Author Topic: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness  (Read 12200 times)

9dragons

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New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« on: September 15, 2008, 11:31:52 AM »
The rather melodramatic title to this thread was inspired by a quote I found on the Hearts of Space website, in a description of the Tuu album "Terma", a Fathom sublabel release from 1998:  "Musically superior and not too scary for the new age audience either, Terma reveals the 'ghosts in the landscape' and delivers enjoyment in depth."

I've been trying to find out what happened to the Hearts of Space label, and Fathom; its origins and what it meant for ambient music. This quote was interesting in that it made me think about why the Fathom label was created, in order to contain the darker side of what was then being called New Age. I don't know much about the earlier history of Hearts of Space, as I only became aware of its albums after its heyday. So I am curious, does anyone know the history behind this split in Hearts of Space, and was it prompted by complaints from the New Age listeners, or by the artists themselves, who were exploring the darker territories? It seems this shows a fundamental strangeness in the whole New Age movement, where the dark side of humanity and the universe is glossed over, or not acknowledged.

I've read other articles that see Roach and Rich as too dark and scary, and I find it a curious statement. Since I listen to the music of these artists quite often, I would tend to agree that they are intense, and go to some deep places, and the dissonances and darkness of their music can sound very off-putting and even unsettling to the newcomer, but they also equally explore places of light and beauty, which are all the more exquisite and alive for being contrasted with the dark. I will admit, that sometimes I want to just bliss out, and I will put on some more harmonious music, albums that would probably be considered New Age, and I am quite content with that when the mood strikes, and enjoy seeing this lighter side.

But do you think that there is a failure of New Age music to incorporate the darker side and create balance, or does this defeat the purpose. And what is the purpose of New Age, pure relaxation? Were artist like Roach and Rich shunted aside when New Age was at its height, because they did not "toe the line" and started following where their muses led, into darker territory, and thus alienated the listeners? Or did they make this break on their own, not wishing to be forced into the mainstream of New Age?


Seren

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2008, 03:24:12 PM »
New Age music does have a terrible reputation and not having explored much of it I am not able to make in depth comments, but I think that it, and many other genres get locked into their own boundaries and self definitions. Would it be ambient music if there was martial band rhythms or backing in songs? New age is often linked to fluffy, everything is peace sprituality, so by it's own definition it could not include death metal tracks......

Similarly I knew the british punk band 'Flux of Pink Indians' and they released a more experimental album that pretty much bombed becuase the loyal fans did not like it (and vociferously said so) and non punk listeners did not give it a try because of the punk label on the band. Flux returned to punk music because they felt getting the message out was more important than trying to follow different styles of music - interesting conundrum for a band....

I have heard a range of new age, from plinky plonky to very nice ambient sounds, similarly artists who get labelled as new age can make music that is well outside the genres stable boundaries.

9dragons

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2009, 12:17:49 AM »
The other night I had a really deep listen to a couple early Roach and Vidna tracks. It was really late, I was working on some designs, and had been focusing for hours. Upon listening to the Steve Roach track (The Dreamer Descends / True West) on the three track Amplexus compilation, I began to feel that the music was so deep, that it was so damn good at whatever it was doing, I actually got a bit scared. A strange and not unpleasant species of apprehension that the old school French decadent writers like Huysmans would probably describe as delicious. At this moment I think I got a hint of what the phrase 'dark ambient' means, or at least what it should mean. Because something that goes that deep, that makes you feel something so outside, would be something from a shadowy world, dark in an alchemical sense, meaning ripe to give birth to light, awareness. It is this contrast that makes really intelligent art thrive and come to life. Real depth is achieved. There is no seeking after darkness in a facile way, just a willingness to go as deep as the art creation process will take you. I very much admire that willingness.

It must have been difficult, in a career sense, when New Age was in full flower, when Roach and Rich really started to realize that they had to follow their work as deep as it would go, to wherever it lead. Perhaps this led to disappointment in the ambient/new age world (were they interlinked at that time?), and a split that gave us so much excellently well rounded ambient sounds for years to come.

