Chill Vibes, Minus the Wind Chimes: It’s a New Day for New Age Music
Nailah Hunter grew up in a household where magic was considered demonic, so her parents would not let her read the Harry Potter books. Her father was a pastor in the Ladera Heights neighborhood of southern Los Angeles. She sang in his church, later wrote acoustic guitar songs, and performed in her high school choir. She also read fantasy novels and listened to Gary Stadler, an imaginative composer whose titles are filled with “Fee” or “Fee”.
“The nerdiness started early,” Hunter, now 26 and very close to her parents, said over FaceTime on a September morning.
In college, as a traditional singer-songwriter, she felt stifled in groups where others, namely “white guys,” controlled the creative direction. She got a Korg Triton synthesizer and the audio production software Logic Pro. She also went deep into the harp. “The realm it accesses – the timbre, the texture, the low notes – it feels like you’re conjuring things out of your body as you play,” she said.
Jäger’s creations began to break away from traditional song structures and to develop into something freer, and in March she released her debut EP “Spells”. Last Friday she released new music alongside other artists on the Los Angeles label Leaving Records, who are also creating a distinctive version of new age music. It’s an often ridiculed and loosely defined genre known for its cheesiness and obsolescence Conventions (is that a greyhound ringing in the distance?) But the leaving roster provides an updated perception of what new age may be and who is doing it.
The collaborative venture with Hunter, Matthew McQueen, Diva Dompé, Ami Dang, and Olive Ardizoni is known as Galdre Visions, a name referring to the Old Norwegian word for a wizard or Celtic druid, which uses songs for incantations. Like Hunter, its members entered a new age after exploring other musical avenues, though a youthful love for Enya and an interest in alternative spiritualities were not uncommon.
36-year-old McQueen, who releases music as Matthewdavid, started leaving in 2009, inspired by tougher scenes like drone and noise music. (While the label releases other genres, New Age is one of its pillars.) He first became interested in sound over a decade ago after discovering New Age tapes at a Goodwill in Tallahassee, Florida. He also called it “Planetary Unfolding”. a 1981 Michael Stearns Cosmic Ambient Album, “A Record That Saved My Life.”
The label’s artists include his wife Dompé (33), who previously played in rock bands Blackblack and Pocahaunted in Los Angeles. In her youth she suffered from sleep paralysis, which made her wake up but seem unable to move her body and see terrible hallucinations. When she became interested in occultism and mysticism, she came to the conclusion that her state was associated with astral projection, the belief that an individual’s consciousness can traverse different dimensions. Guided meditations that she did to process her own supernatural experiences grew into the deeply expansive and sometimes unsettling project, Yialmelic Frequency.
36-year-old producer and sitarist Dang studied electronic composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music before joining Baltimore’s experimental music scene. As she ages, she becomes more interested in music that takes the strain off her listeners rather than challenging them. “If you came to my show and fell asleep, that’s great,” she said. “When that happens, that’s flattering.”
Ardizoni also addressed an extremely cool audience: foliage. The 33-year-old musician, who identifies as non-binary and uses gender-neutral pronouns, was introduced to crystals and Eastern philosophies as a teenager in South Florida around the same time he was studying Pink Floyd and Acid. After Ardizoni had sung in punk and metal bands, he moved to Los Angeles and talked to the plants that they encountered on walks or long hikes, in order to finally make music for them under the name of Green House.
Ardizoni also sees her music as a therapeutic force that works in both directions. “I am a strange working class person who was assigned a woman at birth and life is not always easy,” they said. “Every kind of music I’ve ever made has healed me in some way, and I wanted to share that with others.”
It’s not surprising that these leaving artists have largely gained a foothold in Los Angeles: California has long been the hub of new age music. When the 1960s turned into the 70s, the musicians working in the state produced fundamental albums such as Paul Horn’s “Inside” and Iasos’ “Inter-Dimensional Music”.
New Age didn’t just develop out of the woolly counterculture of the era. It was inspired by sources such as Transcendental Meditation, the work of the philosophical writer Alan Watts and German naturists from the early 20th century. “The New Age movement wanted to free itself through this spiritual awakening,” said Carlos Niño, a musician who published music on Leaving and who is a longtime DJ at Dublab Internet radio in Los Angeles. “All of this information is in the music.”
Suzanne Doucet, a German pop star in the 1960s who came to America in the early 80s after devoting himself to the new age, said of the sound, “It’s not entertainment, it’s about expanding your awareness.”
Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, New Age music remained an underground phenomenon, mainly sold in cassette after cassette. In 1987, Doucet Only New Age Music opened on a corner of Melrose Boulevard; It was the first record store of its kind. That same year, the Grammys awarded their first trophy for Best New Age Recording.
Though New Age artists soon began storing their albums in national chains like Tower Records, the music seemed irrevocably hokey to younger generations who grew up in a punk and hip hop culture. In recent years, however, aspects of the broader new age life have interlocked with the rise of the wellness movement. “On a more general level, the culture has openly embraced yoga and meditation, clean and calming design, psychedelics, and the existence of aliens,” said Brian Sweeny, creator of the Ambient Church concert series. “There is no more edge.”
When Sweeny booked the first Ambient Church performance in New York in the summer of 2016, he sold 100 tickets. At the last shows he had in New York and LA before the pandemic shut down, he drew nearly 2,000 visitors.
Although practices The culture associated with New Age culture is now a part of the popular firmament. This shift has brought with it some related issues, such as wellness influencers leaning on QAnon conspiracy theories and continued cases of cultural appropriation. “This year I’ve been very confused because the New Age, or the spiritual movement, is where I’ve sought refuge and healing for much of my life, but I feel very disconnected,” said Dompé. “There are just so many ways you can do harm, control people, bypass people’s experiences, and add to your own trauma in these really weird ways.”
To create a more inclusive community, McQueen launched a bi-weekly series of free outdoor shows in 2018 at La Tierra de la Culebra, a small art park between two houses on a section of Highland Park. The series, which went under the strangely direct name “Listening to music outside in the daylight under a tree”, featured leaving artists and friends of the label. After Covid-19 hit, McQueen turned it into a livestream event (now paused) titled Listen to Music Safely in Your Home Next to a Fern.
As the disconnection and uncertainty of the pandemic stretched for months, the plan for Galdre Visions came together to allow the artists to connect with each other. Hunter, Dompé and Ardizoni each selected incomplete pieces of music and distributed them with shimmering digital textures and sparkling waves from Jäger’s harp. Dang added elements like the sitar and harmonium, while McQueen did the mixing and mastering.
The members of Galdre Visions look at the songs in each EP spell and each include chanting to activate their intentions. Their voices penetrate the room either through wordless singing or through Ardizoni, who intones comforting phrases such as “The sun will rise again in time”.
“Everyone is obviously injured right now,” said Hunter. “Everyone is scared and just wants to be held. So if there was ever a time to spread this further, it would be now.”