My music

New EP for Netlabel Day: Liquid Forest

To celebrate Netlabel Day and mark my 2 years on Vulpiano, the first label to feature my music, I went as far back as I could tolerate. This entire EP comes from August 2015 just like “Garden” (which I lifted from Mint and Turquoise Trilogy). I made the songs on the FL Studio ‘replica’ LMMS since I couldn’t get Garageband on my old PC. I was a younger teen who ~played around~ with music more than made songs. It was “Sea Shell”, “Cold”, and “Garden” that told me, after three years of aimless experiments, maybe my music had potential.

Many things set these songs apart from what came before. For one, it was a transitional time where I was just escaping a long-hold paranoia, so this fragile sense of hope left a mark; as did my fascination with the ‘awakening’ feel of the early morning. Sonically though, it was my focus soft, trickling synth tones (a trademark for LMMS?). For that same trio of songs 2-4, I used the pentatonic scale and loved it’s soul-searching effect.

The result was this shy, secluded ‘virtual nature’ vibe that may remind you of Turquoise Trilogy. I figure my obsession with invoking forests and oceans began here. I felt I finally found a niche to focus on, so I stuck with this style for a few months.

“Sea Shell” came first. It was my attempt to stop fiddling with awkward loops and make a pure ambient piece. 70% improvised, yet it has more focus than most songs I would make for the next year somehow. It has this twinkly sea-side sound that would pop up in so many later songs; and this happened before I got into new age at all..?

My music

New song “Winter Into Spring” featured on IOR’s ‘Thaw’ album!

Honored to appear on Thaw, a new spring-themed V/A album by  net label Index Of Refraction, which focuses on crystalline electronic music. Possibly the most ‘me’ comp idea ever, so I had to submit something when I discovered the prompt in April-May.

I sent two songs by the deadline. To my amazement the label owner loves both! I went with this song since it’s the more ambitious one overall. The most exciting part is, this is my first time on a netlabel besides Vulpiano! 

The thing I liked about this song is how it sounds like a hybrid of several styles/interests I have: the new agey bell sounds on Gemstone Study, pastoral acoustic elements, 8-bit synths, and the ‘digital nature’ vibe on my Turquoise Trilogy. If you enjoy[ed] those things this is for you.

Go here for my other submission Ice Into Water

On other sites · Playlist · Ultimate Box Set

RYM Ultimate Box Set – New Age Revival

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Cover Image: Soda Lite – In Eco, 2017

Main list here

Youtube playlist

The 10s saw a slow but steady resurgence from new age in a few different forms. The blossoming period was around 2015-2017. FACT called this story ‘how music’s most maligned genre finally became cool’. Eventually, Simon Raymonde wrote about it. While smaller than many other online-based genres in 2020, I can predict it’s growing. After all, the much-discussed resurgence in calming, nature-centric music is going strong.

To make my best summary, I’d call the revival a few loosely connected scenes in one. Like the original new age, it has a looseness and tendency for overlap. Common roots for these artists are 80s-90s retro culture, lo-fi tape scenes, ambient and psychedelia. Many older artists are long-time fans or collectors; others have experience with all-out meditation.

Finally I can share this, made on-and-off over a six-month period. For my second-ever entry in this popular RYM-birthed series, I put great effort into illustrating this loose, wipe-open ‘scene’. (Check out my first one on 80’s library music too.)

Main features:

  1. Intro explaining some origins and influences
  2. Two-part mix, made from popular or influential releases within the niche, plus a few personal faves
  3. A ‘further listening’ section: ‘close but not quite’ entries in the niche, compilations,  labels
  4. Many quotes and links for full immersion

It began a simple idea for fun; after all, this is super niche and deserves more interest. Given the surprising lack in canons and communities (I thought all small genres had a subreddit!) though? It got tricky to get ‘definitive’ enough. I had at least three moments bordering on giving up. I struggled to find a good collaborator on RYM, since not many users care about this music. The few who did weren’t so active, so I ‘finished’ it alone.

I figure smaller edits will come, then, but I’m surprised I cut this down and mixed it up as much as I did. So please, check this out and discover some new artists!

 

hidden treasure

Thomas Newman’s score for Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985

Thomas Newman’s knack for synths surprised me seeing he got his fame later on through classical Pixar scores. Susan doesn’t get much talk beyond “Into The Groove”, but the score is ear candy if you enjoy Vangelis or the mid-80′s digital gloss in general. (Dare I say vaporwave too?)

