vast moving landscape of electronica,” says Cologne-based Stefan Liehr, who runs Modularfield with Markus Scholz. “Put simply, it’s ambient music for people who think they don’t like ambient music.”

Liehr and Scholz have been focusing on that concept since their label’s first release, Karl Koch’s minimal synthpop, tape-only album ‘Erinnerungen Eines Androiden’, in 2013.

“To us, it is more stimulating to discover an enthralling composition by one artist and find another that is creating the total opposite, in an equally captivating way,” says Scholz. “Artists like An On Bast, Skyence and HHNOI from our roster are perfect examples and use the same audio medium to create startlingly contrasting results, yet they all fall into the deep listening bracket. New age as a genre is changing along with the instruments used to create it.”

Adopting what is perhaps the most personally direct perspective though is experimental vocalist and clarinetist Like A Villain, aka Oregon’s Holland Andrews. The title of her all-enveloping 20-minute piece ‘Overcoming Emotional Trauma And Finding Your Inner Light Vol II’ (released on the First Terrace label) sounds postmodern in its direct honesty, and an acknowledgment of contemporary secular spirituality.

“In terms of genre, I haven’t identified much with new age or deep listening, but I appreciate that you sensed an aspect of healing being woven into the music I make,” she tells me down the line from her Portland home.

“It’s one of the most important facets that guides my music writing process, so it feels validating to be seen in that way. The emotionality that triggers a cathartic experience is where I dwell as a composer.”

Healing does seem to be one of the unifying themes that runs through the new wave of new age, in parallel with the more progressive aspects of our wider contemporary culture.

“We hold memories of loss, fear, judgment, catastrophe, hopelessness and sorrow in our bodies every single day, while simultaneously navigating how to be alive in the world we’ve created for ourselves,” says Andrews. “Holding these complex states of being is not a choice; it is how we operate through these experiences where we have a choice. I chose music. I have no interest in making music that is easy to listen to. We cannot face our demons while laying in a bed of poppies.”

The First Terrace label is a key imprint with respect to this new wave, taking perhaps an even more eclectic approach to that of Modularfield. Its primarily electronic roster includes a small but significant number of new age musicians that includes the likes of Peter Broderick’s Beacon Sound Choir and Seattle’s experimental kosmiche veteran Kerry Leimer.

“New age is often made and consumed as a gateway for understanding something deeper, greater and more fundamental than the music”, says label co-head Joe Summers from his London office. “You could say that ambient music is stripped of that baggage, or depth – choose one depending on your outlook.”

Whatever the outlook, new age has spawned a genre of music that took on a life of its own. It’s an approach that seems to resonate keenly with a new generation of listeners who see substance and intent as being key, and who find themselves irresistibly drawn to these spiritually comforting, uniquely therapeutic tones and timbres. Soak it up.

‘Spaciousness’ is released by Lo Recordings

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