Various Artists

I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990

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Though most new age music has rightfully been associated with the cynical postmodern business of sonic backdrop music of the 1980s, '90s, and early 21st century -- it was originally an outgrowth of the spiritual adventurousness of the 20th, particularly during the late '60s and '70s. Light in the Attic presents the first overview of the genre from the private-press side; in other words, its most authentic expression, since the vast majority of the records surveyed here were released by artists who had no regard for economic remuneration. This set collects 20 tracks from well-known and hopelessly obscure musicians and places them in an historical and qualitative context which focuses on musical adventure and/or spiritual intention -- most of what's here was released long before the genre became an industry. This is the music of the true believers. Disc one contains some historic pieces including Thomas de Hartmann's 78-rpm piano re-recordings of his collaborations with G.I. Gurdjieff from 1950, and virtuoso harpist Gail Laughton's “Pompeii 76 A.D.,” from 1969, which was used in the soundtrack to Blade Runner and wrongly credited to Vangelis. Among the first disc's true gems are guitarist Wilburn Burchette's gloriously spooky "Witch's Will," from 1970, and Constance Demby's "Om Mani Padme Hum," the latter from a self-issued cassette released before Novus Magnificat. The all-too-brief organ work "Arabian Fantasy" by Daniel Emmanuel, and Joel Andrews' extended harp work, "Seraphic Borealis," are masterpieces. New age co-originators Steven Halpern and Iasos are represented here, as is Eno and Blues Control collaborator Laraaji. Disc two contains excerpts of "As the Earth Kissed the Moon," an early work by famed soundtrack composer and electro-acoustic music pioneer Michael Stearns, and the mindblowing "Tien Fu: Heaven’s Gate," by Aeoliah (aka Jonathan Fairchild). Violinist/composer/arranger Daniel Kobialka's "Blue Spirals" reveals his major influences -- Lou Harrison, Toru Takemitsu, and Henry Brant -- in aural view. Larkin's "Two Souls Dance," from 1984 -- with killer dark ambient synth work from Stearns -- could just as easily have appeared in the 21st century, with its droning and pulsing atmospheres, hovering flute, and myriad analog effects. It's pertinent to note that most of these composers are baby boomers, clearly influenced by psychedelic music, space exploration, and Eastern philosophy all coming together in their separate ways in an expansive convergence; these influences indeed permeate much of the work here -- even the classically trained composers'. The biographical liner notes by compiler and co-producer Douglas McGowan for each track make one wish he had written an extensive historical/critical essay for inclusion. If there is one complaint about I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America 1950-1990, it's that the excerpted materials leave the listener wanting so much more -- which may be impossible to address, since the collector’s market has made original sources of these recordings all but impossible to find or afford -- but that's a good problem to have. As it is, this is a revelatory offering.

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