New Age Re-branding: Laraaji's "Essence/Universe" & "I Am The Center" compilation
Laraaji “Essence / Universe” 2013| All Saints (Originally released in 1987)
Various Artists “I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950-1990” 2013 | Light In The Attic
Re-branding of new age into legitimate music genre with respected heritage continues with one seminal reissue of one Brian Eno protégé Edward Larry Gordon 1987 classic “Essence / Universe” and massive anthology on Seattle’s Light In The Attic “I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950-1990”.
Former is an hour-long exploration on electronically treated zither from more accomplished earlier run of releases by Laraaji. Curiously this record ended-up sounding more befitting to the Eno’s original late 70’s ambient music concept than what musician ultimately came up with for the third entry in the famous series “Day Of Radiance”.
Perfectly matching the albums artwork the music here is the cloud-like floating mass of sparingly employed droning chimes layered on top of the half-perceptible movement of tone-altering harmonics derived from the autoharp smothered with massive amounts of reverb. In a way this release is responsible for the stream of horribly misjudged (and often badly recorded) approximations of this particular template on the plentiful crop of incense-shop cassettes of the last 30+ years.
The album was recorded way after Edward Larry Gordon officially became Laaraji Nadabrahmananda, ceased performing in the parks of then "nuclear holoaust"-like desolation of downtown Manhattan and had enough connections and exposure to afford conventional recording studio. It was also 7 years since the original success of Ambient 3, which means years of experience producing music for a very defined set of practical application (primary of which is meditation) and deep understanding of the instrument qualities as well as flexibility and confidence to experiment with them.
Despite subsequent obliteration of the sound by numerous musically inapt attempts to saturate the ascending market of yoga-class soundtracks “Essence / Universe” stands up the test of time as one of the most interesting ambient releases of the late 80s.
Light In The Attic compilation is supposedly an honest and irony-free attempt to reinstate the “misunderstood” genre as one of the greatest achievements of DIY and samizdat electronic undergrounds of the late XX century albeit with lots of spiritual inclinations. The exercise is to simultaneously claim new age out of the realm of green tea and patchouli sticks as well as from the grip of semi-ironic and now half-forgotten appropriations of the genre in the 5-years old output by the likes of OPN, Stellar Om Source, Emeralds, James Ferraro etc.
In this sense the compilation is certainly Johnny-come-lately, but doubtlessly has huge market potential judging by the interest in the recent archival excavations of the “real deal”, original works by the pioneering musicians including those featured in the tracklist of this very collection. Specifically those are Numero’s “inter-dimensional music” anthology of Iasos (the less-fortunate ex-compatriot of similarly over-the-top synth-wizard Vangelis), JD Emmanuel’s recent full-album reprints on Belgian Aguirre and already mentioned Laraaji, who is currently going through massive re-issue program courtesy of All Saints Records in London. The selection of “I Am The Center” is quite expectedly heavy on West Coast “diaspora” while one of the most curious entries comes from the godfather of last century’s exotic spiritual movements Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff.
Ultimately Light In The Attic curators succeed in remapping new age as a much more worthy and varied entry in the music aesthetics vocabulary by way of ultra-careful and “tasteful” selections creating an unexpectedly haughty aura of restrained and minimalist low budget electronica disproportionately impressed by various forms of eastern traditional and religious music.
Watch the trailer below.