My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sun, 26 Mar, 2006

The Hiss of the Past

Now that my audio setup is complete, I have been digitizing my old tapes, preserving them for at least a few more years of posterity. Preserving what's left of them, that is. Many of these cassettes are twenty or more years old and I have not played them for at least ten of those years. They were commercially made, but not by any major labels; many of them were limited editions put out by a commune or a guru's followers or a small, private music producer, and never had a completely professional quality. So when I finally play them back, the sound has deteriorated considerably even from what I remember back in the twentieth century.

But I love this music as much as I did back in the late eighties, when I amassed my collection of New Age, obscure electronica, and world music cassettes. I played them over and over again back then, and they seem to come from a more innocent age, or perhaps a more innocent subculture. Maybe anything from the recent past seems to come from a more innocent age. Then as now, I was attracted to albums which would currently be thought of as cloying, sentimental, and simple-minded, full of tweeting birds, tinkling guitars, sparkling tiny bells, and rainbow pink graphics. Used as directed, such music transports me to a warm place where nature is kind and colors are soft and shimmery.

One of my favorite examples of this type of music was the "Golden Voyage" series by Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter. They released six of them and I have five of the set on cassette. These fulfill all the qualifications of the classic "New Age" genre: environmental sounds of birds and trickling water and rain and crickets accompanying short, quiet, slow pieces with simple melodies. In their day, these tapes were used as background music for massage, meditation, or other relaxing pursuits. They were so calming that I sometimes referred to them, and others of their kind, as "New Age Funeral Music."

I searched in vain for updated CD renderings of these albums, but if any had ever been made, they weren't available online. Some sites, either rare record marts or those promoting yoga or meditation, seemed to offer copies of them on vintage vinyl records or cassettes. I wasn't going to easily find them again. Therefore I went ahead and started digitizing the ones I had. Unfortunately, the Golden Voyage had long since passed its better days. Faded pieces of the Eighties met my twenty-first century digital clarity. I could not restore what was lost, but my software was at least able to reduce the hiss of the old audio tape.

I was back in the dreamworld of my old fantasy days, listening to the tinny sound of alien birds and the flow of a pristine stream that had never existed. It was as if I were a space colonist listening, as I have said before, to the sounds of a planet that I would never see again. But now they are with me on my computer, preserved like faded postcards of a vacation paradise.

This kind of music is still being produced. The excellent British commercial and TV composer Kevin Kendle has created a wide range of albums for relaxation and inspiration, with the same warm, nature-filled quality as Bearns and Dexter. And, to his credit, Kendle leaves out the metaphysical and pseudo-scientific themes which led Bearns and Dexter to give tracks names like "Quasars" and "Twilight's Fourth Dimension," as well as writing a text called "The Awakening Electromagnetic Spectrum." Kendle is more directly inspired by nature and the changing seasons. I'll be writing a whole entry about Kendle and his music later on.

As you recall, I searched for harpist Anne Williams and found her still active in Sedona, putting out good vibrations. What about Bearns and Dexter? Their output stops after the mid-80s. There is no information about them, that I can find, on the Great Net of Wisdom. The only thing I heard was a rumor, which may well be true. Bearns and Dexter were a gay couple, and in the mid-eighties, before the modern remedies had been devised, they both died of AIDS. And so ended the golden voyage. But I saved it on shining discs, etched with an awakening laser light.

Posted at 3:49 am | link

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