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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)
The New Age and World-music
(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")
New-age music 1976-89TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
In 1975 Palo Alto guitarist William Ackerman (1) coined the term "new-age music" and founded a record label, Windham Hill, to promote atmospheric instrumental acoustic music.
New-age music was thus born as a reaction to rock music. Rock music was loud and noisy, expressing a teenage spirit. New-age music was quiet and melodic, expressing an adult mood. New-age music had no vocalist, no drums and no electric guitar.
New-age music was, first and foremost, a synthesis. It was a synthesis of cultures (high and low), moods (upbeat, ecstatic, melancholy, spiritual), genres (folk, electronic, jazz, classical, psychedelic), formats (song, symphony, suite, jam) and lifestyles (western and eastern). Since each of these components had existed for decades (if not centuries), new-age music pre-existed itself. The most obvious ancestor of new-age music is classical music itself. Despite the aristocratic way it was presented in the symphony halls and opera houses, classical music had included "mood" instrumental music from the very beginning. Debussy and Satie, in particular, invented new-age music before Ackerman. Composers as diverse as Bach, Strauss, Messiaen, and Stockhausen provided new-age musicians with unlimited sources of inspiration.
The term "new age" was a reference to the spiritual mood that had taken hold of the hippy generation. As they grew up, the former hippies became more and more interested in eastern practices for meditation and relaxation. They became an essential part of their lifestyles, and soon created a market for both literature and arts.
A natural relative of new-age music was ECM's aesthetic jazz, which born out of Miles Davis' jazz-rock fusion and his fellow "fusionists" (Weather Report, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett), had been one of the most significant innovations in jazz during the early 1970s (Oregon, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek). ECM had proven the existence of an adult market that was interested in smooth, elegant and mellow sounds. New-age music simply proceeded to tap an even larger version of that market: the market that had the same need but had no artistic pretensions (i.e., did not require a virtuoso playing the music). ECM's sophisticated counterpoint of timbres and melodies was adapted by new-age music to a humbler format, removing the improvisation and emphasizing the melody.
Ackerman's main reason to found his label had been, actually, the scarce availability of records in the solo acoustic vein of John Fahey, and Fahey would remain another important prototype for all solo new-age musicians. Other progressive-folk musicians such as Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho had been doing "new-age music" since the early 1960s.
At about the same time, Stephen Hill's program "Music From the Hearts of Space", which had been airing out of nearby Berkeley since 1973, began promoting a similar kind of music, although his favorite musicians employed electronic keyboards rather than acoustic instruments. Here the main influence was "minimalism", the avantgarde music invented by the likes of LaMonte Young and Terry Riley, which was both spiritual and keyboard-based. Riley's Rainbow In Curved Air (1968) was the progenitor of all melodic electronic suites, and Young's stationary music was the progenitor of ambient music. The second main influence on electronic new-age music was "kosmische musik", which soon became more important in practical terms. Hill's proteges merely adapted the format of the "cosmic couriers" to a more contemplative and spiritual mood, removing the drama and enhancing the ambience. Needless to say, these musicians learned from the lessons of the early electronic musicians, the likes of Walter Carlos, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis. New-age music was born near the Silicon Valley, the place where electronic keyboards abounded, a natural meeting point of the counterculture and high-tech. In 1982 Sequential Circuits introduces the "Prophet 600", the first keyboard enabled with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), a system to connect music instruments to computers, which in 1983 could be connected to a Roland's "JX-3P", the first time that two MIDI instruments were connected. In 1983 Yamaha introduced the DX-7, the first synthesizer to be sold by the hundreds of thousands. The number of electronic musicians rapidly multiplied during the 1980s.
New-age music was very much about achieving nirvana via a union with Nature, and soon began to incorporate sounds of nature. This had been done before, but not as consciously. For example, One Stormy Night (? 1965 - ? 1966), by Brad Miller's Mystic Moods Orchestra, incorporated natural sounds, a "cosmic" theme and a hippy mood.
The passion of new-age musicians for eastern music, religion and civilization prompted many of them to fuse western and eastern instruments, and others to further expand their music towards other ethnic sounds. It was an evolution of the Byrds' raga-rock and of Les Baxter's and Martin Denny's "exotica", but facilitated by a larger availability of exotic instruments and of exotic recordings. The naive multi-cultural experiments of hippies such as the Incredible String Band and the Third Ear Band were revisited in a more competent manner by the western purveyors of "world-music".
Usually, the birth of world-music is assumed to be Music For Zen Meditation (feb 1964 - ? 1965), an improvised jam between USA jazz clarinetist Tony Scott and two Japanese musicians, Hozan Yamamoto on shakuhachi and Shinichi Yuize on koto, although both Sandy Bull (in the USA) and Davy Graham (in Britain) had already integrated Indian music and Anglosaxon folk music at least one year earlier. Another landmark was Ravi Shankar's recording of West Meets East (? 1966 - ? 1966) with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, But, of course, plenty of jazz musicians (John Coltrane, Don Cherry) and of classical musicians (John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen) had already toyed with eastern, Latin and African music. Since the most consistent practitioners were jazz musicians, World-music can be considered very much a jazz invention, pervasive since the late 1950s in the works of Miles Davis, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Don Cherry, and in the works of every jazz and blues musician if one considers African music. It comes as no surprise, then, that the term "world-music" first applied in its modern form to the music of a jazz bandleader, Paul Winter. In the following decades several aspects of non-western music were to be integrated with elements of western music: Indian ragas, Indonesian gamelan, African polyrhythms, Middle-Eastern cantillation, Jamaincan reggae and dub, Japanese classical music, Chinese classical music, Eastern European folk dances, Brazilian pop music, etc.
Whatever vehicle they chose, new-age musicians shared the simple, unassuming, laid-back quality of their music with the music meant "not to listen to" (as Brian Eno put it): easy-listening orchestras (Richard Clayderman), lounge music (Burt Bacharach), and supermarket muzak (the RCA Victor series of "Moods in Music"). Despite the wildly different ideological underpinnings, these genres converged towards the same concept of music for relaxation, which became the fundamental dogma of new-age music. In fact, new-age music was, ultimately, but another term for ambient music, whether ambient "chamber" music (performed with acoustic instruments) or ambient "electronic" music. The key addition to Eno's original program was the spiritual element (the whole point of calling it "new age" music).
