New Age annoyance

The Skeptic, 5.1

May I try out a few words and phrases on you? Here we go: leisure centre, fact sheet, mini-bar, personalized, bite-sized, Bullseye. These words send shudders down my spine. I can't explain why, but I'm sure you have your own pet - I mean personalized - loathes. Quite recently, a new phrase has begun to haunt me, and it's (I can barely stand to type it) New Age Music.

According to the advertising, New Age Music is designed specifically to give you space in which to meditate, spread out, and seek your inner awareness. This is an admirable intention, and may well be more advisable than a large G & T or EastEnders. My first encounter with New Age Music was at a Mind, Body and Spirit exhibition a few years ago, where it was attracting a good deal of attention amongst Aquarian punters. It is certainly very pleasant, at least judging from the various samples I've tried. There are rarely strong melodies or rhythms: instead, synthesized textures ooze between your speakers, and velvety voices `om' `and `aah' softly. In fact, all this is rather too pleasant and anodyne for my tastes, in common with much New Age paraphernalia. But, hang on - why is there a need for this `designer music'? After all, music has been around as long as we have, and surely there is already a huge amount of music which can help us achieve states of well-being, and - more importantly - do so without sacrificing style.

For many years I have been an evangelist for Brian Eno's `ambient music' - music, in his words, `which is as ignorable as it is interesting'. The idea isn't new: Erik Satie, for example, wrote music `to mingle with the clatter of knives and forks.' Ambient music should not be confused with Muzak (which I think needs a TM after it), that scourge of lifts and Arndale Centres. Muzak is emasculated music, with all the interesting bits snipped away. What's left is certainly ignorable, but not interesting. Today, of course, to hear the music, you need to see the video, and New Age Music is no exception. Hit video for 1991 has got to be `Field of yellow rape seed blowing in the wind' (£10.99). Have you seen it yet? Let me describe it: there's this field of rape seed, and it, well, blows in the wind - for twenty very long minutes. This is New Age Video, the complement of New Age Music. For ideal viewing, grab your crystal collection and crouch in your New Age Pyramid (you might as well take your blunt razors along too). Or, if rape seed isn't your thing, spend an hour with close-up shots of `Basil the Parrot' clicking and clawing on his perch. (I'm not making this up).

Recently, New Age Video arrived at Channel Four. which broadcast the Art of Landscape series. The films were quite nice, in an infinitely boring kind of way, which after all, matches New Age Music perfectly.


©Toby Howard 1995

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