Monday, March 28, 2016

The Genesis of New Age Music (Part Seven) - The Hijacking of New Age Music

The Genesis of New Age Music - Part Seven

By Don Robertson

from the online book:
“Music Through the Centuries” by Don Robertson
Published on www.DoveSong.com in 2005, revised and Expanded in 2016

     In the previous six articles in this series, I described the actual events that took place in the creation of the new-age music genre. In this article, I describe what happened when outside interests took over our home-spun efforts, creating something that was entirely different.

New Age Music Goes National 
     We, the original new-age musicians, wanted our music to be accepted nationally in order to reach a wider audience. We were waiting for two events that we knew would trigger this national exposure: recognition by the mass media, and a radio station that would change its format to one that played new-age music only. 
     The main event that we were awaiting, the event that we knew would trigger what we had been prognosticating for years, was the inevitable article in Time Magazine, the corporate-controlled "news weekly" that at that time was so widely read that it literally controlled the opinions of the masses. Every week it featured something "news-worthy" in its music section. National music trends were begun on the pages of this magazine, and we knew that the rapidly growing new-age music genre would appear in this popular magazine sooner or later. This would be the article that would "put us on the map," moving us from book stores into the national record-store distribution network with our own "new-age" section in every mall record store in America. This inevitable article was rapidly approaching. 


The Big Corporate Ripoff
     In August, 1986, I got a call from Anna Turner of the "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio show. She was excited, telling me that a Time Magazine reporter had just spent several days with her and Stephen Hill and that the long-awaited article introducing new-age music to America was going to appear in the music section of the magazine in a few weeks! 
     It looked like the big turning point had now arrived, the one that we new-age musicians had been waiting for and working towards. 
     Indeed, in a few weeks the article appeared in Time Magazine. However, much to our shock and chagrin, the San Francisco Bay Area new-age musicians and the new-age musicians in the Los Angeles area were almost completely excluded from the article! Even Stephen and Anna and their radio program, the very heart of the genre, were only given a glancing nod.
     Instead, the magazine, based in New York City, presented a completely false story about the genre, featuring musicians from the New York City area that none of us had ever heard of. And the article was not about meditation and healing music at all; instead it completely recreated the new-age music genre, defining it as something other than what it really was. We were shocked and dismayed to watch the power of the press in action. 
     Except for the music of New Jersey synthesizer musician Don Slepian, we considered the New York City area to be a place where no new-age music could possibly exist. New-age music was a Californian and European phenomenon. 
    Here is the opening paragraph of the Time article. It says it all!:
It has been called "aural wallpaper," "music for the Birkenstock crowd" and "yuppie elevator music." Its titles evoke a holistic, hot-tubbing world: Etosha -- Private Music in the Land of Dry Water, Aerial Boundaries, Nirvana Road. Although its composers include musicians prominent in the rock avant-garde, it is marked by a meditative aesthetic whose goal is often creative anonymity. A laid-back synthesis of folk, jazz and classical influences, it is called, by rough convention, New Age music. But what exactly is it?
Sept 1, 1986 Time New-Age Music article (you will need a subscription to view this article)

 Suddenly a Split Personality
     The result of Time Magazine's complete fabrication was the bifurcation of the new-age music genre. There was now the genre being sold in the metaphysical book stores - healing and meditation music - and the genre being sold in the record shops - dozens of Windham Hill records and dozens of rock and jazz newbies flocking to the scene. While perusing the new-age-music section at Tower Records in New York City one day, I noticed that some of these new musicians had been hard-core rock musicians only months before. Clearly someone had taken advantage of us. I wondered what kind of nefarious deal was going on behind the scenes. 