New-age musicians had in common the market (affluent adults) and little else (an instrumental approach). By the mid-1980s there was new-age music for solo instrument, small chamber ensemble, synthetic orchestra and ethnic ensemble.
Solo acoustic musicTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Ackerman's first collections of quiet acoustic solos, The Search For The Turtle's Navel, later renamed In Search Of The Turtle's Navel (jul/sep 1975 - ? 1976) and especially It Takes A Year (? 1970/? 1976 - ? 1977), set the standard for the tone, halfway between the philosophical and the lyrical, rooted in country and folk music, inspired by John Fahey's "primitive" music, that would become the epitome of new-age music. The guitar was new-age music's primordial instrument, but it lost steam after the first few years in which albums such as Eric Tingstad's On The Links (? 1981 - ? 1982), Aerial Boundaries (? 1984 - ? 1984), by Michael Hedges (1), Paul Speer's Spectral Voyages (? 1983 - ? 1984), and Carl Weingarten's Dreaming In Colors (? 1985 - spring 1986) improved over Ackerman's model. On the other hand, albums such as Bruce Becvar's Take It To Heart (? ? - ? 1986) harked back to easy listening music.
The piano became the main new-age instrument thanks to the success of George Winston and his first suite of free-form melodic piano solos, Autumn (jun 1980 - sep 1980).
Michael Jones (13), the master of the lyrical stream of consciousness, penned the impressionist Pianoscapes (? ?/apr 1985 - ? 1985), the sophisticated cello-piano duos of Amber (early 1987 - ? 1987), the majestic chamber music of After The Rain (dec 1987 - ? 1988), one of new-age's melodic masterpieces, and the four ambitious suites of Air Born (feb 1994 - may 1994).
Marcus Allen (1) crafted the romantic Petals (? ? - ? 1981) and Solo Flight (? ? - ? 1985).
David Lanz (2) specialized in collections of domestic vignettes with folkish melodies and tempos, such as Heartsounds (jun 1983 - ? 1984) and Nightfall (oct 1984 - ? 1985).
Liz Story (1) indulged in the lyrical introspection of Unaccountable Effect (? ? - ? 1985) and especially Speechless (apr 1988 - ? 1989), further refined at the border between Keith Jarrett and Eric Satie on Escape Of The Circus Ponies (? ? - sep 1990).
During the 1980s their highly chromatic fusion of folk, jazz and classical was refined by a number of pianists: Michael Gettel, with San Juan Suite (? ? - ? 1986), Bruce Stark, with Dream Song (may 1988 - ? ?), John Boswell, with The Painter (? 1988 - ? ?), Wayne Gratz, with Reminescence (mar/jun 1989 - ? 1989), etc.
Scott Cossu's Still Moments (? 1978 - ? 1980), Spencer Brewer's Portraits (? 1985 - ? 1987), Lanz's Cristofori's Dream (nov 1987/apr 1988 - ? 1988), Jim Chappell's Saturday's Rhapsody (jun 1990 - sep 1990), and Tom Barabas's Sedona Suite (? ? - dec 1992) were among the albums that launched a more orchestrated form of piano-based music, reminiscent of the easy listening orchestras of the past.
Among flutists, the most celebrated was jazz-educated Paul Horn (1), who made a career of recording solo improvisations/meditations "inside" spectacular buildings, such as the ones collected on Inside The Taj Mahal (apr 1968 - ? 1968) and especially Inside The Great Pyramid (may 1976 - ? 1976). His vocabulary of fragile mummy-like whispers that exuded millenary silence and zen ecstasy was instrumental in creating the ultimate new-age atmosphere.
The oboe was chosen by Nancy Rumbel, particularly in duets with guitarist Eric Tingstad, such as Legends (mar/may 1988 - feb 1989).
The harp was another typical new-age instrument, lending itself to the angelic and relaxing tones favored by the genre. The idea was as old as Harry Bee's The Wind Harp (? ? - ? 1972), a double album entirely devoted to the vibrations of the harp caused by the wind, and was resurrected mainly by Georgia Kelly, whose The Sound Of Spirit (oct 1981 - early 1982) emphasized the symbiosis with Nature. Susan Mazer pioneered the electric harp on her duos with Dallas Smith's woodwinds, starting with The Fire In The Rose (? ? - ? 1985). Andreas Vollenweider adapted the new-age harp to dance rhythms on albums such as Behind The Gardens (summer 1980 - fall 1981).
The violin, and strings in general, featured prominently in Daniel Kobialka's work, such as Echoes Of Secret Silence (? 1972 - ? 1982), while David Darling (2) focused on the cello for his solemn and almost baroque meditations, both in an ensemble setting, such as Cycles (nov 1981 - ? 1982), that featured Jan Garbarek's saxophone, Steve Kuhn's piano and Collin Walcott's percussion), and Eight String Religion (? 1982/? 1993 - ? 1993), his melodic peak, as well as in the solo setting, such as Dark Wood (jul 1993 - ? 1995), his most austere effort in the realm of neoclassical music.
Drums were unwelcome on most new-age albums, but the spiritual wing of new-age music gladly admitted exotic percussions, a tradition that harked back to (Henry) Wolff & (Nancy) Hennings's Tibetan Bells (apr/may 1971 - ? 1972). Examples of world-music centered on percussion instruments (and rooted in jazz improvisation) included: Frank Perry's Deep Peace (sep/oct 1980 - end 1980), Mark Nauseef's Wun Wun (jan/may 1984 - ? 1984), Michael Pluznick's Where The Rain Is Born (? ? - ? 1989), Glen Velez's Assyrian Rose (jun 1989 - ? 1989).