Bill Binkelman

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2009, 08:32:45 AM »
As (most likely) the resident new age music expert here on the forum (since I've been reviewing it as long as I have ambient and have been a fan since the mid-80s), I can give you more detailed info and some opinions on the philosophical side of this issue later when I have more time. However, IIRC, the reason that Stephen and Leyla Hill created the Fathom sub-label had less to do with any "fan reaction" (esp. from the new age music crowd) that I am aware of. It was more a marketing/retail placement issue.

At about the same time they created Fathom, they also created "Hearts O' Space" for their new line of Celtic-themed releases and a world music sub label too (don't recall the name of that one). While you are correct that Fathom emerged at about the same time that Rich and Roach delved into darker territory (I think the first Roach album on Fathom was The Magnificent Void and the first Rich one was Stalker or A Troubled Resting Place), I gather that the real reason for Fathom was to simply make it easier and faster to differentiate between label-released "darker" music and the lighter kind of spacemusic that artists like Kevin Braheny were releasing. It simply was easier to create a sublabel for darker music so that fans of the seperate types of music (spacemusic, darker ambient, Celtic) would know simply by the sublabel which type of music it was. It's possible that Roach and Rich helped push this along, but knowing what I do about how HOS worked, I seriously doubt ANY artist could dictate ANY terms to the label, if you catch my drift (oooops, better be careful what I write...time to clal my lawyer). :o

judd stephens

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2009, 10:50:24 AM »
The only things I can add is that the term "space-music" has been around for a long time.  To me, that category sort of fits somewhere between new age and ambient, or dark ambient.  Even if you look at the older hearts of space titles, a lot of them weren't necessarily light and fluffy but contained an element of mystery, or depth.  It wasn't totally dark, but some of it was dark around the edges.  Al Gromer Khan's Mahogany Nights, Paul Avgerinos' Muse of the Round Sky and certainly Roach & Rich's Strata had some pretty deep tunes on them.  That's why I think it was called spacemusic, because, like space, it was big, mysterious, awe-inspiring, and sometimes dark. 

Also I'm not sure Roach was ever considered a new age musician.  I mean, he got most of his early inspiration from the Schulze and the Berlin school, and that stuff got pretty dark at times (I'm thinking specifically of Tangerine Dream's Phaedra).  Robert Rich was doing late night sleep concerts (remember the titles Trances and Drones), and as early as his release Numena, was creating a soundscape that incorporated nature, but with dark and light elements... that's a very good album. 

Anyway what I'm trying to say is that they've always had that edge to them, and in the 90's dark ambient started to take off with Projekt and Soleilmoon, and other labels.  I don't think Roach and Rich consciously followed a trend, but though their music did become darker around then, they probably did gain some listeners from those circles, while losing some fans of the lighter side.  Maybe they did unconsciously or consciously delve into dark material as a reaction to the New Age explosion, but looking from the perspective of today, both Rich and Roach have always experimented in new directions from their previous efforts. 


LNerell

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2009, 10:55:50 AM »
So I am curious, does anyone know the history behind this split in Hearts of Space, and was it prompted by complaints from the New Age listeners, or by the artists themselves, who were exploring the darker territories? It seems this shows a fundamental strangeness in the whole New Age movement, where the dark side of humanity and the universe is glossed over, or not acknowledged.

From my perspective which is admittedly pretty one sided (and 2nd or 3rd hand), it was pushed through by the Artists, particularly Roach and Rich, I think Sterns played a part as well. At the time the term New Age was already seeing a backlash in the media, so these artists wanted something that would differ them from Celtic harpists and other more New Age type HOS label mates.

The irony is from the birth of Fathom also came sort of its downfall, the Hearts O' Space Celtic music label (and another more pop oriented label called RGB). The Hearts O' Space label became over night the biggest seller in the HOS franchise, producing their first gold records. This success in turn then lead to some friction between the label and the Fathom artists. The label wanted the artists to produce music that would sell more product. But by this time it was actually too late as the whole ambient/chill room boom that had made this music some what popular had pretty much died, so sales were starting to tank for everyone. Not long after HOS sold out to a distributor, all that really remains is the HOS radio show.
Take care.