Narada
     One of our largest distributors was called "Narada." It hadn't taken this company long to surpass Ethan Edgecombe's Fortuna distributorship to become the largest new-age-music distributor. And, like Ethan, they had started their own record label. 
     Narada had begun telephoning me in 1984 offering to sign me to their label. I didn't jump on the opportunity, but I was considering the possibility. They called quite frequently for a year.
     Finally, I told them that I was considering only signing with them for Europe, where they were operating through a company in Holland. I wanted to release my album Anthem in Europe because, as I have said, I didn't believe that it would be understood or welcomed in America. However, I was still struggling with recording Anthem at that time.
    In the meantime, Narada released my Spring album on LP in Europe, through their operation in Holland. I never received any royalties and had no idea what was happening with my album in Europe, but I was told by friends that the LP and cassettes were available there. (Narada eventually told me that they had sold only 11 copies).
     As I finished up the recording of Anthem, the final part in the recording process was adding the sound effects that open the music on Side One... nature sounds, and the sound of a steam locomotive as it rapidly approached my microphone, ushering in the beginning of the music itself... yes a really different idea. All of these sounds I had envisioned on the album for some time, and I had recorded them digitally with my portable Sony PCM-F1 recorder that Hollywood sound designer Frank Serafine had introduced me to.
     I had been sending Narada bits and pieces of Anthem. However, when I finished the album and sent them the final copy and they heard the sound effects for the first time, they refused to accept the album unless the offending sounds were removed. I refused to change anything, and this was the end of my relationship with that company.
     Meanwhile, I was conversing by telephone with my fellow artist friends who had already signed with Narada, hearing lots of woeful tales about their relationship with the company. Narada was sounding more like a band of thieves every day. I even heard tales of albums that Narada had released in Europe without informing the artists who hadn't even signed with them.
     When a year later I mentioned in a newsletter that Narada had wanted to sign me, and that I had turned them down, I got a call from someone at the company accusing me of lying. I was told that Narada had never had any interest in me, and if I didn't stop spreading lies, they were going to sic their lawyers on me.
     What finally happened to Narada? It was purchased by EMI, the huge music company, to be eventually sucked up by Universal Music Group, now the world's largest music publishing company. 

Higher Octave
     In 1986, I received a call from a new company in Los Angeles calling themselves Higher Octave. They had just released their first album by an artist named Peter Davidson and wanted to sign me next. They flew me to Los Angeles and I spent the day with them. I liked them a lot. They were really nice people.
     I played them the album that I was developing, Castles in the Sun, and they wanted to release it. I just needed to finish recording it.
     
The Wave

     We, the real musicians of the new-age music genre, had received a big blow when Time magazine decided to create a new record-store-friendly version of new-age music. Now came the second blow, when the first "all-new-age-music" radio station went on the air... an event that we had been anticipating and that several people in San Francisco were actively trying to make happen. 
     The folks at Higher Octave in Los Angeles were really excited as they continued to give me updates on this very first "new-age" radio station that was going to go live in mid-February, 1987 there in Los Angeles. It was going to be called "The Wave." 
     This was news that we all had been waiting for. Finally, people would be able to turn on their radios and hear healing and spiritually transformative music on their radios! We assumed that our efforts would transform music in America, and that the popular charts would soon become influenced by our music. Hard rock would disappear forever while popular music returned to something positive like it had been before. The new age was here! 
      Hey, no counting for naivete.
      As the going-live date for the The Wave approached, we all waited with bated breath. Finally the day arrived. I got a call from Matt at Higher Octave in Los Angeles. He appeared to be in shock! The Wave had gone on the air, but there was no new-age music being played on the station at all. Instead The Wave featured the kind of slow jazz music that by that time had become associated with Windham Hill. Anything slow and jazzy, you would hear playing on this new station. 
    With this latest change in the direction of new-age music, many new-age artists, labels, and radio shows started changing their formats. Even Stephen Hill had to change the format of his "Hearts of Space" radio show just to keep up! Except in the niche market of the metaphysical bookstores, new-age music as we had known it was finished.
     The nice folks at Higher Octave couldn't take a chance with me or Castles in the Sun now. I knew that. Back to that lower octave they would have to go, or at least to the top part of it.
     And so, Higher Octave and Narada both became big labels in the new-age genre and both were finally absorbed into the behemoth Universal Music Group, the giant music corporation that had gobbled up just about everything else.
   
The Grammies Jump on Board
    The Grammies quickly added "new-age music" to their huge out-of-control lists of genres. For the first year (1987), the new-age grammy award went to jazz harpist Andreas Vollenweider, the next year to jazz musician Yusef Lateef, and in 1989 to the Windham Hill group called Shadowfax. The 1990 new-age-music grammy award went to rock-musician Peter Gabriel for a soundtrack that featured music from the "world" genre. I am in no way discrediting these fine artists, I am simply providing the facts. Our genre was hijacked by the corporate dictators: an example of what happens when gigantic corporations take hold of something, then promote it in their own fashion, feeding the people misinformation, and reinventing history along the way.