If all new-age music emphasized relaxation and meditation for therapeutic purposes, a few musicians made that the core of their business model, starting with Steven Halpern's Spectrum Suite, later included in Chakra Suite (? ? - ? 1975) for solo piano, Robert Gass' "extended chants" of On Wings Of Songs (? ? - ? 1977), and Iasos' Angelic Music (? ? - ? 1978) for electronic drone.
Acoustic ensemblesTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Shadowfax created the standard for the new-age acoustic ensemble with chromatically-rich and melodically-relaxing albums such as Shadowdance (? 1983 - ? 1983). Significant contributions to the "chamber" wing of new-age music came from former members of David Grisman's quintet, whose "jazzgrass" lent itself to a neo-classical interpretation. Violinist Darol Anger, pianist Barbara Higbie, mandolinist Mike Marshall, and bassist Michael Manring formed Montreux, that released borderline albums such as Sign Language (jan/feb 1987 - ? 1987) and Let Them Say (jan 1989 - jun 1989), and Anger led their spin-off, the Turtle Island String Quartet (1), whose Turtle Island String Quartet (jul 1987 - ? 1988) perfected those ideas.
If new-age chamber music was mostly influenced by jazz, Summer Suite (? ? - ? 1983), that featured Teja Bell on guitar, Dallas Smith on lyricon and Jon Bernoff on vibraphone, and Steve Kindler's Dolphin Smiles (? ? - apr 1987) fused neoclassical, psychedelic and folk elements, an idea further refined by Bill Douglas' Circle Of Moons (? 1994 - feb 1995).
Nightnoise's Nightnoise (? 1983 - ? 1984) was chamber music inspired as much by Celtic folk as by jazz improvisation.
The sounds of nature frequently complemented the sounds of the instruments, as on Dean Evenson's Desert Dawn Song (? ? - jun 1979). Tim Wheater's A Calmer Panorama (? ? - jun 1988) mixed flute, natural sounds and synthesizer. Riley Lee, a USA virtuoso of the bamboo shakuhachi flute, penned Oriental Sunrise, later re-recorded in 1986 (? ? - ? 1982) for shakuhachi, koto and ocean waves.
Electronic new-age musicTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
As electronic keyboards became more commonplace, new-age music became increasingly electronic. Pioneering works such as Dragon Wings And Wizard Tales (? ? - ? 1979) by Emerald Web (the duo of Bob Stohl and Kat Epple), and Nightcrawlers (summer 1983 - jan 1984) by the Nightcrawlers (the duo of Tom and Peter Gulch) resumed the experiments of the Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company and the Tonto's Expanding Head Band, and set them in a magical and mysterious universe.
Through his projects, Chuck Van Zyl advanced the notion of the electronic studio as a tool to create surreal soundscapes, notably with Xyl's Nuclear Winter (? ? - ? 1985), Xisle's Aural Explorers (? ? - ? 1989) and Moment Of Totality (? ? - ? 1990).
The tone of these experiments became lighter and warmer, to the point that new-age electronic music came to sound merely like a version of easy-listening music for electronic keyboards: Water Wind And Stone (? ? - ? 1986) by Checkfield (the duo of John Archer and Ron Satterfield), Tear Of The Moon (dec 1986/early 1987 - ? 1987) by Coyote Oldman (the duo of Michael Graham Allen on Native-American flute and Barry Stramp on electronics), Moonwind (? 1985/? 1987 - ? 1987) by Wavestar (the duo of David Ward-Hunt and John Dyson), etc.
The Los Angeles schoolTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved. The Los Angeles school, specializing in lengthy suites a` la Tangerine Dream performed with the latest electronic keyboards, was the most relevant breeding ground for electronic new-age music. Michael Stearns (2), after beginning in the "cosmic" of Planetary Unfolding (? 1980 - ? 1981), specialized in assembling and playing electronic monsters on Lyra Sound Constellation, later reissued as Lyra (? ? - ? 1983) and Chronos (? 1984 - ? 1985). Kevin Braheny (2) opted instead for fairy-tales that explored the universe with the eye of a child: Perelandra, later reissued as The Way Home (? ? - ? 1978) and Galaxies (? ? - ? 1988). Thom Brennan's Mountains (? 1986/? 1987 - ? 1987) was one of the most ambitious works, a feat later replicated by his introspective monolith Satori (dec 2001 - ? 2002).
By far the most prolific and successful artist of the original Los Angeles school was Steve Roach (45). He began as a shy disciple of Schulze's cosmic music with electronic suites such as Traveler (? 1983 - ? 1983), but became more and more introspective via the monumental Structures From Silence (? 1983/? 1984 - ? 1984). His masterpiece, Dreamtime Return (? 1987/? ? - ? 1988), established the archaic, oneiric, shamanic and psychological coordinates that would ground of all his subsequent work. Strata (? 1989/? 1990 - aug 1990), a collaboration with Robert Rich, Australia - Sound Of The Earth (? 1990 - feb 1991), the Suspended Memories's Forgotten Gods (jan 1992 - ? 1992), a collaboration with flutist Jorge Reyes and guitarist Suso Saiz, and Well Of Souls (? 1994/mar 1995 - dec 1995), a collaboration with Vidna Obmana, were journeys to the collective subconscious. Their soundscapes were alive with the heat of the desert and the darkness of the cosmos. The titanic and terrifying World's Edge (? 1991 - jun 1992), Dream Circle (? ? - ? 1994) and The Magnificent Void (? ? - feb 1996) increased the doses of angst and unknown, and crowned Roach as the most metaphysical of the cosmic couriers.
The Bay Area schoolTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
A parallel branch of electronic new-age music had to do with the symphonic sound that was made possible by the new generation of keyboards.
In the Bay Area, Constance Demby (11) coined a Sacred Space Music (? ? - ? 1982) that reached a powerful climax on Novus Magnificat (? 1985 - ? 1986), possibly new-age music's ultimate masterpiece, that borrowed from Bach, Terry Riley and Brian Eno.
