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New Age Music & Meditation
In the 70's, I enjoyed aspects of the subculture that was called the New Age. I embraced concerns, values, art and ideas that seemed to promise the emergence of a a new world order. Someone called the eclectic music of the time New Age music. New Age music was often peaceful, dreamy and unstructured sounds played on synthesizers and quiet instruments. The idea was to feel calm if not blissful. Chanting merged with synthesizer pads and flute obligatos. I especially recall Paul Winter's Missa Gaia, a world mass that celebrated the wolf and whale. I heard this new mass performed in one of Vancouver's large churches and was thrilled by the performance. Winter wrote real music with complex, sophisticated arrangements and a deep feeling for the animal nature in humans.
Some New Age music albums come with liner notes encouraging the music's use
in meditation, and many albums were designed and recorded for this purpose.
Some pundits suggested that New Age music was relaxing, calming and supported
healthy living. Health food stores, new age book stores, spas, and specialized
radio stations played this music. In 1976, the record label Windham Hill Records
was founded, with an initial $300 investment, and would gross over $26 million
annually ten years later.
Mediation refers to a variety of methods to calm and focus the mind. Sitting practice is a universal form of meditation. The sitter ignores both external and internal distractions and aspires to have a calm mind and body. The idea is to transcend obvious concerns, worry and tame the endless chatter of spontaneous mind activity.
Meditation is one method of understanding how our mind works, how we know things and what conclusions we can derive from our knowledge. I prefer sitting on a beach, on a mountain, in a garden, in a boat, or floating on an inflated tire on a lake. Sitting inside buildings is not so appealing. One of my practices is sky and cloud watching which requires you to lie on a grassy or mossy patch of ground and looking up. One of the rules of mediation is not to look around and become distracted. Sky watching requires you to look up at the same patch of sky and let events such as birds, clouds and insects pass without following their paths.
The practice of meditation is based on a fundamental disinterest in the redeeming possibilities of language. Meditation leads to ineffable experiences and away from the beliefs, demands and rules of the local group. The Buddha manifests his identity as a professional philosopher by sitting upright in the Lotus position, poised, calm and alert. The lotus position is stable and can be maintained for hours. He has a gentle smile and his philosophical work looks effortless and natural.
Transcend means to rise above and go beyond. The idea is that properly chosen music itself goes beyond preceding music and listening to this music helps you transcend whatever local concerns that might preoccupy you. I appreciate that the listener can be a very creative person in the mix of composer-performer-listener.
The essence of healing music is not just a calming or soporific effect, but an opportunity for the listener to participate and create. This opportunity requires space between sounds, gradual transitions and nuanced understanding of the brain processing of sound. I use the Korg M3 Karma to generate polyrhythms that combine arpeggios, scale passages and chord changes played on the keyboard.