Releasing Castles in the Sun
     Now that Higher Octave wasn't interested in my music, it was up to me, my ex-wife, and our "DBR Music" home record label to release Castles in the Sun ourselves. And so we did... on compact disc and cassette in 1989. We hired a promoter in Los Angeles to plug the album. Castles in the Sun then went national, with hundreds of radio stations across the country playing the album. The song "Melissa" from the album even became a favorite on the Los Angeles Wave station, receiving heavy rotation at one point. 
     We also were selling thousands of CDs. One big order from a major distributor in California alone was for 900 units. I remember stacking box after box into the UPS truck outside of our door and realizing how big of an order that really was. Another order for 300 CDs went to the Hastings Department Store chain. Our album was a success.
Radio and Records Chart, May 8, 1989

     But when I listened to my music in the context of the other music on The Wave, I realized that I was out of the game, a game that I simply was not interested in playing anymore. I put away my studio equipment and went to work on Kopavi, my ballet for chorus and orchestra.

The Battle of Yawn Knee
     
At this time, the musician known as Yanni was living in Minneapolis and had released his first album of synthesizer music on his own “basement” label in the mid-1980s. This album was an altogether different kind of electronic music than the music that the new-age musicians were creating, and he was selling it independently, just like us. It was not healing music, nor was it uplifting in my opinion. 
      When he sent copies to the new-age-music distributors, they didn't know what to do with it. It wasn't "new-age" music, but they began distributing it anyway. One of my distributor friends had talked with Yanni on the phone. Yanni, the distributor told me, was quick to explain that his music was in no way new-age music at all. In fact, he talked scornfully about new-age music. Yanni believed that he was just about the greatest musical genius ever, or something to that effect, I was told. 
    Quickly, the music industry got a hold of Yanni. We learned that he had moved his equipment to a fantastic home in Los Angeles, was living with a beautiful Hollywood TV star, and Mr. Plastic had now suddenly been transformed into Mr. New Age himself!
It's All Over Now, Baby Blew
     The major labels and record distributors had created new-age music sections in mall record stores across the country and began dumping "new-age-music" CDs by unknown artists who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere into them. 
    This created an interesting phenomenon where the record stores in America had sections of "new-age music" that had little or no resemblance to the music that was still being sold in the metaphysical book stores, now known as "new-age book stores." Thus there arose two types of new-age music: the metaphysical book stores retained the more "meditative and healing" music, while the record stores, along with radio, turned the genre into a new, and more lucrative, style of music.
     Disgusted and discouraged, I left the scene and never looked back. I have no idea what has transpired in the "new-age music genre" after I left it in 1989. That is for others to write about….

Making Up for Past Transgressions
     In Part Six of this series, I talked about how I had created three tracks on my Castles in the Sun album that were totally contrived, going against everything that I believed in. In 2008, I re-released Castles in the Sun without these three pieces of contrived music, and replaced them with the three original tracks that I had recorded for the album in the first place but had set aside. This 2008 version of the album is now "the one true version."

Next, the last installment in "The Genesis of New Age Music" - Part Eight "My Last Stand." 


© 2005, 2016 by Don Robertson

Friday, March 25, 2016

"Notes" with Don Robertson - Negative and Positive Music (Ep 1)

"Notes" with Don Robertson
A video series dedicated to the future of music

Subject - Positive and Negative Music
Episode No. 1
Date - March 25, 2016




© 2016 by Don Robertson



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Genesis of New Age Music (Part Six) - Time to Leave A Crazy Scene

The Genesis of New Age Music - Part Six

By Don Robertson

from the online book:
“Music Through the Centuries” by Don Robertson
Published on www.DoveSong.com in 2005, revised and Expanded in 2016
      In this article, Part Six of my series on the genesis of new age music, I continue my discussion of the events that took place as this new genre unfolded. It is now the beginning of the year 1984...

   Enter Windham Hill, Stage Right 
     New-age-music distributor Ethan Edgecomb had expanded his catalogue by including the music of a guitarist friend of his who had started a label called Windham Hill. His name was Will Ackerman. Will wanted nothing to do with the so-called new age music genre, as I recall. His vision was a label that encompassed folk, classical, and jazz. But Edgecombe got Windham Hill records (their first albums were acoustic guitar instrumentals) into his bookstores, placing them alongside all of our albums and cassettes, and soon Windham Hill became as "new age" as Iasos and Halpern, despite the fact that the music had nothing to do with healing and meditation.
      Thus, the new age genre slowly became filled with music by people who had no idea what the actual new age musicians were doing, or what our goal was. 
     Next, in the cut-out bin of San Francisco's Tower Records Store, Ethan discovered an album by an artist that was unknown in America: the Japanese electronic musician Kitaro. Ethan gave this record to Stephen Hill to play on the "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio program, and then he began distributing the music of that artist, importing cassettes and LPs from Japan. Soon Kitaro himself came from Japan just to meet Ethan, and eventually Kitaro moved to Boulder, Colorado.
     Ethan also put George Winston on the map by taking Winston's first Windham Hill album to the popular San Rafael radio station KTIM, and the DJs there put cuts from the album into heavy rotation. 
     