The electronic soundscapes sculpted by Robert Rich (5) competed with Steve Roach's in complexity and psychological depth, and revealed an even greater emphasis on abstract tones. In 1982 Rich began performing "sleep concerts", continuous flows of soothing and static music (à la Brian Eno's Music for Airports), such as Trances (apr/aug 1983 - ? 1983) and Drones (jul/dec 1983 - early 1984), a form that he would then abandon until the colossal Somnium (? 1994/? 2000 - ? 2001). Instead, Rich progressively increased the density and plasticity of his watercolors, from the philosophical poems of Numena (? 1985/? 1986 - ? 1987) to the pastoral naturalism of Rainforest (? 1988/? 1989 - sep 1989), eventually achieving a kind of morphing "organic" music with the algorithmic structures of Gaudi (? 1990/? 1991 - oct 1991), and the ethnic transfigurations of Seven Veils (jul 1996/sep 1997 - aug 1998). At the same time his study of just intonation and microtones progressed via the 21-minute four-part suite Star Maker (1996), off Below Zero (released in 1998), a constantly mutating stream of drones. The seven-hour "sleep concert" Somnium was the kind of monumental detour that harks back to a personal beginning and projects into the collective subconscious.
Electronic impressionismTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Throughout the 1980s there was immense progress in incorporating electronic sounds in mass-market music. The spectrum was very broad. The brief vignettes of Kerry Leimer's Closed System Potentials (nov 1979/may 1980 - ? 1980) borrowed from both ambient and minimalist music. Veteran rock saxophonist Steve Douglas (1) penned the eclectic and sprightly space-fusion of Rainbow Suite (? ? - jul 1981). Peter Davison crafted austere and ascetic electroacoustic sonatas on Selamat Siang/ Music On The Way (? 1979 - ? 1980) and Glide (? ? - ? 1981). On the other hand, Yanni's Optimystique (? 1980 - ? 1980) basically reinvented pop muzak for the electronic age.
The ensemble of William Aura (1) designed lengthy electronic chamber ethnic-jazz suites on Heartspace (? ? - ? 1981) and Lovely Day (? 1979 - ? 1981).
Suzanne Ciani (1) provided the natural link with the early electronic pioneers and the classical world on the visionary Seven Waves (early 1980/oct 1981 - ? 1982) and the mini-concertos of the Dream Suite (? ? - oct 1994).
The second generation continued to swing between more experimental (ambient-minimalist) formats, for example Don Slepian's Sea Of Bliss (feb 1980 - ? 1980), Tony Gerber's Teleworks (? ? - ? 1986) and Giles Reaves' Wunjo (? ? - ? 1986), and poppy orchestrations, for example David Arkenstone's Valley Of The Clouds (jul/dec 1986 - jan 1987), Don Harriss's Abacus Moon (aug 1989 - nov 1989) and Steve Haun's Midnight Echoes (? ? - ? 1989), with Ray Lynch's Deep Breakfast (? 1984 - ? 1984) and especially No Blue Thing (? ? - ? 1989) drawing inspiration from folk and baroque music; although the truly new-age spiritual style was perhaps best represented by the impressionistic melodies and shimmering tapestries of Richard Burmer's Mosaic (? ? - ? 1984), Michel Genest's Crystal Fantasy (apr/jul 1984 - ? 1984) Kurt Riemann's Gaia (? ? - ? 1988), and Robert Carty's Natural Wonder (? ? - ? 1992).
Jean-Michel Jarre's symphonies inspired many of these electronic works, for example Mark Shreeve's Legion (? 1985 - ? 1985) and Ian Boddy's Phoenix (jan/may 1986 - ? 1986) in Britain, and Lothar Krell's Sinnfonie Für Amphitrite (prem. aug 1989 - ? 1990) in Germany.
Canada had its own school, with Jacques De Koninck's Keys (? 1990 - ? 1991) following the impressionistic dogma, Mychael Danna (1)'s Sirens (? ? - jul 1991) inventing a lyrical and visionary style that borrowed from both classical and folk music, and Tim Clement's Waterstation (? ? - ? 1990) representing the most sophisticated version of exotic exploitation. Danna and Clement had already collaborated for years on albums that fused landscape and electronics, as in the suite The Land Beneath The Waves, off Summerland (summer 1984/spring 1985 - ? 1985).
Jonn Serrie was a proponent of lightweight electronic fantasias with the cosmic Flightpath (? 1989 - ? 1989) and especially the mystical Tingri (? ? - ? 1990).
Tim Story (1) fused acoustic and electronic sounds on Beguiled (? ? - ? 1991), a series of gentle and elegant pieces for grand piano and electronic keyboards that straddled the border between Erik Satie's sonatas and Brian Eno's ambient music.
Fred "Raphael" Sharpe (1) was one of Harold Budd's most austere followers on Music To Disappear In (? ? - ? 1988) and especially Angels Of The Deep (? 1994 - feb 1995).
Spanish guitarist Suso Saiz composed the cosmic trance of Hypnotics (? ? - ? 1988) for guitar drones.
Demby had pioneered a sound that became more popular in the following decade. Later examples of the electronic new-age symphony were Jay Scott Berry's Symphony Of Light (? ? - ? 1990) and James Asher's The Great Wheel (? 1988 - ? 1989) and Globalarium (? ? - may 1993).
Far from being only what was advertised (relaxation music for aging yuppies), new-age music represented the first broad application of pretty much all avantgarde techniques (electronic, electro-acoustic, minimalist, improvised, ethnic) to the melodic, tonal system.
Decline and fall of the new age
New-age music, properly speaking, faded during the 1990s. Branded as "adult" music, it did not quite find an audience beyond the meditation and relaxation market (a market that could not sustain artistic growth). Nonetheless, new-age guitar albums included William Ellwood's Natural Selections (aug 1994/feb 1995 - jun 1995) and Randy Roos' Primalvision (jun 1994/may 1995 - aug 1995). The piano was exploited for the new-age sonatas of Christopher Peacock's Island Time (feb/mar 1989 - ? 1989), Danny Wright's Autumn Dreams (? 1991 - feb 1992), Robin Spielberg's Heal Of The Hand (? 1993 - ? 1993), and Cheryl Gunn's Vanity Of Venus (? 1996 - ? 1997). The flute was the instrument of Richard Warner's Quiet Heart (? 1978 - jan 1982) and Spirit Wind (? 1983 - ? 1984). Electronic works in the new age vein included Paul Sauvanet's Tristesse (? ? - sep 1995) and Dino Pacifici's The Journey (? ? - ? 1997). Therapeutic music was well represented by Gabrielle Roth's shamanic and percussive Trance (? 1992 - jan 1993).