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2009, 11:01:52 AM »
My understanding of the HOS/Fathom story is pretty much exactly what Loren just said.
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ffcal

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2009, 11:23:44 AM »
At the time that Bob Ohlsson was mastering Gongland at Hearts of Space, I had a brief conversation with Stephen Hill when he stopped by.  I remember him telling me that the success of more commercial releases such as those by John Boswell and the "Celtic Twilight" series helped to subsidize the releases on Fathom.  I doubt that there was any pressure placed by the HOS/Fathom label on Steve or Robert to commercialize their sound.  I don't doubt, though, that the Fathom releases were phased out after a period of declining sales.

Forrest

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2009, 11:31:42 AM »
One other thing.  While it might seem fashionable to slag a label like HOS/Fathom for releasing both "mainstream" and noncommercial ambient albums, I think it's a very practical thing to do.  It's very easy to dictate the terms of someone else's business, but when it's your own money, you might feel differently about it.

Forrest

LNerell

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2009, 11:38:22 AM »
I had a brief conversation with Stephen Hill when he stopped by.  I remember him telling me that the success of more commercial releases such as those by John Boswell and the "Celtic Twilight" series helped to subsidize the releases on Fathom.  I doubt that there was any pressure placed by the HOS/Fathom label on Steve or Robert to commercialize their sound.

That is not what the artist on the label told me in conversation (I should point out this was not from just Steve & Robert I heard this, but from other artists as well). To be fair I think Stephen may remember it this way as from my understanding he was not the main person putting the pressure on the artists.
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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2009, 11:41:34 AM »
I didn't have any problem with HOS/Fathom for releasing both very commercial material and less commercial material.  What bugged me about what happened there, which led to the demise of Fathom, was that they started out small and humble, and apparently satisfied with selling a smaller number of copies of CDs.  Then when they started releasing the more commercial stuff, as I understand it, they changed their operation and added a ton of overhead (lots of employees and expensive offices) which made the Fathom type releases no longer feasible. 

I say, fine, do the more commercial stuff if you like, but not if it's just a quick path to becoming a bloated, overly-profit-focused corporate entity that can no longer "afford" to do the kind of cool, artistic stuff that got you where you are in the first place.
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ffcal

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2009, 11:55:41 AM »
I had a brief conversation with Stephen Hill when he stopped by.  I remember him telling me that the success of more commercial releases such as those by John Boswell and the "Celtic Twilight" series helped to subsidize the releases on Fathom.  I doubt that there was any pressure placed by the HOS/Fathom label on Steve or Robert to commercialize their sound.

That is not what the artist on the label told me in conversation (I should point out this was not from just Steve & Robert I heard this, but from other artists as well). To be fair I think Stephen may remember it this way as from my understanding he was not the main person putting the pressure on the artists.

If there was such pressure, I doubt that it was coming from Stephen.  I'm surprised to hear that HOS was putting pressure on Robert to release more commercial stuff.  The closest I heard to a complaint from Robert about them wanting a concert grand piano (instead of the home grand that Robert used) for what later became his "Open Window" release.

Forrest

ffcal

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2009, 12:02:01 PM »
I didn't have any problem with HOS/Fathom for releasing both very commercial material and less commercial material.  What bugged me about what happened there, which led to the demise of Fathom, was that they started out small and humble, and apparently satisfied with selling a smaller number of copies of CDs.  Then when they started releasing the more commercial stuff, as I understand it, they changed their operation and added a ton of overhead (lots of employees and expensive offices) which made the Fathom type releases no longer feasible. 

I say, fine, do the more commercial stuff if you like, but not if it's just a quick path to becoming a bloated, overly-profit-focused corporate entity that can no longer "afford" to do the kind of cool, artistic stuff that got you where you are in the first place.

