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New Music

New Age Music & Meditation

In the 70's, I enjoyed aspects of the subculture that was called the New Age. I embraced concerns, values, art and ideas that seemed to promise the emergence of a a new world order. Someone called the eclectic music of the time New Age music. New Age music was often peaceful, dreamy and unstructured sounds played on synthesizers and quiet instruments. The idea was to feel calm if not blissful. Chanting merged with synthesizer pads and flute obligatos. I especially recall Paul Winter's Missa Gaia, a world mass that celebrated the wolf and whale. I heard this new mass performed in one of Vancouver's large churches and was thrilled by the performance. Winter wrote real music with complex, sophisticated arrangements and a deep feeling for the animal nature in humans.

Some New Age music albums come with liner notes encouraging the music's use in meditation, and many albums were designed and recorded for this purpose. Some pundits suggested that New Age music was relaxing, calming and supported healthy living. Health food stores, new age book stores, spas, and specialized radio stations played this music. In 1976, the record label Windham Hill Records was founded, with an initial $300 investment, and would gross over $26 million annually ten years later.

New age music became fusion music combining world sounds and instruments with an odd mix of activities - meditation, yoga, trance dancing and drug parties that featured LSD, grass and later ecstasy. The contrast between calming music and frantic rock and roll sometimes separated groups with divergent values and sometimes restless youth would alternate between calm and frantic, pot and speed. If you tuned into Sirius satellite radio, the Spa and Chill channels offered some music from the new age era. The new new age music of 2010 and beyond remains to be defined. I was surprised that iTunes categorized one of my albums, Going Beyond as "new age." The compositions were composed as 21st century music- eccentric compositions with jazz energy, rhythms and dense improvisations -- no resemblance to the new age music of the 70's. Maybe the iTunes pundits are right identifying interesting, energetic, innovative music as the new new age. New genres emerged around the notions of relaxation, meditation, trance and trance dance. I recall liking other studio musicians who produced eclectic albums such as Enigma, Incognito, Air, Air Supply, Zero 7. Kitaro, Enya, Delerium, Brian Eno and jazz artists Keith Jarrett, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul Horn and Pat Metheny.


Mediation refers to a variety of methods to calm and focus the mind. Sitting practice is a universal form of meditation. The sitter ignores both external and internal distractions and aspires to have a calm mind and body. The idea is to transcend obvious concerns, worry and tame the endless chatter of spontaneous mind activity.

Meditation is one method of understanding how our mind works, how we know things and what conclusions we can derive from our knowledge. I prefer sitting on a beach, on a mountain, in a garden, in a boat, or floating on an inflated tire on a lake. Sitting inside buildings is not so appealing. One of my practices is sky and cloud watching which requires you to lie on a grassy or mossy patch of ground and looking up. One of the rules of mediation is not to look around and become distracted. Sky watching requires you to look up at the same patch of sky and let events such as birds, clouds and insects pass without following their paths.

The practice of meditation is based on a fundamental disinterest in the redeeming possibilities of language. Meditation leads to ineffable experiences and away from the beliefs, demands and rules of the local group. The Buddha manifests his identity as a professional philosopher by sitting upright in the Lotus position, poised, calm and alert. The lotus position is stable and can be maintained for hours. He has a gentle smile and his philosophical work looks effortless and natural.

Transcend means to rise above and go beyond. The idea is that properly chosen music itself goes beyond preceding music and listening to this music helps you transcend whatever local concerns that might preoccupy you. I appreciate that the listener can be a very creative person in the mix of composer-performer-listener.

The essence of healing music is not just a calming or soporific effect, but an opportunity for the listener to participate and create. This opportunity requires space between sounds, gradual transitions and nuanced understanding of the brain processing of sound. I use the Korg M3 Karma to generate polyrhythms that combine arpeggios, scale passages and chord changes played on the keyboard.

  • The idea of "new" has to be updated continuously. Someone many years ago decided that modern had ended, referring to "postmodern" architecture, art and music. But the term modern, like new, properly used, describes a continuously advancing wave of events that must be updated continuously. In the history of music, each musical "genius" added his own innovations so that the ideas that drove musical composition progressed, despite the resistance of patrons and audiences.

    There were different schools of progressive music. Composers of symphonic works dabbled in new scales and dissonances; audiences expecting more Mozart and Beethoven were not pleased. Similar notions of scale experimentation emerged in modern jazz. As synthesizers evolved along with computer composition (sequencers) all possibilities became possible.

    Music styles have interbred and proliferated beyond anyone's ability to classify and defend musical styles in a meaningful way. The proliferation of styles is supported by the internet and unprecedented music distribution network that erases many boundaries and permits aspiring musician to seek direct access to audiences. The results are often far from good music as rhythmic noise competes with thoughtful compositions.

    Persona Music Recordings: Our Music Catalogue includes recorded performances under the titles Persona Digital, P2500 Band, Em4U, and the Persona Classical Consort. Music online is offered to illustrate music history, advance music education and appreciation. The recordings presented online demonstrate Persona Studio's arranging, recording and mastering techniques. All the recordings are arrangements and performances completed in house by Stephen Gislason. The music selections and their history are explained in the book, Sound of Music.

    The Sound of Music by Stephen Gislason

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    Persona Digital Studio is located on the Pacific Coast, Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada.

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