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New Age Music: Origins and Characteristics

A new international musical movement began to emerge during the 70's. Given that it is multi-directional, it hasn’t had a clear identity for a really long time. It is in 1986 that this movement reached critical mass commercially, and that is when it received a name: New Age music.

New Age used to be just one of many terms referring to the genre, its reviewers, listeners, and the musicians who created it. In the beginning, all of them were unclear about the real meaning of the concept, because a wide range of both experimental and traditional styles were put together in the New Age category. The term "New Age" has existed at least since the neo-spiritualist movements which occurred in the second half of the 19th century. It is in this time frame that the genre gathered its original audience.

Nowadays, the contemporary listener has access to the entire panorama of the world's music thanks to the internet. The connection of this new consciousness to the music spanning various ages and cultures has granted us an understanding of certain psychic and emotional experiences which are valid irrespective of time’s passing. Examples of music which has received renewed attention among New Age listeners are pieces like the Pachelbel "Canon in D," the Gregorian chants of medieval Europe, the traditional Japanese shamisen and koto music.

However, even with the newly acquired consciousness regarding the world around us and our common past, categorizing New Age music is still a rather difficult task. A few categories which we may identify are space and travel music; inner space, meditative, and transcendental; and cross-cultural fusions. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Space and travel music removes listeners from their day-to-day acoustical surroundings by producing the effect of psychological expansion. It creates stereo sound images of vast spatial environments, animating the experience of hovering or flying within the auditory space. As opposed to the cosmic sub-genre, terrestrial space music resorts to outdoor sounds of nature, such as sounds of birds, water, insects, rain, and so on.

As for the second category, inner space and meditative music, this type of New Age music encourages a psychological movement inward. Transcendental music takes the listener both inward – introspection, meditation – and upward to higher planes of consciousness. Some characteristics of this genre are the endlessly repeated rhythms, overall ascending/descending tonal movements, and continuous drones.

The cross-cultural fusions aren’t necessarily a new thing. They have occurred for centuries thanks to the musicians who traveled around the planet. However, the process was accelerated by 20th century radio stations and recording technologies. The New Age music audience has been particularly receptive to this subcategory, being more than happy to extend their psychological experience far beyond the cultural paradigms of western culture.

Any listener may ask himself/herself why should there be New Age music, a type of music which encourages relaxation, inner experience, psychological expansion, and statements about metaphysical beliefs. There is no definite answer to this question, but two main ways in which New Age music helps us as modern people is that it reduces stress and it promotes personal growth by means of psychological growth.

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