I don't know.  I think it's far easier to second guess marketing miscalculations in hindsight.  I think it can be difficult for a growing company not to run the risk of being victimized by its own success.  At some point, you may need to grow to accommodate increased demand, but that may lead to giving up a certain amount of control to others (marketers) whose decisions may be ultimately prove to be wrong.  On the other hand, I think that Projekt helped to ensure its continued survival by cutting back its staff and closing its Chicago office a few years back.

Forrest

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2009, 12:10:33 PM »
Actually, I think a far worse business model might be Silent Records or Extreme.  Artists from both labels were apparently not paid at all or were severe unpaid for royalties--presumably to subsidize future releases.  I was never paid for a box of 25 CDs I hand-delivered to Silent at a time when I was only marginally employed.

Forrest

jim brenholts

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2009, 01:29:35 PM »
i'd heard the same thing about mirage as extreme - nobody got paid for their work.
as for being the resident new age expert, i like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable in that vein also, bill.
there are dozens of "new age" artists out there whose music would/should appeal to fans of hypnos and darker ambient. jonathan goldman comes to mind immediately as does xumantra.
recently, i have come to view the term "new age" to incorporate a lot more than music. i think it encompasses a lifestyle. music is an integral facet of the lifestyle but it is not the driving force. there are some very cool practices and some of them work very well. there are also some really off the wall ideas that require extreme stretches of the imagination. (i have actually received and reviewed cd's titled horse dreams and dog dreams. i will say no more.)
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judd stephens

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2009, 03:25:07 PM »
(i have actually received and reviewed cd's titled horse dreams and dog dreams. i will say no more.)

Jim let me get this straight... are you disparaging Horse Dreams?? Wasn't that the fantastic follow-up to their smash Dolphin Ecstasy? WTF!  You're treadin' on some thin ice there, brother.   ;D

Brian Bieniowski

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2009, 03:47:40 PM »
I guess I don't have much insight into the demise of HoS/Fathom.  Though it seems to me that all you have to do is collect ambient CDs for a decade or so, and you'll have plenty of experience in label-shutdowns and disappearances.  ;)

I really loved the sun/moon aspect of the labels, and I still think of Fathom as an artistic high point in ambient for both the records released and the fabulous artwork/design on the sleeves, which have not, in my opinion, dated at all.  I'd purchased a few HoS titles here and there (like the magnificent Encounter, for example), but it was Fathom that really hooked me.  They were always in the new age section of the record stores I shopped in, regardless of what the music was like.  But, then, it isn't as if record stores had a place for music of that type in that era.  I consider Fathom, above all others (except possibly Silent, which had a far less consistent track record of releases), to be the one that interested me in ambient music.  I still play almost all of the Fathom discs regularly.

jim brenholts

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #17 on: January 09, 2009, 04:00:49 PM »
(i have actually received and reviewed cd's titled horse dreams and dog dreams. i will say no more.)

Jim let me get this straight... are you disparaging Horse Dreams?? Wasn't that the fantastic follow-up to their smash Dolphin Ecstasy? WTF!  You're treadin' on some thin ice there, brother.   ;D
i did not disparage the cd at all. i merely stated that i received it and reviewed it. it is actually fair to good music but the theme and concept are entirely too much. dog dreams, on the other hand ...............
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judd stephens

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2009, 08:03:31 PM »
I know you weren't Jim, and I was pretending to be an oversensitive fan of the ol' Horse Dreams there.

Actually there's some pretty good dark ambient potential you could make out of the subject matter.  Rodeo Woes could be a drum 'n bass tribal-core excursion through the eyes of an ever-annoyed horse ridden by cowboys.  Alio Die and Lustmord contribute, and it results in a sort of spaghetti western on acid.

And you could have an ancestral genetically encoded Horse Nightmare of early eohippus fleeing giant saber-tooth mammals. 

Probably ought to stop right there before the creator of Horse Dreams gets wind of this conversation and shows up, ripping me a new one.

jim brenholts

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Re: New Age Music and the Path of Darkness
« Reply #19 on: January 13, 2009, 03:55:28 PM »
I know you weren't Jim, and I was pretending to be an oversensitive fan of the ol' Horse Dreams there.


i actually picked up on that, judd. i was just carrying the joke a tad farther.
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jim
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