World-musicTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
World-music for the avantgarde was a completely different beast from world-music for the pop world. While pop artists were adopting melodic, timbric and rhythmic elements of African, Latin and Asian traditions, the avantgarde exploited those elements in a less explicit manner, as referents (backwards) to humankind's ancient past and (forward) to a futuristic global village.
First and foremost, Paul Winter (1), a veteran jazz saxophonist, became the itinerant apostle of third-world music. His main contribution to world-music was the hyper-fusion of Common Ground (summer 1978 - late 1978), which forged a language made of jazz, animal voices and ethnic folk.
Jon Hassell (122), a student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath, created a deadly combination that would resonate for decades in world-music compositions: the ghostly sound of his trumpet lost in nightmarish electronic background. His trumpet was both a call of the wild and a wail of grief, both as ancestral as possible in a modernist setting. The quasi-ambient Vernal Equinox (oct/nov 1976 - ? 1977) and the jazzier (and less successful) Earthquake Island (? 1977/? ? - ? 1978) led to his masterpiece, Dream Theory In Malaya (? ? - ? 1981), one of the fundamental recordings of the decade, that pushed electronic music back into the primordial swamps and jungles of Africa. After the equally eerie Aka-Darbari-Java Magic Realism (? 1983 - ? 1983), Hassell abandoned the supernatural tension of those works and contented himself with impressionistic works such as Power Spot (oct 1983/dec 1984 - ? 1986).
The melodramatic suites orchestrated by Masanori "Kitaro" Takahashi (1) in Japan, such as Oasis (? 1976 - ? 1979) and Silk Road (? 1976/? 1977 - ? 1980), were emblematic of how electronics and world-music conquered the (pop) world. Osamu Kitajima's east-west folk-jazz fusion of The Source (? ? - ? 1984) was the epitome of the meeting of different sounds under the aegis of new-age music.
Japanese percussionist Yasukazu "Yas-Kaz " Sato composed music for western and eastern instruments, as well as home-made and toy instruments, for example on Jomon Sho (? 1982 - ? 1984).
The tradition of the Third Ear Band was pursued by ensemble works such as Do'Ah's Light Upon Light (? ? - ? 1978), Inverness (? 1983 - ? 1984) by Radiance (former Paul Winter Consort's cellist David Darling, guitarist Jim Scott and oboe player Nancy Rumbel), Ancient Future's Natural Rhythms (? ? - ? 1981) Eternal Wind's Eternal Wind (? 1984 - ? 1984), Night Ark's Picture (? 1986 - ? 1986).
Jon Hassell's and Steve Roach's "de-contextualizing" and "de-constructing" approaches to world-music exerted an enormous influence on the electronic musicians of the 1980s. Seattle-based composer Jeff Greinke (2) fused ambient, industrial and ethnic idioms on Cities In Fog (jul 1984/apr 1985 - nov 1985), Timbral Planes (sep 1986/aug 1987 - late 1987) and Changing Skies (? 1989 - nov 1989).
Jazz trumpeter Mark Isham (2) crafted the atmospheric and oneiric Vapor Drawings (apr/may 1983 - ? 1983) and Tibet (? 1985 - feb 1989), coining a psychedelic and electronic form of jazz-rock.
Edward Larry Gordon, mainly active under the moniker Laraaji used an amplified zither for Essence/Universe (mar 1987 - ? 1987).
Michael Brook (1)'s Hybrid (? 1983/? 1985 - ? 1985) and Cobalt Blue (? 1990/? 1992 - jun 1992) Lucia Hwong (1)'s House Of Sleeping Beauties (? 1984 - ? 1985), Patrick O'Hearn (1)'s Ancient Dreams (late 1984 - mid 1985) were works that mixed a austere performance, sublime arrangements, exotic fascination and metaphysical message.
Michael Gilbert devised the electronic orchestration of African-inspired percussive music on The Light In The Clouds (? 1986 - ? 1987).
The Wolf At The Ruins (? ? - ? 1989) and Blind Messenger (feb 1994/dec 1996 - ? 1997), by Forrest Fang (11), who bridged the spiritual music of Deuter with a more authentic ethnic spirit and a more austere concept of the chamber concerto; Niérika (? 1983/? 1989 - jul 1989) and Cronica De Castas (sep 1990 -end 1990), by Jorge Reyes (2); and Yatra (? 1987 - ? 1990) and Dorje Ling (? ? - ? 1992) by David Parsons (1); rank among the late masterpieces in the genre.
Stephen Bacchus's Pangaea (sep 1990/mar 1991 - ? 1991) mixed electronic and exotic instruments. Paul Avgerinos's Muse Of The Round Sky (? 1989/? 1992 - ? 1992) was chamber music with exotic overtones. Even more commercially successful were Cusco, i.e. German flutist Michael Holm and keyboardist Kristian Schultze, with stereotyped collections such as Apurimac (? ? - apr 1985).
The commercial success of Enya and Loreena McKennitt helped reintroduce the voice in new-age music. The exotic/spiritual overtones of those singers was the key to acceptance among the new-age community, for example for the evocative hymn-like vocal tours de force of Patrick Bernard's Atlantis Angelis (? ? - ? 1988).
World music of the new-age kind, in general, aimed at rediscovering the spirituality of ancient civilizations.
New-age music spawned a "Celtic revival" that produced an endless series of speculations on the Celtic tradition, mainly collections of music for dulcimer (Malcolm Dalglish) and harp (Kim Robertson), but little of artistic value.