     The Last Hurrah
    The last new age event that I attended was a big bash that someone threw for the "Hearts of Space" radio program in 1984. It took place in a big San Francisco upscale home. All of the movers and shakers from the new-age-music scene were in attendance. This was the first time that I had ever seen all of these people together in the same room, where I could experience in full, the new-age-music mass mind.
    It was circus. People were showing up dressed in their new age regalia, the shear purple-laced dresses and tie-dyed day-glo fashions bedecked with crystals. Some had sprinkled glitter all over themselves.
    My French friends Bernard Xolotl and Ariel Kalma were there. We looked at each other in astonishment. This was an indescribable scene of self-obsessed trendiness that was beyond our belief, and it was as phony as the establishment cocktail parties I had to attend in my youth, where everyone dressed up in evening dresses and suits!
    As the reefers were passed around, the marijuana fumes rose overhead and Bernard decided to blow them all away. He got into his car and dashed out to a liquor store where he bought a pint of Kentucky bourbon. When he returned, he and I started passing the pint back and forth.
     The reaction to this was classic. A buzz began to stir amongst the glitterati, and then this turned into laughter and astonishment as people moved toward us with wide-eyed disbelief. Bernard and I were pretty well-known artists whose music was featured on the "Hearts of Space" program. We were so-called "new agers" and yet, here we were committing the outrage of outrages... drinking hard liquor! 
     A cubby long-haired guy who had a Disney "Goofy" button pinned to his shirt - it had a string attached to it that he pulled to light up Goofy's eyes - came up close to snap photos. In fact, several people had their cameras out. Here before all the astonished faces was a new-age news event extraodinaire!

Move While the Movin's Good
     This cult mentality was highly disturbing to me. I didn't like what I was seeing more and more of each day: people wearing glitter and talking about how they were reincarnated from Atlantis, as if they were participating in some kind of game. They carried big crystals with which they "channeled the masters." I would just shake my head and laugh. Why would true spiritual masters waste their time with these people? 
    Newsletters printed with purple ink sprang up from new age enclaves, and these were peppered with so-called channeled messages written by people with Hindu names like Ramadama and Shivanangi, who were probably just spoiled Jewish kids from wealthy neighborhoods. "Messages from Saint Germain," said the headlines on these pages. Then when you read this stuff, it was drivel. In fact it was recycled drivel, all the same "You are the light workers. Carry on the great work. I am with you..." kind-of stuff. You would think that if higher beings were giving people information, it would be something useful.
      The clincher was when some guy came to town who claimed to be God. He was going to destroy the world, he told the new agers, but before he did, he was holding one-on-one sessions with people for only $1,000 a sitting, to bring them into total enlightenment, and to instantly transform them into powerful master teachers! I couldn't imagine how anyone would swallow this stuff until I got a call from one of our distributors informing me that he had given the guy all of his money and had moved into his home, and now my distributor was "Lord Ezekiel" himself!
     It was time to pack my bags. I had been living in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, and my oldest daughter was getting ready to start high school there. I didn't like the influence that I saw around me, the direction that Santa Rosa kids were headed into and the insanity of the new age scene... It was all too crazy and I was tired of it. I needed to save my children and get the heck out of Dodge. 
     And so, back to my home state of Colorado, we moved. Northern California had given us a lot, but I was through. When I told Stephen Hill that I was moving to Colorado, all he could say was:
     "You asshole."
     I guess he was joking.
     
Rocky Mountain High
         I relocated my family in Fort Collins, Colorado in July, 1984... far away from the maddening new-age crowds. Fort Collins at that time was a cow town, where ordinary folks lived. 
    For two years my ex-wife and I built our "DBR MUSIC" business. By 1986, we had over a dozen distributors selling my cassette albums and Spring LP. We sent large boxes of tapes to cities all over America on a daily basis, and to Australia and Europe as well. We sold over 22,000 cassettes of Starmusic alone.
This is me in my Fort Collins home studio. That's my little Casio keyboard that my friend Don Slepian had rewired for me, that I had taken to Mount Shasta.



