New age music is a category for music that tends to be spiritual and contemplative in nature. It is as much a functional category as a stylistic one. New age music is music for reflection, contemplation, stretching, resting, reading and thinking. Unlike “lite” or “easy listening” music, new age music is composed specifically for these meditative tasks.
New age music tends to avoid heavy rhythms, harsh sounds, complex harmonies, and virtuosic display. The focus of new age music is not on the musician or composer, but on creating music that will meet your psychological needs.
New age music grew out of experimentation by a variety of composers in the 60’s and 70’s. Jazz and rock musicians reacted to the free-form virtuosic music that was popular at the time, and explored more meditative styles of music.
The most important artist of early new age music is probably Stephen Halpern. Halpern began to make music that was intended specifically for meditation and reflection in the early seventies. He couldn’t find a record company that was interested in his music, so he published it himself, and marketed through “new age” stores. These were yoga gyms, health food stores, and places that sold world clothing, incense, and spiritual items. Halpern’s music is based around a very long pulse; his phrases tend to be about the length of a slow breath, making his music very relaxing.
Because new age music covers a lot of stylistic territory, both electronic and acoustic musicians have created music that could be called “new age”. A lot of new age music is unexceptional; it works as background music because it waters down music, stripping away anything thoughtful or challenging. The best new age music, on the other hand, has expanded the range of musical style. Halpern’s work, for example, challenges many assumptions listeners often have about music.
Many other artists have created music that falls into the new age category. Brian Eno’s ambient music, especially Ambient 2, is very contemplative. Many electronic musicians have created new age music, including John Serrie, Kitaro, Aeoliah, Steve Roach and Michael Stearns. Some of the music of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze could be considered new age, also. Paul Horn has created acoustic new age music for 30 years.