It also spawned a less pervasive "Native American revival" that revealed a number of Native American musicians, notably flutist Carlos Nakai, whose collaborations with pianist Peter Kater, Natives (? ? - ? 1990) and especially Migration (? ? - ? 1992), were probably the genre's most accomplished works. Their idea of ancestral chamber music led to the soundscapes of Dik Darnell's In The Presence of Angels (? 1994 - ? 1995).
It was only a matter of time before Latin music also got the "new age" treatment, starting perhaps with Ben Tavera King's celebration of the tex-mex traditions on Border Crossings (jan 1984 - ? 1984). The most celebrated album in that vein was Ottmar Liebert's Nouveau Flamenco (jan/may 1989 - may 1990), that spawned a whole generation of albums for exotic guitar, such as Jesse Cook's Tempest (? ? - sep 1995).
A lesser revival affected klezmer music, the instrumental music of Eastern European Jews. Its protagonists included: Andy Statman (a former bluegrass mandolinist who pioneered the klezmer revival in the 1970s), the Klezmer Convervatory Band (founded in 1980) and the supergroup Brave Old World. Assimilating jazz and rock, klezmer revival music led to the Klezmatics' Rhythm & Jews (dec 1990 - apr 1992) and Kol Simcha's Voice Of Joy (? 1993 - feb 1994).
In the age of globalization, western popularizers of foreign traditions became an oxymoron, and ethnic music was best represented by musicians of the original countries. Such was the case of the most abused tradition of the 1960s, Indian music, which became widely available in the 1980s. Among late USA practitioners of world-music, Jai Uttal fused pop, jazz and Indian music on Footprints (? 1990 - ? 1991).
The real world-musicTM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
African and Middle Eastern music experienced a boom in the 1980s as they absorbed elements of rock and pop music.
Cheba Fadela was the first Algerian pop-rai queen, enjoying unsurpassed popularity with hits such as Ana Ma H'Lali Ennoun (1979) and N'Sel Fik (1983), which are fully westernized (even synthesizers).
A typical French-style maudit and Bohemian artist, Cheb Khaled (1) took the sound of the Algerian revolution and transposed it into the punk era. Rai became the voice of the poor and the oppressed, and, in the years of the Civil War, the voice of the anti-fundamentalist westernized youth, as documented by the slick synthesized production of Kutche (nov 1987/jan 1988 - ? 1988).
Mali is the land of the griots (the French word for the native word "jeli"), the bards of the Sahara who accompany themselves with the kora harp, the balafon xylophone and the ngoni lute, descendants of a century-old tradition. Mali, or, better, the swamps of the Niger river, might also be the homeland of the blues. Traditionally musicians come only from some families: the job of musician is hereditary.
The first major recording of the acoustic music of the "Manding" region (roughly Mali to Guinea), characterized by sweet singalong melodies, was Yasimika (? 1982 - ? 1983), conceived by Guinean kora player and vocalist Jali Musa Jawara, accompanied by balafon and guitar.
The first national voice of Mali was Boubacar Traore (1), a vocalist and guitarist who played an African version of the blues. He didn't record his music until Mariama (? ? - ? 1990).
Mali's vocalist Salif Keita (1) was (1969) a co-founder with Tidiane Kone' of the Super Rail Band and (1972) a member of horn-band Les Ambassadeurs, that cut the epic Mandjou (1979). His first solo album, the dramatic Soro (? ? - oct 1987), incorporated rock arrangements and took advantage of western studio techniques, while remaining faithful to his African roots.
Kasse` Mady Diabate, the voice of the National Badema orchestra, who moved to Europe in 1983, followed in Keita's footsteps with Fode (? 1988 - ? 1989) but then returned to his roots with Kela Tradition (? ? - ? 1990).
Mali's virtuoso of the kora harp Toumani Diabate (1), son of the Sidiki Diabate who recorded the first album ever of kora music, Ancient Strings (? 1970 - ? 1971), introduced elements of minimalism, psychedelia and blues into his solo kora album Kaira (oct 1987 - ? 1988).
With the album Ali Farka Toure (oct 1987 - ? 1988), Mali's blues guitarist Ali Farka Toure (1) carved a niche in the territory of Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, but then returned to his roots with the elegant Savane (early 2006 - jul 2006).
Powerful vocalist Kandia Kouyate, a sort of Aretha Franklin of Mali, was first immortalized on Kandia Kouyate & the Ensemble Instrumental (? ? - ? 1983). On Kita Kan (? ? - ? 1999) she alternates between the western orchestra, the rock combo and the African folk ensemble, whereas Biriko (? ? - jul 2002) is a traditional, acoustic effort.
Orchestra Baobab (1) was the most famous of the Senegalese combos that mixed Cuban music and African music, for example on Pirate's Choice (? 1982 - ? 1989).
Senegal vocalist Youssou N'Dour (3) became a teenage sensation with the band Etoile De Dakar, whose Xalis (? 1978 - ? 1979) established mbalax (Cuban music performed with western instruments and augmented with African polyrhythms) as a major form of dance music. The formidable Immigrés (? 1983 - ? 1985) proved what kind of force of nature N'Dour's ensemble was, especially when coupled with the Middle-eastern inflection of his tenor. The stylistic Babel of Set (? ? - ? 1990) was perhaps his most emotional and most intricate statement.
The Senegalese band Toure Kunda (1) pioneered the African invasion of Europe with the fusion of western-style melodies and Middle-eastern or reggae rhythms performed on traditional instruments of Frères Griots (? ? - ? 1979).
Cameroon's saxophonist Manu Dibango (1), who became famous thanks to the proto-disco groove of Soul Makossa, fused African rhythms and melodies with reggae, notably on Gone Clear (? 1978 - ? 1980), and funk, notably on Waka Juju (? 1981 - ? 1982).
Guinean kora player Mory Kante, who succeeded Salif Keta in the Rail Band in 1973, adapted Mandinka music to the dancefloor and produced Yeke Yeke (1987), the first ever African single to sell over one million copies.
