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The Weird Roots of New Age

by Jason Gubbels

The Weird Roots of New Age

About this playlist

Ah, New Age. Humming synthesizer chords, acoustic guitars gently chiming, loons and whales sighing in the background, pan flutes and chorales rising and falling -- where did all this stuff come from? From some pretty bizarre and experimental places, that's where.

Although "New Age" as a marketable genre didn't specifically emerge until the 1980s, the style had arguably been floating around the margins of the record industry since the 1960s. Jazz clarinetist Tony Scott's 1964 Music for Zen Meditation and flautist Paul Horn's 1968 Inside the Taj Mahal both conform to the style's meditative qualities and interest in non-Western religions. But New Age was also an indirect product of various avant-garde movements, from the electronic experiments of Olivier Messiaen and Pauline Oliveros to such American minimalist composers as Terry Riley and Steve Reich, and from German synthesizer performers Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream to Brian Eno's "discreet" music of the mid-1970s.

Add in the pioneering American primitivism of John Fahey and his acoustic followers (Fahey produced pianist George Winston's debut album nearly a decade before Winston went on to define Windham Hill's brand of New Age in the early 1980s), and you have a rough blueprint of the early New Age sound. Of course, Fahey until the end of his days would bitterly rebuke anybody who dared credit him with inventing New Age, and it's safe to say Brian Eno and Philip Glass wouldn't want to be associated with the movement, either. So don't confuse these tracks with albums you'd find nestled between Enya and Yanni in the New Age section, and don't be surprised if you find much of this playlist to be the absolute antithesis of easy listening or relaxing.

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