The Genesis of New Age Music
Part Two - Hearts of Space
From the online book: Music Through the Centuries by Don Robertson (2005)
Published on DoveSong.com – Revised and expanded in 2016 and 2024
Chapter Six – The 20th Century: “Dissolution”
Out of the 1960’s arose a social and art movement that few people understand today (you had to have been there). Some called it “The Hippies” and others the “Counterculture”.
Dozens of slang expressions in common use today were born at that time. The acceptance of Eastern music and philosophies happened then, as well as the awareness of organic farming, ecology, human rights, spirituality, healthy diet, clean water, sexual liberation… our eyes were opened, and we began to deal with a new world.
Some of us who were a part of this movement carried forth our vision from the sixties as our life mission. Then of course, others just became the casualties. Meanwhile the whole counterculture movement was ridiculed, infiltrated, misrepresented, and dumbed-down for the ingestion of those who looked in from the outside via the corporate-controlled mass media.
“New age music” was one of the products of the sixties. Presented here is my own perspective of how the genre was born, what its original goals were, how it became a genre, and how that genre was changed when the major labels, radio, and other interested parties entered the picture.
I was there….
The dawn of the concept of new-age music and the first major records of music for meditation and relaxation.
Hearts of Space
A radio program in Berkeley becomes a phenomenon, bringing new music to the nation.
The advent of innovative, mind-expanding, meditative positive electronic music from Europe.
Music artists in California form an influential and important genre of new music for healing and meditation.
Now called “new-age music”, the new music genre is hijacked by corporate media and the major record labels.
My New-Age Music Cassette Series
In 1973, I had started recording a cassette series called “New Age Music”. After purchasing a fantastic Revox reel-to-reel tape deck, I recorded my positive-music discoveries of Gregorian chant and Renaissance sacred music from LPs onto reel-to-reel tapes and these became masters from which I produced cassette tapes that I gave away to friends and students. At this time, I was deeply involved in the discovery of the amazing sacred music of the 16th century. My New Age Music label consisted mostly of recordings of the great 16th century composers Josquin des Prez, Giovanni da Palestrina, Orlandus Lassus, Jacobus Gallus and Tomás Luis de Victoria, and Gregorian chant. However, I was also presented selected works by the composers Richard Wagner, Alexander Scriabin and César Franck. All sellections were from LP recordings. I believe that these cassettes from my New Age Music label changed the lives of several people.
I Discover a New Kind of Music
While I was busy with my new age music cassette project and continuing my classical music research, something very special took place. It happened one morning when I awoke from a very powerful dream. In the dream, I had been composing a new kind of music, something completely new and original. I found that I could clearly recall the music, and I went to the piano and began playing it. This was a revelation for me, where I began improvising music in a new style. The result was the music that I have created for the albums that I created in the following decades. During the following few days after this dream, I continued to improvise in my new style, and new music continued to unfold. The following week I had another dream. In this dream, I was on a stage in a large room filled with people, all talking amongst themselves. I was seated at a piano, playing my new music and no one in the room… including those closest to me, was listening to me. This was an ominous dream, but absolutely prophetic. There would be many years of rejection that I would have to endure ahead. Every time that I improvised in the new musical style, I would deeply feel a great angelic host surrounding me. This was an absolutely magnificent experience. No, I am not making this up.
By the end of the 1970s, I had listened to and studied classical music from Gregorian chant through the music of the 19th century. At that point, when my re-visiting of the classical music of the 20th Century was about to begin, I did not proceed further into that century because I had already studied the classical music of the 20th century, including the negative, destructive music that had been composed during that period.
I had now satisfied my goal of discovering positive music in the classical-music tradition, but my studies and work in this area still continue today…
In 1979, I was living in Santa Rosa, California. I began to wonder if any contemporary positive music was being composed or recorded. For several years I had heard about a recording artist named Stephen Halpern who had created some albums of meditation music, and I decided to find out more about him. I discovered that he held seminars, and so I attended one of them.