Maham Konate's percussion ensemble Farafina, from Burkina Faso, delved into African polyrhythms on Bolomakote (? 1988 - ? 1989).
Ethiopia, one of the world's most ancient nations, was virtually obliterated (both as a people and as a culture) by the communist dictatorship of Mengitsu between 1974 and 1991. The Ethiopian music that was recorded between 1969 and 1978 was unknown in the rest of the world until the late 1990s. Indeed, the Ethiopian scene of the 1960s was one of the most lively scenes in the world. The country that will later be identified with chronic famine was actually experienced a moderate boom. The soundtrack of that boom was played by countless swing bands in countless night clubs. The censorship and persecution of the 1970s scientifically destroed that scene, and the massive economic collapse that followed Mengitsu's communist reforms sent the few survivors into exile. In 1978, Mengitsu officially banned all vinyl recordings of music, and Ethiopian music went into hibernation until the 1990s.
Ethiopian virtuoso vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed, accompanied by the jazzy Ibex Band, penned a form of dance-pop that drew from both African, western and Middle-eastern sources on Ere Mela Mela (? 1975/? 1978 - ? 1986), that compiled some of his hits.
Ethiopian vocalist Aster Aweke, who relocated in 1982 to the USA, adapted her extraordinary voice to a repertory of soul-jazz-rock, at times gritty like Aretha Franklin at her best, and at times soporific like Sade, on Aster (? ? - ? 1989), which actually summarized her eleven Ethiopian cassettes, and Kabu (? ? - oct 1991).
Congolese keyboardist and musicologist Ray Lema Ansi Nzinga relocated to France, where he achieved the rumba, rock, funk and reggae fusion of Kinshasa- Washington DC-Paris (fall 1983 - dec 1983). His adult phase was instead devoted to merging African rhythm and western classical harmony, particularly on introspective albums of piano music such as Tout Partout (? 1994 - nov 1995).
On the contrary, Brazzaville's singer-songwriter Pamelo Mounka, an alumnus of Tabu Ley's Afrisa, remained faithful to the traditional Congo sound on L'Argent Appelle L'Argent (? ? - ? 1981).
Albums by westernized singers from Congo in the 1980s also included Kanda Bongo's Amour Fou (? ? - ? 1984) and Souzy Kasseya's Le Retour De L'As (? ? - ? 1984).
Ivory Coast's singer-songwriter Alpha Blondy (Seydou Kone), with Jah Glory (? ? - ? 1982), and South Africa's Ermelo "Lucky" Dube, with Rastas Never Die (? ? - ? 1984), became the first reggae stars of Africa.
Zimbabwe's jit music is a percussive dancefloor style that weds Shona melodies, thumb piano, and guitar-driven rhythm'n'blues, something halfway between Zaire's soukous, Ghana's highlife, and South Africa's mbaqanga.
Zimbabwe-Shona minstrel Thomas Mapfumo (2) specialized in the genre of political songs (chimurenga music) that was in vogue during the civil war. Substituting electric guitar (Jonah Sithole) and drums for the mbira thumb piano and hosho rattlers, Mapfumo created his own personal hybrid of African and western music on albums such as Gwindingwi Rine Shumba (? ? - ? 1980), while Chimurenga For Justice (? ? - ? 1986) opted for a mellower sounds and introduced a languid fusion of soul, rock and reggae.
The Bhundu Boys popularized jit in the Britain with the effervescent Shabini (? ? - ? 1986).
Zimbabwe's guitarist John Chibadura was the virtuoso of jit. His albums Mudzimo Wangu (? ? - ? 1985), 5000$ Kuroora (? ? - ? 1986), and Sara Ugarike (? ? - ? 1987) were among the most popular of the genre. When he went reggae, Chibadura was equally successul with Zuva Refuka Kwangu (? ? - ? 1988). He died in 1999.
Lebanese oud virtuoso Rabih Abou-Khalil (1) combined jazz improvisation and his Middle-eastern folk traditions (intricate rhythms, ornate melodies) on albums such as Between Dusk And Dawn (? 1985 - ? 1987).
Yemeni-Israeli vocalist Ofra Haza became a star by singing traditional Jewish psalms arranged for the disco by state-of-the-art producers on Yemenite Songs (aug/sep 1984 - dec 1984).
Turkish sufi multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek sold out his traditions to the new-age crowd on Whirling (? ? - aug 1994).
Indian music was frequently quoted in the West but rarely heard outside the Indian communities of Britain and the USA.
Only some of the masters (Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, Pandit Pran Nath, Zakir Hussain) reached a broad audience in the West.
Since 1973, the stormy voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan interpreted the hypnotic litanies of Pakistan's "qawwali" (sufi devotional music). His lengthy improvised vocal acrobatics are best represented by the colossal Ni Main Jana Jogi De and Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai on The Day The Night The Dawn The Dusk (? 80's - jul 1991) and by the live performances of Intoxicated Spirit (? ? - may 1996). "Discovered" by Peter Gabriel, Ali popularized the style for the British audience with Shahen-Shah (mar 1988 - ? 1989). After the westernized format of Mustt Mustt (? ? - ? 1990), basically electronic funk-rock with dub overtones, he delivered the four soaring tours de force of Shahbaaz (? ? - ? 1991), accompanied only by droning harmonium and frenzied tablas, the Devotional And Love Songs (? ? - ? 1992) with guitar and mandolin juxtaposed to harmonium and tablas, and The Last Prophet (? 1993 - ? 1994), which focused on call-and-response group singing. He died in 1997 at 41, having recorded some 120 albums.
In the 1970s Debashish Bhattacharya reinvented the Hawaian slide guitar as a raga instrument by addings resonating strings and droning strings and developing the lightning-speed three-finger picking technique displayed on recordings such as Raga Ahir Bhairav (dec 1989 - jun 1993).
A younger influential sitar player in the "tantrakari ang" (the instrumental style of music) was Nikhil Banerjee (widely considered the century's greatest virtuoso), while "gayaki ang" (the vocal style) was represented by Vilayat Khan and, at the end of the 20th century, Shahid Parvez.
