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.

Photo credit Ricks Ang

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, Fourth World SBC, features music channelled and shazamed from BGM used in shows by the now-defunct Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which was active in the 1980s and early-1990s.

Most record finds were unearthed from the vaults of the legendary Red Point Records who had previously acquired the albums in job lots from defunct radio libraries in Singapore.

Here, Ricks Ang pens a piece about the music that defined this era — how new age and ambient tracks helped soundtrack stories of a reimagined and fantastical Singapore, and how he found these records at a local record warehouse.

Ricks Ang, pictured.

Listen to “Fourth World SBC”, the first Imaginary Regions mix:

How do we go beyond the “fourth world” musical ideas of pioneers like Eno and Jon Hassell?

Defined by Hassell as a kind of folk music from “unknown and imaginary regions”, the method behind making “fourth world” music was to disengage and create some other world while blurring our very own.

Subliminally, in television, fantasy/sci-fi/horror and melancholic drama series in the 1980s, produced by the then-SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now Mediacorp) such as Mystery (迷离夜) and Romance of the Season (恋曲 1991) — to name a few — are fine examples of what happens when you dive into this world.

Stills captured from existing footage of Romance of the Season.

The directors responsible for these works, hailing from Hong Kong, decisively chose to disengage from everyday Singapore life to draw a new myth of where we live.

From perfectly-dubbed Chinese dialogues, proto-vaporwave graphics, 80s interiors, and fashion, dreamy pastoral landscapes, to unrealistic story plots of a world reimagined, there was also a curious mix of music that straddled the line of pop, smooth jazz, new age, ambient music, and pure synthesizer noodling.

Before the advent of Netflix, reruns of these shows would air after midnight during weekdays. With the use of song identifiers such as Shazam, it has helped to find matches to musical accents and deep cuts, which unleashed a whole new music discovery level. There are some saxophones and a lot of crystalline synths, and that is a different kind of obsession I cannot escape from.

Aside from more prominent names like Enya, Kenny G, and Ennio Morricone, there was a treasure of musical delights by artists less-known in the public spotlight but prolific in their work. Keiko Matsui’s ‘Under the Northern Lights’ is found on the drama series The Magnate (叱咤风云), and the track ‘Chakra 4’ by Mannheim Steamroller was captured on an episode of Mystery.

The theme song for Mystery, which is currently available to stream on Netflix.

The first few seconds of the track ‘Belissima’ by Atmosphere (released on krautrock giant Klaus Schulze’s iconic label Innovative Communications) were often used on various scenes of heartbreak and shock throughout the era.

There are cuts from obscure Taiwanese ambient pioneer Chen Shyh Shing — released on Rock Records before the label’s mainstream success — and Toshifumi Hinata.

During this era, the latter was a much sought-after composer for Japanese film and TV, such as Tokyo Love Story, Long Vacation, and Gift, and whose work was recently reappraised by ambient music label Music From Memory with the compilation Broken Belief).

The old broadcasting station also had a streak of using instrumental pieces from labels such as Windham Hill (in particular, George Winston and Will Ackerman), New World Company, and Narada Mystique. For an extended period since then, the artists from their rosters were somewhat detested for being associated with that tag: New Age. Thirty years after, they have somewhat come full circle, regaining contemporary relevance among ambient music connoisseurs.

During this time, I started to put a lot of effort into research, and the experience made me understand what I wanted to reach for with my sound as a music selector. At that point, I began to buy records.

I buy most of my stuff on Discogs or during trips to Japan. In Singapore, I spend the most hours digging at Red Point Record Warehouse.

The owner Mr Ong is a massive collector. He helped me with the records that I wanted, always simplistically streamlining my preference as “the Enya type of music” (not that I mind) before unloading crates of 80s-90s new age LPs and CDs, inherited as job lots from defunct sound and radio libraries in Singapore.

The pile of CDs, vinyl, and cassette tapes used for this mix.

A lot of these have library reference numbers written on labels in marker pens. The album Crystal New Age by Robert Haig Coxon Jr even has a handwritten note to describe each track’s moods, quite likely as a reference to how it can be used as background music for films.

I might have completely missed out on Chen Shyh Shing’s album Emptiness if not for the fact that I vaguely remembered seeing the name on my Shazam list. I scored the LP for $15, and today it is worth US$150 on Discogs(!).

Coincidentally (or not), many of these songs and albums on my Shazam list were rediscovered at the record store. We cannot be entirely sure, but we hope to be optimistic in thinking that some of the rediscovered records at the record store might have been the same original source where the music was sampled for TV in those days.

The lost moods of old SBC drama serials and 80s new age records found at Red Point Record Warehouse have been an immense source I can draw from to create the mix “Fourth World SBC” as part of my new series “Imaginary Regions” on Singapore Community Radio.

I selected songs from tracks found on Shazam and mixed them with music from vinyl records, compact discs, and cassette tapes salvaged there, leading me to this imaginary atmosphere.

These are tracks that everybody could listen to with pleasure — but, at the same time, to be able to dig into strange elements that can be appreciated on a deeper level. It comes to mind a term I often use as “hard easy listening”.

I think you can find something in this mix to reimagine some of the inner scenery around you. And sometimes, these sounds have a way of coloring our memory in ways that we’ve yet to imagine.

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