The New Age Artist Collective
     We had just moved to Colorado when the community of new age music artists in the Bay Area, including myself now in Colorado - Iasos, Xolotl, Ray Lynch, Connie Demby, Aeoliah, among others - were working to put the fledgling genre of new age music onto the national map. CBS Records was looking for new age artists and we were working with a woman who called herself Isis. She was negotiating with CBS Records, setting up record deals. We assumed that soon we would all be signed to the CBS label, but that didn't materialize.

Castles in the Sun
     I continued to work on Anthem. However, with the prospect of a deal with a major record label seemingly looming ahead, I went to work on an album that would be more commercial, more in a popular instrumental music vein, and I called this new project Castles in the Sun after one of the titles that I was recording for the album. 
     After I had completed the album, I heard Ray Lynch's album Deep Breakfast that I had mentioned in Part Two of this series and I was "Blown Away." Ray had come up with the perfect new age album. It had popular appeal, and it was selling like crazy. This caused me to change my plans for Castles in the Sun. I compared it to Ray's album and decided mine wasn't commercial enough, and so I did something I would never do again. I created three pieces of music solely for the purpose of commercial appeal. I created these three pieces intellectually instead of allowing inspiration to create the music for me, as I had always done before, and always did after. In 2008, I will fix this problem, but more on that later.
   

Work on Anthem Continues...

Recording sound effects for Anthem with cousin Ashe in the Colorado mountains during 1984 (photo by Mary Ellen Bickford)

     In Colorado, I continued working on the recording of Anthem. However, trying to create orchestral music on my Teac 8-track tape recorder was such a huge challenge that it occupied and haunted me for four years. 
     My home studio overlooked a beautiful panorama of the Rocky Mountain Front Range that was inspiring, helping me to keep on going. I had played all of the parts for Anthem into the Synclavier II's computer and they were stored on dozens of floppy disks. The problem for me was getting the sounds that I wanted from this primitive (by today's standards, but advanced then) system, and somehow squeezing all of the resultant music onto eight tracks of analogue tape!
     First I had to create the sound of a string orchestra. Oh, this was frustrating. But I finally came up with a "string patch" that I liked. I diagrammed it on an 8x10 piece of paper and had it laminated. In this patch, practically everything in my studio was plugged into each other and set up very carefully with particular settings. The sound originated in the Synclavier II and my Roland Vokoder Plus (which I sold to Jeff Tweedy and his group "Wilko" in 2002). These two sound sources were then fed through two digital delays, chorus units, equilizer, and a Roland Dimension-D chorus unit.

My String Patch

     It got so frustrating that sometimes I thought about forgetting this album and writing the music into a big orchestral score, but I longed to hear it, and I wanted to complete this project!
     I finally gave up trying to record the remaining music with my 8-track semi-professional reel-to-reel and I bought two digital recording units that used betamax tapes as a storage medium. Constant recording back and forth from one track to another on the 8-track was causing tape hiss to build up, and so I began recording the music digitally, bouncing tracks back and forth from one betamax machine to another.
     I told my friends that even though recording the work was occupying so much of my time, I had been convinced from day one that when it was finally released, very few people in America would ever accept it. I wanted to release it in Europe only. 
     Instead of working on Anthem, I could have been using my music studio to produce numerous easy commercial recordings, as many of the other "new age" musicians were now doing in their studios, but instead, I worked on Anthem, originally composed in 1982, during all of 1984 and 1985, knowing that we would probably sell no more than 100 cassette tapes if I ever managed to get a decent recording of it.
     After agonizing for four years, often having to start parts of my work from scratch over and over again, I finally declared that Anthem was finished in 1986. I had decided to end the torture, even though I was not happy with the sound of the final recording. My artist friend Barbara Faulkner created the cover for me.
    Anthem was considered by several of my friends to be a synthesizer masterpiece. I was even told that someone had heard it playing on a national TV show about businesses that helped people relax. Because it was inspired by classical sacred music from Victoria to Franck and Wagner's Parsifal that most people had never heard of or cared about, it didn't make any sense to most people. Not even Stephen Hill made sense of it. Archie Patterson, however, created a cassette release that he sold through Eurock Magazine. 
     The frustration that I experienced recording this orchestral-like work led me to eventually return to writing music for a real orchestra instead of trying to create my music with the limited electronic resources then available, even though I realized I may never hear my written music preformed. Thus, I began work on Kovapi, my ballet for orchestra and choir sometime in 1991, finishing it in early 1993.

