New Age music is meant to soothe the soul. Developed in the 1960's as a way to expand consciousness, New Age music continues to relax and inspire listeners today. New Age is not the syrupy synthesized songs you hear in the elevator at work. On the contrary, New Age music isn't meant to annoy; it is meant to soothe and relax. Think of the kind of music you'd like in the background while meditating or practicing yoga. If it's something like a single flute or waterfalls mixed with a faint piano tinkling, you're thinking of New Age music.
The New Age style is soft, serene and relaxing. The tracks on a New Age compilation sometimes feature one set of panpipes, but they also frequently include a whole arrangement of instruments. Usually it includes the acoustic guitar or the piano, but Eastern-inspired instruments like the sitar and the tabla are also used on occasion. The rhythms are often repetitive, interspersed with nature sounds like birds chirping, a mountain stream running or underwater whale noises. While electric instruments are sometimes thrown in to add a different dimension, the aim is always to create soothing music.
New Age music is meant is calm the listener's mind and spirit, and therefore it is as far from intrusive and jarring as possible. Sometimes there are vocals, albeit soft and very much in the background. Other times the track will consist only of voices, like a monastery choir and nothing else. The voices featured on New Age tracks are singing, chanting or just speaking in a variety of languages. It's not unusual for the languages to be quite obscure. New Age composers often venture into undeveloped parts of the world to record the voices of little-known tribes living there.
For much of the 60's and 70's, musicians throughout the US and Europe were experimenting with their instruments. They wanted to develop something that would open the mind, and soon the first New Age music was recorded for meditation. Radio stations around the world sampled a few tracks in the years that followed, but they were never commercial hits. Today there are music stations and even television channels all over the world dedicated to this genre of music. New Age music also goes by World music, Chill out electronica music and Ambient music. Although they're not exactly alike, they do overlap.
The rhythms of New Age are soft, soothing and don't invade the consciousness, which is what makes it so relaxing. It helps clear the mind and relieve stress, more so than a thrash-metal compilation would. People play it in their homes to create a welcome and peaceful atmosphere. Others have it on in the background while reading or studying. Their minds are more relaxed, so they absorb more than they would in absolute silence. New Age music is also popular with parents of young babies. An alternative to classical music, they play it in the nursery so that the baby's mind becomes sharper and more receptive to learning.
by Duane Shinn