Within a minute, each piece reflects the movie’s wide metropolis and/or the lead character’s curiosity. While keeping with the film’s playful mood, it subtly counters the hijinks with a strong atmosphere unique to the era’s shimmering textures. His use of echo, reverb and high notes leaves a gorgeous panoramic effect. “Leave Atlantic City” demonstrates with it’s bubbly sequencer and subtle bass echoes that hit like a cool breeze. “Port Authority” continues the formula with a more tender mood and a sweet new-agey flute. “Key And a Picture Of” mixes it up with it’s murky slow tension and “Rain” adds some elegance with it’s thoughtful piano.

The closest to a ‘theme song’ is “New York City By Night”, a catchy synth-pop tune capturing the glitz and glamor of Prince’s Revolution era. One year after Purple Rain after all!

Mix

Castles In The Sky (I Heart Noise Guest Mix)

ORIG BRIGHT

IHN Mixcloud + 8Tracks + Youtube

My guest mix for I Heart Noise highlights the surprising darker and sadder corners of new age music. Despite common aims to soothe and uplift, these songs dive into downbeat and/or ambiguous feelings: vulnerable, longing, bittersweet, haunting. The bright synths of a meditation cassette meet the murky lows and fragile heart of your favorite oddly-sinister children’s VHS.

Made from selections off my eponymous Rateyourmusic list: plenty more in this vein over there!

Track listing

  1. Suzanne Ciani – The Eighth Wave
  2. Hiroshi Yoshimura – Singing Stream (Spring Mix)
  3. Bob Foster – The Water Garden
  4. Hiroyuki Onogawa – August In The Water 1
  5. Michel Genest – Reflections On A Moonlit Stream
  6. Medwyn Goodall – Dolphin Dreams
  7. Spencer Nilsen – Title Theme
  8. Peter Seiler – Reef Moods
  9. Milan Pilar – Way To The South
  10. Simon Benson & Mike Tauben – Dreamworld
  11. Graham De Wilde – Underwater World (a)
  12. Milan Pilar – Nocturne
  13. Sumio Shiratori – Winter In Moominvalley
  14. Toshifumi Hirata – Fire And Forever
  15. Joe Hisaishi – The Huge Tree In The Tsukamori Forest [8Tracks & Mixcloud] / The Path of the Wind (Instrumental) [Youtube]
  16. Warren Bennett – A Time To Remember
  17. Bel Canto – Unicorn
  18. Spencer Nilsen – Skylands
  19. Happy Rhodes – Ra Is A Busy God
  20. Miami Vice – Tokyo Negative
  21. Delicate Features – Taurus Moon
  22. Mychael Danna – Sky 2
  23. Áine Minogue – The Grove
  24. John Hall – Illusen’s Glade [Youtube Only]
  25. Emerald Web – The Red Vapour of Still Lakes
  26. Kirsty Hawkshaw – Modern Mermaid
  27. Milan Pilar – Green Velvet
  28. David Rogers & Paul Shaw – Ice Kingdom [8Tracks Only]
  29. Emerald Web – Soft Silence The City
  30. Patrick O’Hearn – España

Background

Like it’s animation, the new age boom of the 80’s had an odd and not-so-discussed taste for darkness. Let’s consider the common Yamaha synth bells and rhodes, which became THE sound of VHS credit rolls. You hear these in happy love ballads one minute and Twin Peaks the next. It’s a sound that melts in your memory over the years as VHS quality melts itself, that can take on a ghostly new life. It’s no shock lots of new age has this effect, whether light or dark. It’s something about how the comfort and ‘fluff’ mingles with the darkness.

It’s only natural for these themes to mix with nostalgia and give us mixed and/or complex feelings. These feelings can haunt us the same way that one ‘scary’ scene in your old favorite children’s VHS does for years. Fleeting joy feels crucial here. After all, so much new age regards fragile things: crystals, gifts, nature, loved ones. New age is for cherishing and protecting. I’d think meditation makes way for some vulnerability itself.

Likewise, fantasy is inspiring and unleashes real-world limits. It can represent ideals and romance. So often this romance can lead to wishing. For things to be real, for dreams to come true, to go back in time.

It’s the tenderness in how these songs approach such emotions that gives them their grip. When gentle fantasy music ponders, it’s like a deer lost in a forest or a child finding haunted halls in their room. It’s not hard to sympathize.

What makes ‘dark’ new age so odd is how it ‘disobeys’ the genre’s core themes. When we hear ‘new age’, we expect serene sounds fit for a spa. It’s crossover icon Enya has 2-3 songs I could call ‘dark’, after all. If ‘true’ new age is music for happy daydreams, dark new age depicts our questions and fears. Despite this, some songs keep the calming effect.