Next in the series "The Genesis of New Age Music" is Part Seven - "The Hijacking of New Age Music"

© 2005, 2016 by Don Robertson

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Genesis of New Age Music (Part Five) - My New Age Albums

The Genesis of New Age Music - Part Five

By Don Robertson

"We love your gorgeous music"
-- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Headwaters,Virginia

     In this seven-part series called "The Genesis of New Age Music" I have been describing how the new age music genre began and evolved in California beginning in the 1960s. I was a part of this evolution. In Part Four, I presented the groundbreaking electronic music from Europe of the 1970s. In this Part Five, I describe three of my own albums, and my work with the ground-breaking digital musical instrument, the Synclavier.

Anthem
   While I was recording my album Resurrection, I was absorbed in composing a symphonic work that I wanted to create with synthesizers... what I would eventually call a digital symphony. I didn't have the kind of synthesizers that would accomplish the task of creating a vast orchestral work, and this caused me to pour though trade magazines and to talk with fellow synthesizer musicians about various options that might be available.
     Anthem was my dream of breathing into life the orchestral music that I had been hearing internally throughout my entire life. Before I had discovered synthesizers as a means to the end of realizing my classical music, there seemed to be no hope for me to get my positive, concordant music played by orchestras in the midst of the the turbulence of discords that conductors expected from a 'modern' musical composition.
     Undaunted, I went to work composing Anthem on music paper. I wanted it to become my second cassette album.

     I felt that Anthem was a very special work. As had been the case for my first electronic album Resurrection, I didn't need to compose it; the music just appeared in my mind, and then I quickly wrote down what I was hearing. 
     I was now going to create a new age symphony! As the music evolved, I was amazed by it, and I wanted to create a recording that would match the great value of the music. However, I wondered if there would ever be any way that I could get this music into the growing new age genre. My first electronic album was not selling well, and this one, a deep symphonic and spiritual work... well it wasn't like the tinkly relaxation tapes that were now coming into market. This was my own very unique music. It was as if it had been waiting inside me to come out.
     Once unleashed, music, as it always has done, just pours forth from me. I hear it in my head and I write what I am hearing on paper as quickly as I can. All of Anthem, except for the first and third movements, had been composed in early 1982.
     There are a couple of interesting stories concerning my composition of Anthem. One story is about the climax of the work, near the end of the last movement, where in my head I could hear a theme playing in the higher register of the orchestra, while at the same time the same theme was playing upside-down in the bass register. The exact notes that I would need to create this combination of the two versions of the theme would pop into my head every few days or so and I would rush to the piano to write them down before I lost the image. But too quickly it faded from my mind and I wasn't able to get the correct notes. This happened four or five times until finally one day, while I was raking leaves in my backyard, I heard it again. I rushed inside, and this time I got it right.
     The other story is about a time when I was preparing to write an important section of the music. I wanted to have the right environment to hear it and write it down. I had been making frequent trips to Mount Shasta in Northern California, a very spiritual place, and decided to pack my tent, sleeping bag, some provisions, and a tiny battery-powered Casio keyboard instrument that my friend fellow synthesizer musician Don Slepian had re-engineered electronically to make it produce a better sound. I took all of this up to Mount Shasta where I hiked to the far side of the mountain, and there I set up a tent in Alpine Meadows.
    In this magic place I planned to write the music as came to me. However, after a few hours of hearing nothing at all, except for the beautiful silence around me, I realized it wasn't happening. After a peaceful remainder of the day, I headed home... frustrated. When I arrived back at my house, I sat down at the piano, and immediately it all came to me. Seated at my piano, I wrote out about fifteen pages in as many minutes. 
This is how Anthem was composed. 
     In the original liner notes, I explained how I simply heard the music and wrote it down, or I heard it, and then played it as I was hearing it. I never "think up" my music. When this music "came through," I knew that I was surrounded by angelic beings. I couldn't see them, but I could always feel their very, very strong presence. I'm not making this up. They were there, and they were strong. Sometimes those who were closest to me experienced the angelic presence when they were with me while I played, but other than that, my hearing celestial music and feeling angels was considered to be pretty crazy by some members of my family.
      I was still looking for instruments. I bought a Mellotron, a keyboard instrument that makes sounds by playing a strip of tape when a key was pressed. The Moody Blues had used a Mellotron to get their symphonic sounds. I also purchased a Roland Vokorder Plus with which I could create a choir-like sound. With these two instruments, I would be able to achieve added orchestral and choral sounds.
My Mellotron. I sold it to Frank Stickel in the 1990s and he beautifully restored it