Stephen Halpern’s seminar was at Sonoma State University, close to my home, and after listening to Halpern talk and play some of his music, I was happy to find someone else who was interested in positive music.
At the end of the seminar, I invited Stephen Halpern to dinner at my home. During dinner we talked about music and discussed issues such as the use of a drone instrument, like the tamboura that was a part of the classical music of India, instead of using the harmonic chords of our own tradition.
As Halpern was about to leave, I asked him about his album Spectrum Suite that he had released in 1976. The liner notes claimed that the seven tracks on the album could be used in meditation to “tune” the seven chakras of the human body that are described in the Hindu teachings. These are energy centers in our bodies (they are real, by the way). In his liner notes, Halpern claimed that each chakra was associated with a particular musical key, and when music was played using that key, it affected that particular chakra.
I felt that this could perhaps be a revolutionary concept and I wanted to know from where he had obtained his information. He didn’t answer me right away, but I continued to press him because I thought that maybe he had found some mystical goldmine, a link between human spirituality and music. Finally on his way out of the door, he laughed and told me that it was just a gimmick that he was using to sell records. Needless to say, I was not impressed, and our relationship ended there.
Music From the Hearts of Space
I got one thing from Steven Halpern’s seminar that was absolutely important to me: the name of a radio program. I had not listened to the radio for ten years and did not own one. I had discontinued listening to radio back in 1970 when I had realized that the music of the “Top 40”, as rock radio was then called, was beginning to feature music by negative rock groups such as Black Sabbath and Coven. I knew that there would be a continued downward plunge, and I was correct.
And so, I bought a radio and begin listening to a show called “Music from the Hearts of Space”. I learned that this Bay-area late-night radio program had been on the air since 1973. and its host was a guy named Stephen Hill who used the pseudonym “Timotheo”. The following year, “Anna Mystic” — a young lady named Anna Turner – had joined him as co-host.
Ten years later, the show will become a sensation on National Public Radio, growing in its outreach to nearly 300 stations, but at this time, Steve and Anna’s three-hour-long show was broadcast at 11pm every Thursday night on the far-left Pacifica radio station KFPA out of Berkeley. The music that they played could today be described as new age music, but they never used that term and called it “space music” instead, as Stephen was interested in large ambient halls and reverberation.
Individual shows typically consisted of long, slow ambient pieces of music that they artfully blended one into another using nature sounds such as crickets and ocean waves to tie the end of one recording into the beginning of another. You did not hear from neither Anna nor Stephen for at least an hour into the show, when they would finally emerge, speaking very quietly and very slowly using a highly reverberated ambiance, sometimes with ocean waves or soft summer winds playing gently in the background. They would then announce the music that they had been playing and the music that would be forth-coming. Large amounts of reverb gave their voices a great other-worldly effect. It was great. “Music from the Hearts of Space” introduced me to a wealth of music that not many people in the United States had heard before.
Meanwhile, I continued to listen to the Hearts of Space show. Actually, because it started at 11 at night, I taped it and listened to it during the following few days.
On one of his shows, Stephen Hill announced that there would be an event at the old movie theater located in the town of Petaluma, near my home. Recordings of space music (as he called it) would be played, while transformative images were projected on the movie theater’s screen.
I was very interested in this because I had been thinking about ways of combining music with visual imagery for several years. At first, I had ideas about playing Renaissance sacred music in a hall and having real people dressed in costumes enact various scenes, but that had changed to newer ideas about how recordings of Renaissance sacred music could be played in a theater while 35mm slide images of Renaissance sacred paintings were projected on the screen, combining the sacred music with the sacred art.
I went to this event at the theater in Petaluma. The music that was presented was by a local electronic composer named Iasos, whose music I liked. The images mostly were of paintings by “visionary artists”. I had never seen anything like these before.
I loved these images and wanted to know more about them and the artists. I wanted to use images like these for a slide show that I was planning where I would pair positive images with positive music, and negative images with negative music, to demonstrate the difference. I had already started shooting photos of refineries, pollution and other negative things, as well as photos of nature that were positive, but these visionary art photos would be ideal.