Instrumental masters (ustad) of other instruments included bansur (bamboo flute) player Hariprasad Chaurasia, particularly the Rag Ahir Bhairav (jun 1987 - ? 1987) and the 69-minute performance of his Rag Lalit (jun 1988 - ? 1989), and violinist Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, devoted to jazz-Indian fusion on Garland (apr 1978 - ? 1982) and Spanish Wave (? 1983 - ? 1983).
Ilaiyaraaja (born Gnanadesikan Rasaiya) experimented a fusion of Bach and raga on How To Name It? (? ? - ? 1986).
Vocalist Lakshmi Shankar has often wasted his talent in light, pop efforts, but at least Pancha Nadai Pallavi (jul 1989 - ? 1990), which features three fourths of Shakti, is a dramatic and austere work in the classical tradition.
In 1989 John McLaughlin hired an Indian percussionist, Trilok Gurtu, the son of vocalist Shobha Gurtu, who had already played with Don Cherry and with Oregon. Gurtu's own Usfret (? 1987/? 1988 - ? 1988) offered an intense mix of Indian vocals, jazz-rock and world-music.
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Vocal trio Black Uhuru, supported by the rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, wrapped reggae and Rastafarianism into a slick production of drum-machines and synthesizers, especially on Red (? ? - may 1981).
Third World offered a commercial fusion of reggae, funk and soul.
Innovators of the next generation included toaster and turntablist Yellowman (Winston Foster), a pioneer of "dancehall" (reggae music with rock drums) who established his reputation with Mister Yellowman (? ? - ? 1982), crossover artists such as Eddy Grant, with the electronic Afro-rock-reggae-funk fusion of Walking On Sunshine (? 1978 - ? 1978), Eek-a-Mouse (Ripton Joseph Hylton), who invented a unique vocal technique that harked back to the early days of toasting, as displayed on Wa Do Dem (? 1981 - ? 1981), and Mikey Dread (Michael Campbell), who crafted African Anthem (? ? - ? 1978) and At The Control Dubwise (? ? - ? 1979), with help from Scientist, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo and Sly & Robbie, and World War III (? ? - aug 1980), with help from Scientist, after collaborating with the punk-rock band Clash.
As far as dub goes, King Tubby had raised an entire generation of recording engineers, who went on to become innovators of Jamaican music, such as Prince Jammy (Lloyd James), who concocted the all-digital reggae Under Me Sleng Teng (1985), credited with inventing "ragga" (a fusion of reggae, rap and electronic dance music), and Scientist (Overton Brown).
Popular reggae musicians of the 1980s included Judy Mowatt, who, as a backup vocalist for Marley, was one of reggae's first female performers, and, as a soloist, crossed over into pop-soul balladry, Ivory Coast's sociopolitical bard Alpha Blondy (Kone Seydou), and David "Ziggy" Marley, son of the prophet, who sold out his father's myth to the international disco-pop crowds. Dancehall toaster Shabba Ranks (Rexton Gordon) and Shinehead (Carl Aiken) were the stars of ragga hip-hop.
The star of the 1990s was Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie), revealed by Til Shiloh (? ? - jul 1995).
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Remnants of "kosmische musik" in Germany abounded.
Peter Frohmader (13) was an impressive talent of composition and orchestration. His gothic nightmares Nekropolis (? ? - ? 1981), Cultes Des Goules (may/nov 1981 - ? 1985) and Ritual (? ? - ? 1986), particularly the middle one, credited to Nekropolis established his credentials in manipulating electronic and acoustic sounds, and in creating claustrophobic atmospheres. The four-part electronic symphony Homunculus (? 1985/? ? - ? 1987) shifted gear and attained the menacing intensity of a futuristic vision. Through Time And Mistery (late 1987 - ? 1988), his masterpiece, contains compositions that draw inspiration from the Middle Ages as well as from avantgarde composers such as Stockhausen, Ligeti and Cage. Finally, he achieved his mystic phase with albums such as Cycle Of Eternity (? 1991/? 1992 - ? 1994), still dense, tense and metaphysical.
Austrian multi-instrumentalist Gandalf (1) devoted his career to Tolkien-like fairy-tales such as Journey To An Imaginary Land (aug/oct 1980 - mar 1981).
Albums such as Electronic Universe (? 1985 - ? 1985), by the duo Software (1), i.e. Peter Mergener and Michael Weisser, and Heart Symphony (? 1990 - ? 1990) by Karunesh (Bruno Reuter), continued the great German tradition of electronic meditations.
In a more somber and austere register, Asmus Tietchens (1) composed ambient music a` la Brian Eno, for example Nachtstücke (? ? - ? 1980), the more abstract quasi-industrial suites of Seuchengebiete (? ? - ? 1985), and surreal electro-acoustic concerts, such as Zwingburgen Des Hedonismus (? ? - ? 1987), before achieving his romantic peak with the Marches Funebres (? ? - ? 1989) for electronics and percussions.
Bernd Kistenmacher revived the form of Schulze's cosmic symphony with Wake Up In The Sun (? ? - dec 1987) and Outlines (oct/nov 1990 - ? 1991). So did Solitaire (Elmar Schulte and Rudiger Gleisberg) with Altered States (may 1990 - ? 1990).
In Denmark, Klaus Schonning (2) added Scandinavian naturalism (sense of great wide spaces, arctic landscapes and bright white light) to the stereotypes of "cosmic music" on albums such as Symphodyssé I (? 1988 - ? 1989) and Symphodyssé III (winter 1990 - ? 1991).
"Kosmische musik" largely tapered off towards the end of the 1980s, outpaced and outlived by ambient music. Among the last German "cosmic couriers", Mathias Grassow established himself with Psychic Dome (? 1990/? 1992 - ? 1992), permeated by mythological themes and new-age spirituality.
However, the most innovative take on the cosmic language came perhaps from Italy thanks to Federico "Deca" DeCaroli (1), notably his third album Claustrophobia (? ? - ? 1989) and even more Simbionte (aug 2001/aug 2002 - oct 2002).