The Synclavier II
    One day, I read about an instrument that I hoped would enable me to get the kind of sounds that I needed for Anthem. It was called the Synclavier II. 
The keyboard of my Synclavier II computer musical instrument

    The Synclavier was a digital music computer that had been developed at Dartmouth College. Early 1980, a more advanced version called the Synclavier II was created and was being sold by a company called New England Digital, located in White River Junction, Vermont. I read that an arranger named Denny Jaeger, who lived in Oakland, California, had been working with Sydney Alonso, the brainy engineer who had co-founded New England Digital. Denny was helping perfect the sound of the instrument. Syd and Denny's goal was to turn a college project into a commercial machine that would revolutionize the way music was created. 
     I telephoned New England Digital and was given the contact information for Denny. My goal was to obtain an instrument with which I could create fully orchestrated music, and there was nothing else quite like the Synclavier at the time. I had absolutely no hope that Anthem would ever be performed by a real orchestra. It was the same situation then as it has continued to be for me to this present day: the world of modern classical music was in the hands of intellectuals churning out propaganda for discordant music, and uninspired composers who just followed their baton like sheep.
     I visited Denny several times and was astounded by the Synclavier. It consisted of a keyboard that was connected by a thick cable to a metal cabinet containing a computer backplane and cards... in other words, it was connected to a computer. There was extensive development going on at New England Digital, and Denny explained to me what would be coming soon - sampling and MIDI options. Oh, and by the way, the Synclavier II came with its own language that I would be able to program the computer with. 
     My day job at that time was programming computers. I specialized in machine-language assembler code and LAN and WAN networking and created advanced systems for major US corporations. If I purchased the Synclavier II, it would include a systems-level programming language that I could use to design my own computer music programs. Not only would I gain an orchestra, but also a musical computer, something that I had envisioned even as far back as 1968. 
     And so I bought a Synclavier II, one of the first that had been sold. When it was delivered to my home, I set it up in my studio and immediately began learning how to use it.
     Denny took his own Synclavier II down to Los Angeles and began scoring music for films and TV. He urged me to move there because the movie and TV industry was crying out for scores created with the instrument, and he was the only one down there so far that had one. I knew that this would be a ground-floor opportunity, but I would not give in to being a slave to the kind of music that I would be forced to create to make a living - negative music and music to help sell unhealthy products.


Starmusic
      
     I decided that the first album that I would create with my new instrument would be an album for Stephen Hill and Anna Turner to play on their "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio program, and so I went to work on Starmusic. As far as I know, it was the second digitally created "new age" album anyone had made. The first was my friend Don Slepian's Sea of Bliss.
     The Starmusic cassette had two sides. Side One contained a single composition called "Horizons Beyond Infinity." Actually, this piece had three sections that were linked together into a single unified composition. The first section was "Horizons," the second "Beyond" and the third "Infinity." I liked this single name that included three names. Side Two had three cuts, the first two were tied together. I added another composition to the album in about 1999, but as of the time of this writing, I haven't re-released the album. Yes, I intend to do that. 
     "Automated mixing" was not available in back then, and I knew that I would not be able to properly mix Starmusic with my lack of experience and no high-end mixing equipment. My friend Stephen Hill from the "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio program offered to mix it for me. I took my eight-track machine to a studio and Steven mixed "Horizons Beyond Infinity," doing a masterful job. My friend Bernard Xolotl offered to mix the remaining music, and this was accomplished in his studio.
     Stephen Hill and Anna Turner started playing my album on their "Music from the Hearts of Space" radio show on a regular basis. Starmusic also received a lot of airplay on other new age music shows, on NPR, and on programs in Europe and in Australia. It was featured in planetarium shows, and it was even used as music for a ballet that I was invited to in San Jose.
"Horizons Beyond Infinity" from Starmusic

The B.A.C.H System
This is me in my Santa Rosa bedroom studio programming the Synclavier II with my teletype-style computer terminal. My ex-wife and I slept on a futon behind the Synclavier keyboard. That's Aeoliah's "Rainbow Ray" painting on the wall.
     