To find out more, I approached the guy who had been operating the projector and asked him where he got the slide images that he had been projecting. It turned out that I was talking to Stephen Hill himself. And that’s how I met him. He told me where I could find the slides of this art, and I ended up looking through hundreds of slides, and ordering copies. One particular artist that I liked was called Govinda. I wanted to use one of his paintings for the cover art on an album called Celestial Ascent that I was working on, and so I contacted him.
Visiting Govinda’s home was an experience, and so was Govinda. His name wasn’t really Govinda. It was something like Uri Skorishad. The Indian name, Govinda, suited the art work well.
He was very effeminate and very talkative and “up”. He had gained a spiritual attainment, but he also had a strong self will. His paintings were spread throughout his home and the effect of all of them in one place was pretty visually stimulating. He excitedly told me that he was going to change his name again, this time to Aeoliah.
The Rainbow Light Show
The man who gave me the slides and the information about Govinda (soon to become Aeoliah) told me about a man named Norman B. Miller who had once operated light shows for San Francisco rock bands, but was now creating shows with slide projectors using visionary art along with music. I knew that I needed to meet him, and so I did. Mary Ellen Bickford had just moved to Sonoma county down the road from Norman and she was working with him, putting together slide shows featuring nature and visionary art. That’s how I met Mary Ellen, who later became my wife and partner.
The work that they were doing is an important part of the story that can be found on the Rising World Foundation website here: “The Story of the Rainbow Light Show”
Still a Nameless Genre
There was still no “new age” genre of music. There was music that various musicians had created for meditation, relaxing, and healing, and there was the great electronic music from Europe that I was beginning to hear for the first time on the Hearts of Space show. Additionally, no music was associated with a “new age movement” as it is today.
The concept of a new age movement did not occur until the book “The Aquarian Conspiracy” by Marilyn Ferguson was published in 1980. Before this time, the term “new age” was one that came from astrology and it referred to an astrological principal describing the Earth as gradually moving from the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aquarius. At this time, some of the California metaphysical bookstores had begun calling themselves “new age bookstores”, however.
It had been no problem at all for me to associate my music with the idea of an astrological “great year” and the concept that society was slowly moving toward something better than the wars, politics, poverty and prejudice that was happening around me. But the Aquarian Conspiracy book, widely read and much talked about in society in general, was about something other than this. The life styles that had been born in the sixties were now, at the beginning of the eighties, being neatly tied up into a package with a nice bow on it and being transformed into some kind of one-for-all religion with its own prescriptions for spiritual advancement, its own philosophy, and most importantly in my case, its own music.
No movement like this had existed before. We had seen ourselves as free people, not a part of a movement. I didn’t like this new age movement idea at all.
Soon all kinds of people on the west coast were changing their names to some Hindu name and the “new age bookstores” began lining their shelves with new “wisdom” written by some of these people, while the old metaphysical books were quietly slipping away.
New Age Music in the Book Stores
The California harpist Joel Andrews, who in 1971 had begun “translating spontaneously the music he was hearing in higher dimensions”, performed concerts of soothing and healing music. Another man by the name of Ethan Edgecombe worked Andrews‘ record table at concerts, selling Andrews‘ tapes and records. In 1980, Ethan went solo and started the first new age distribution business that he called Fortuna. Ethan lived not far from me in Novato, and we became friends. He encouraged me to start my own record label and record some music, and he would distribute it.
That’s when I had made copies of my album Celestial Ascent that I had recorded in my Santa Rosa, California bedroom and gave them to Ethan to distribute. I had made an agreement with Aeoliah to use one of his paintings on the cover.
Ethan had less than a dozen cassette tapes of healing music (and that is what he was calling it at the time) that he would take over to the metaphysical book stores in the bay area, where they would be displayed on a table in the store, along with LP record albums by Halpern, Joel Andrews, and an album called Seapeace by another harpist named Georgia Kelly.
I was happy about this because there had not been an outlet for my music before.