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Imaginary Regions with Ricks Ang: In defense of New Age music

Posted 9 months ago Written by SINGAPORE COMMUNITY RADIO

Imaginary Regions is a series of mixes made by Ricks Ang, head honcho of KITCHEN. LABEL. These mixes comprise of new age, ambient, environmental, and relaxation records, compact discs, and cassette tapes.

This episode, New Age Stories 1980-1989, serves as an exploratory look at a form of music that widely pervaded the modern sensibilities of its time. With its meditative qualities once the soundtrack of yoga studios, boutique stores, and late-night television transmissions, not much attention was given to the artists who pioneered new age — save for anomalies like Yanni and Kitaro, who commanded stadium-sized crowds in their day.

Recent revival efforts, on the other hand, have shined a new spotlight on a form of music that was once deeply maligned by an uninformed majority.

Ricks Ang adds to this ongoing conversation with his mix, featuring music ripped from his personal collection of cassette tapes, along with an impassioned argument for its value in these uncertain times. Read on below.

Ricks Ang, pictured.

Listen to “New Age Stories 1980-1989”, the second Imaginary Regions mix:

Perhaps no genre of music has had as much misinformation foist upon it as new age music. Since its emergence in the 70s, new age music was derided as simply a convenient marketing category by the mid-90s.

Everything from solo piano renditions of Barry Manilow pop ballads, traditional folk such as Celtic music, to the bombastic forms of pop instrumental music such as recordings of Yanni have been lumped together. Interestingly (and to his credit), Yanni has stated he does not play new age music, and most will agree with him.

So what is “authentic” new age music? It depends on whom you ask. Ambient record aficionados would describe it as music created by artists who pioneer new acoustic vistas, music that employs time, space and silence as a sonic vehicle to get listeners into closer contact with the environment and their spiritual nature.

Despite being a much-maligned genre, any sound-seeker will not find it hard to reach into New Age music and dig deeper to discover what else is in there.

In this era, the process of rediscovering vintage new age music comes without the baggage that initially surrounded it the first time around. A series of well-received vinyl reissues by musicians such as Laraaji and Suzanne Ciani — coupled with present generation musicians Ana Roxanne, Joseph Shabason releasing new music in the genre — are contributing to its revival.

Suzanne Ciani, featured in a clip of a 1980 episode of The David Letterman Show. Ciani is documented as a pioneer of electronic music and new age, with The Guardian naming her “America’s first female synth hero”.

This latest episode of ‘Imaginary Regions’ covers new age muzak from the golden age of the genre in the 1980s, when its cassette releases were also at their peak.

Featuring original audio recorded from cassettes salvaged from dusty new age and general used tape bins, the mix dubbed “New Age Stories 1980-1989”, dives into the genre’s curious, wondrous world within. To paraphrase Serenity label’s fundamental goal to bridge New Age and Healing Music, it is “music that stirs the soul and warms the heart”.

Opening the mix is Steven Halpern, who, to no other single composer, can new age be so aptly applied to. Since 1975, his albums, which he would call “inner peace music”, channeled their way through specialty bookstores and notably (or notoriously) at natural food & health stores.

Steven Halpern explains his “inner peace music” ethos on a US news segment in 1991.

The genre that utterly lacked definition has a knack for creating subgenres, making the genre branch out even further.

“Imaginary Regions” takes you through the new acoustics and prototype vaporwave of Mark Isham’s Vapor Drawings, released on Windham Hill, the neo-classical piano solo of David Lanz from Narada, Sonic Atmosphere’s (once the label home of space music legend Michael Stearns) brand of exploratory instrumental music from ambient jazz musician Don Harriss, environmental sounds of Nature Recordings to the cozy ambiance of little-known new age musicians Max Highstein and L’esprit from the aforementioned Serenity.

German composer Deuter once wrote, “The main thing is that moment of silence that I hope to create in the listener, a chance to go inside oneself, to leave the world behind and get recharged.”.

And this is what new age music, in essence, wants to accomplish — music that is healing, showing contours of a memory one couldn’t concretely recall, yet one could sense. It gives listeners the opportunity to, for a moment, leave this hectic, noisy world behind and enter a haven of tranquility.

Follow Ricks Ang on Instagram and visit KITCHEN. LABEL’s official website here.