     I was fascinated with being able to combine my computer-programming skills with my music, and I went to work creating my own music system for the Synclavier II. The operating system for the machine was excellent. It had a great task-swapping algorithm and excellent system subroutines.
     After a few months of programming, I created the Binary Asynchronous Composition Handler, B.A.C.H for short. When I booted the machine with my software in the diskette reader, I programmed the LED lights on the face of the instrument above the keyboard to flash the word "BACH" in big letters several times when my software had completed the task of being loaded. That was impressive.
      What my system gave me was the ability to play special tunings and maintain those tunings in different keys. The bottom octave of the keyboard was where you chose the key of the scale that you wanted to play, and buttons on the face of the instrument selected which tuning to play in: mean tone, Pythagorean, and so on. I would improvise in say, "C", in mean tone tuning, then pressing the "F" Key in the lower octave of the keyboard, the tuning would change so that it was now based in the key of "F".
     This was a revolutionary concept, and I don't know if anyone else ever followed through with this after I invented it. I had completed a patent application and was going to submit it, but I never got around to it.
     I demonstrated my software for Denny Jaeger. Within weeks, the New England Digital Company flew me to Vermont and offered me a job creating software for the Synclavier II. I didn't want to move to the East Coast and their lawyers couldn't let their software leave the building for me to work on at home, and so that prospect did not materialize. However, I developed a relationship with the founder, Syd Alonso. He was a brilliant man who inspired in me a tremendous interest in the application of advanced mathematics as it applies to music and sound.


The Synclavier II Goes "High End"
     One day I went to Oakland to see Denny. He had hired some musicians and in his studio had made recordings of them playing notes. Denny had loaded these sound samples into his Synclavier II that was now equipped with New England Digital's new sampling-option hardware. When I pressed the keys on his Synclavier and listened to genuine sounds of orchestral instruments coming from Denny's studio speakers, I heard for the first time what this instrument would be capable of. It was a miracle! However, when the additional hardware that would support Denny's samples was released for sale, it was so expensive that I could not afford it.
     Next the company announced that a new interface for MIDI was going to be released, allowing the instrument to control other electronic instruments, enabling them to all play in an ensemble. My friend Chet Wood along with Dave Smith, the father of the Prophet Five synthesizer, were the inventors of MIDI, and I had sat on the dais at the first-ever midi conference in San Francisco, and so, I was ready for New England Digital to release its MIDI hardware for the Synclavier II. I had all plans for how I would interconnect instruments in a network using my own BACH software as a master controller. However, when the MIDI cards for the Synclavier II were released, they were way too expensive. I was shocked with the sticker price. I think the MIDI option was $8,000, if I remember correctly, for just a single card to slide into the computer. 
     In about 1882, I travelled down to Los Angeles to attend the the NAMM show where the latest in musical instruments were displayed and demonstrated. The Synclavier II was being featured in that summer's show. Syd was excited as usual, talking rapid fire about DFT transform algorithms and such (I learned so much from him!). Oscar Peterson was demonstrating the instrument and the stars were lining up with their checkbooks, snapping up their fully loaded Synclaviers with all the works for somewhere around $250,000 each! Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, Michael Jackson, Laurie Anderson, Sting, the Cars, Herbie Hancock were among those who could afford such luxury.
     At this point I know I was out of the game. I would have to complete Anthem by some other means other than a quarter-million-dollar dream machine.

Spring
 
     
     The Spring album was all about my weekend trips to Mount Shasta in Northern California during the spring and summer of 1983. I spent many weekends on this mountain... a magic place. The energy there inspired my Spring album.
      Mount Shasta was a five-hour drive from my home in Santa Rosa. I went once with family and a few times with Mary Ellen Bickford and my cousin Ashe. Otherwise I was alone. After parking my car, I would hike up to the peak above timberline, then over onto the other side of the mountain to a magic place called Alpine Meadow, where I would sit for hours absorbing the amazing energy.
Alpine Meadow                             

                 Mount Shasta 1983, by Don Robertson

I created a music video for my song "Dance" from the Spring album in 2010. I had filmed the footage for the video in Amsterdam during the preceding summer. 


"Le Jardin Enchanté" from the Album Spring

Spring was one of the cassettes featured in this display in stores in Austrailia


A Word About My Musical Motifs
    There are melodic motives in Anthem that I re-employ in other albums and compositions. My use of reoccurring thematic material throughout my musical oeuvre gives all of my works a special unity. This is a trait that is possibly unique to my music.
     For example, the repeating ostinato bass at the end of "Horizons Beyond Infinity" from the Starmusic album can also be found in various places scattered throughout my works, in different registers. I wove it into so many places in my music that it became my logo many years ago:
    These and other motives appear in all of my albums, sometimes modified, and in my ballet Kopavi as well.

Next in the series "Genesis of New Age Music" is Part Six "Time to Leave A Crazy Scene"

© 2016 by Don Robertson