Of course, I’m not aiming for an edgy substitute here. We hold up ambient as this intellectual counterpart already. I love lighter new age too; I’m just highlighting a deserving sub-niche. This strikes me as a relevant theme with new age’s recent spike in popularity. I intend this more to gather lost gems and challenge cliches, ‘soullessness’ to name one.

I chose this Unico shot because, like this music, it paints a sad, uncertain scene in bright colors. You have a unicorn, the trademark ‘pure fantasy’ creature, with a wind fairy, but both are forlorn. While the Unico film has a warm heart, it follows this unicorn getting stolen from his family and losing his memories. It probably represents this theme better than any other movie.

 

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Milan Pilar

TXT

Milan Pilar (born 1934 in Czechoslovakia) is a master of fantasy melodrama. Once he came to use synths, his music became the soundtrack for finding a magic necklace in a pastel-colored forest where anything can happen. Milan created these images in gorgeously exaggerated detail that can touch your heart if you let it, no matter outlandish it may seem at a glance. He had a talent to induce the most grandiose emotions with impact and genuine tenderness.

Most songs will have sweeping synths and/or strings as a backbone, with digital bells and flutes playing the melodies. Many are wistful and sensitive as if telling you secrets in it’s hiding place, some carefree and happy, others cinematic and awestruck. No matter the mood, they never lose their Moomin-worthy fantasy charm and romantic expression. It’s a shame Pilar didn’t wind up directly composing for children’s fantasy movies.

He also kept a distinct sound across ten-plus years, something rare for library composers. For instance, his 2003 album Nature In Motion has the virtual same approach as his late-eighties work.

Playlist

I’ve gathered my favorites from across his albums to give a good taster for his style (link above).

1. February  – Pastoral Seasons, Coloursound, 1982

2. Reconciliation – Nature Spoiled and Unspoiled, Coloursound, 1983

3. Above / Extensions – Extensions, Sonoton, 19??

4. Industrial Signature 11 – Industrial, Coloursound, 1986

5. Fountain Idyll – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

6. Birdlife – Above And About, Coloursound, 1989

7. Digital Structure 2 – Digital Structures, 1990

8. Digital Structure 25 – Digital Structures, 1990

9. Softly As The Summerwind – Nature Study, 1990

10. Wind And Waves – Nature Study, 1990

10. Caravanseral – Nostro Mondo, 1993

12. Irish Autumn – Floating Line, 1993

13. Rainbow – Textures And Fusion, 1994

14. Lost Game Blues – Signs Of Wisdom, 1999

15. Call Of The Mountains – Nature In Motion, 2003

16. Deep Sea Romance – Green Planet, 2004

hidden treasure

Kobayashi Yamato – Commercial Work 1993-2004 (2014)

easy listening / sequencer & MIDI / synth pop / new age

RIYL – Donkey Kong, Super Mario and other Nintendo 64 music; vaporwave, Eyeliner

This ‘album’ gathers commissions K. Yamato stashed away for years. Only after seeing the new online interest for 90s game music did he share them. Some tracks glean from other media, but everything has a certain 90s-VGM flair here.

The early lower-bit jingles make a brief but fun cherry on top. The rest is a tour in digitized MIDI bursting with color. Mallets, synth pads, slick bass, bells and adorable flutes are on the menu. Versatile as expected, Yamoto shifts from 16-bit Outrun synth-pop to deluxe 90s chill-out. Somehow “Pleasant Specter Lever 6” merges a heaven-sent unicorn lullaby with summery disco.

Yamoto fills these bite-sized songs with sweet, romantic melodies, never letting them ramble. The “Spa Tape” tracks near this but their refreshing synth textures won me over. Spa music needs space to breathe after all.

CW is like playing Kirby for half an hour: a quick, simple pick-me-up with no pretension. Anyone curious about 90s VGM and/or the cuter side of synths should look here. No more Yamoto albums followed, but his Pleasant Specter EP from months before is your next step.

For more great video game music on the obscure side, see my top five

Deep Cuts

Siouxsie And The Banshees – “Sea Of Light” (”Shadowtime” b-side, 1991)

As mush as I adore synths, my #1 band didn’t actually use them much. Superstition was the one Banshees album to use them beyond cameos. Guitars were their clear specialty, but I do wonder where more keyboard would have led them.

This metaphysical b-side is one in few exceptions. Beyond Siouxsie and one quiet guitar, it’s all misty fairy synths. Believe it or not, “Sea Of Light” sounds like new age Banshee-style. An uneasy mood sneaks in even so via Siouxsie’s vocal as she sings of near-death experiences. The effects on her voice resemble a distant call for help or gathering wind. This results in a unique middle ground between peace and danger.