In the past, the acoustic self-indulgences of professional musicians were either excused as film soundtracks, or quietly lost on the record company shelves. Now, these vinyl slices of wholemeal music are promoted as New Age.
The phrase was invented by record shop operatives in that cultural desert commonly known as 'California', seeking a way of describing the hordes of exhippies infesting their browser racks. These white middle class bearded types had grown out of peace, love and LSD, and into computer technology.
Too pooped for pop, too wrecked for rock, and too American to appreciate classical music, these "New Agers" sought out a music to reflect their new-found disposable income. They began buying records of purely instrumental music produced by the likes of Andreas Vollenweider, George Winston, and all on the quietly influential New Age label, Windham Hill.
The music is characterised by its horrid tastefulness: diluted classical and traditional melodies played primarily solo on acoustic instruments, and unspoilt by the challenge of words, or anything else that might disrupt the malevolently pleasant tinkly flow. They are packaged in exquisitely plain sleeves (makes ECM look like K-Tel), usually decorated by a photograph of some languid pastoral scene (presumably intended to invoke languid pastoral thoughts as you lapse into that new age coma). Sadly Windham Hill, far from being subjected to Reagan-style terrorist raids by guerillas of good taste, has in fact been taken into the bosom of the US yuppie establishment. The records sell through healthfood stores, bookshops, anywhere that the upwardly mobile congregate. And now they're coming to Britain.
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