Music of a ‘New Age’
Everyone loves music, more or less a source of entertainment and recreation during idle hours. Some sail smoothly with Jazz, others let loose to Rock, a few sway to Reggae, many go bonkers with Trance, and the rest head-bang with Heavy Metal. Still others are obsessed with the current pop trend of boy/girl bands. Perception of music evolves with time, as does one’s preference and taste in music. When conventional music fails to satisfy, one seeks something different, new and fresh. The latest answer: New Age music. New Age music not only serves as a source of entertainment but also goes a step further by satisfying the spirit as well as the mind.
Just what is New Age? Imagine music as a tool to re-discovery of one’s inner self, energising your very being; traversing boundaries of time, space and cultures of the world; and ultimately bringing the entire universe into your living room. Described in simplest terms, various instruments (percussion to stringed) combine with subtle melodies (from the East to the West) and sounds of nature (birds, rivers and wind), then are energised with chants (from India to Native America) and invigorated with subtle electronic mixing. Voila! The music of a “New Age.”
Still doubtful of what New Age (NA) music is all about? Chances are you’ve already heard and loved it, but never classified it. Many Hollywood movie soundtracks, like Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves or The Last of The Mohicans, have one or more tracks, which fall into some classification of NA music.
In regard to classifications, NA music is diverse and vast in nature. Many New Age composers have emerged, creating unique compositions and regularly experimenting with innovative ideas. In the course of its evolution, the music has been categorised based on style and technique of the various compositions: Electronic, Neo-Classical, Ambient, Space, Meditative and Cross-cultural Fusion, to name a few. At one end of the spectrum, Space music induces listeners to travel out of their normal acoustical surroundings and float into virtual dimensions and spheres of auditory space. At the other end, Meditative music smoothly cascades the senses with deep chants and meditative humming that is uplifting; it has the inherent property of relaxing even the most stressed of minds, bringing about a union of the body, mind and soul. It is possible that a large number of the NA compositions will span two categories or share the characteristics of several. Yet, the basic idea… to communicate with the listener and transport him into a new world of acoustical joy… remains the same. In one word…”ecstasy”.
There is no dearth of NA composers; they are universally spread like the music itself. However, only a select few demonstrate a genuine approach and style that widely appeals to audiences. Most NA artists are multi-instrumentalists with a unique ability to blend sounds from the East with those of the West, fusing instruments from all over the world with Western rhythms. At times, they combine chants with tranquilising compositions to produce highly energetic and meditative pieces. Some NA artists who have attained popularity on the Asian subcontinent are Prem Joshua, James Asher, Chinmaya Dunster, Al Gromer Khan and Deuter.
Prem Joshua’s music guarantees complete transportation into a different plane of consciousness. As his listeners are moved to delve deep into their inner selves, the music bestows temporary detachment from the material world, with the sounds of nature enriching the blissful experience. James Asher has a style of his own; he handles percussion instruments with amazing ease. In fact, some of his compositions are re-mixed with techno beats to suit younger audiences. Al Gromer Khan’s subtle pieces impact at a nearly subconscious level and transfer the listener into a deep trance of space and sound. Then, too, Deuter’s musical notes fall like gentle rain to soothe and caress the weary soul, while Chinmaya Dunster’s pieces tranquilise the senses with peace, calm and serenity.
What inspires these musicians to compose such ethereal music? Their expertise and ease with the various musical instruments, affinity towards the musical cultures and traditions of the world, and love of nature are, without doubt, the foremost reasons. But, above all, it is their passion to be “one” with the music and impart a similar experience to the listeners. In the words of Prem Joshua, “For me, music has always been something spiritual, a chance to express something wonderful that cannot be said, something that makes you feel so alive, that gets you on your feet, but ultimately leads you to a silent space within.”
Words can only inadequately describe New Age music. Listening, rather than reading, better affirms its essence. Go ahead and experience a new world of bliss. A word of caution: the best of this genre demands substantial commitment and concentration from the listener, compounded with a holistic and open-minded approach. An old adage has it that if you move toward the Divine with one step, it will rush toward you by a hundred steps. Perhaps the best suggestion, then, is for you to approach New Age music with a simple attitude of relaxed attention. You’ll likely find yourself carried effortlessly much farther than expected.
This article was originally published in The New Indian Express (Chennai)