The translator, Paul Farrelly, is an historian of religion in Taiwan and China currently completing his PhD studies at the ANU. He is a contributing editor of The China Story Journal.
In March 1990, Terry Hu 胡因夢 published Ancient Future 古老的未來, the first book in Taiwan to introduce readers to the concept of a ‘New Age’. A former movie star and the ex-wife of the essayist Li Ao 李敖, Hu had already written a number of introductory articles in women’s magazines explaining the various concepts found in New Age religion. She was of sufficiently high public profile that her work reached an eager readership such that by November 1991, Ancient Future was in its fifth printing. Besides acting and writing, the versatile Hu also had experience in the music industry. She had been a peripheral figure in the 1970s’ campus folk movement 校園民謠運動 and had even released music of her own. Of the sixteen chapters of Ancient Future, the one titled ‘New Age Music’ introduced readers in Taiwan to this nascent genre.
New Age music was not long established in Taiwan when Hu published Ancient Future. The Japanese artist Kitaro 喜多郎 toured there in 1983 and the still-operating Wind Records opened in 1988. Among various genres of music, Wind Records continues to have a strong catalogue of New Age titles, especially from Sinophone artists. Albert Chen 陳建志, a Taiwanese translator and author of New Age books, assisted with writing English liner notes for some of Wind Records’ CDs. Hu’s chapter on New Age music is the earliest discussion of the topic in Taiwan that I have found. Readers interested in music in Taiwan, or more generally in New Age music, will undoubtedly find her enthusiastic endorsement engaging.—Paul Farrelly
‘New Age Music’ by Terry Hu
Up until now I had a peculiar habit whereby any music that was complicated or changed too radically made me nervous and uneasy. Apart from the simple and sincere folk music of the 1960s, I have tended towards primitive folk music, such as chants from the European Middle Ages, and Indian, Middle Eastern, Indochinese and South American Inca music. Furthermore, I was infatuated with Catholic, Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist chanting. Until I studied Buddhism it had always been like this.
Around five years ago I was in New York studying acting classes at the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York. At midnight each day, I found myself listening to an hour-long radio program called ‘Music Born from Space’. The host had a strong academic disposition but lacked professional DJ training. Often, after a song had ended, there would be silence for several seconds after which the host would, as if waking from a dream, clumsily resume the show. The audience did not seem to mind his ‘out of the ordinary’ style because every song he broadcast was ‘out of the ordinary’ New Age music. Fortunately for me, this type of music is a synthesis of all the musical styles I enjoyed, as I’ve mentioned above.
What is the meaning of New Age music? First of all we must ask, what is the meaning of music?
In brief, music is a way of expressing the passive transmission of consciousness. When the composer sets words to music or records sounds, the vibrations of his consciousness pass through the instrument to produce a resonance in the consciousness of the listener.
After we understand this most basic ‘principle of sound’ we can more easily understand this ‘New Age music’ that has so frequently perplexed commentators.
The main differences separating the producers of New Age music from those doing other types of music are:
- They have invested much energy into meditative practice
- They regard holistic health as especially important (including the three facets of body, wisdom and spirituality)
- They devote themselves to opening individual consciousness into universal consciousness.
I am by no means implying that they are better composers than others. Rather, I mean that because they practice meditation and yoga daily and have a way of life that is in touch with nature, the frequency at which their consciousness vibrates is undoubtedly a little bit higher than that of normal composers.
Some New Age musicians recognise that when meditating they reach a level where the self is like a conductor; inspiration is always born of some intangible world. Sometimes they hear sounds from other realms. When this happens their instrument becomes like a glittering and translucent seed, dissolving the composer into a vast and boundless cosmos.
The foundations of New Age music are harmonic tones, poles apart from the dissonant tones of regular music. It has the capacity to elevate people to higher levels of kindness, joy and intense jubilation. Thus it can be used during spiritual healing.
New Age music originated in Europe in the 1970s when a revolutionary spirit of musical performance developed. Hereafter in the 1980s, because European and American intellectuals’ interest in metaphysics has soared along with a widespread awakening of spirituality, New Age music has become even more widely adopted.
During this decade it has only been through small bookstores specialising in metaphysics and through direct mailing of private recordings that people have been able to access New Age music. These artists have no aspiration for fame or wealth and only want to share with others their inner zen happiness.
Once New Age music has become more widely accepted there will be more musicians, more programs and more promoters to contribute to and improve this musical sphere. As a result there will be numerous types of New Age music. From electronic music and quiet jazz to music with classical and vocal accompaniments, all of these can be called New Age music.
But with so many products professing to be New Age music, how should listeners choose the best so as not to be disappointed? The answer is that listeners must first ask for a record label catalogue and then select and buy a music sampler cassette. After carefully selecting the composers one has most enjoyed, one can then decide whether or not to buy a whole album of their works.
The most important difference between New Age music and other types of music is that it places intention ahead of form—regardless of whether the form is jazz, classical, folk or a synthesis of these styles. The real function of New Age music is that it affects the consciousness of listeners, stimulates their inspiration and raises their mind-nature to a higher level. It is a beneficial tool that helps us enter into our ‘inner self’.
The more that life tends towards complexity and tension, the more we need a type of music that creates an atmosphere in which the mind and body can recuperate. When entering into the realm of this music, people can temporarily put the intellect and activity out of mind and feel a limitless peace and joy.
New Age music has the capability to shake the human body’s ‘life centre’ (the seven chakras). Having done this, it then transforms our consciousness and helps us reach the stage where we attain unity with nature. This music has dislodged fear and worry in many people who have subsequently found the courage to dream of a harmonious future for humanity. This scene—brimming with harmonious light—is the real value of New Age music.
After the protest folk music of the 1960s waned, I lived my life without music. That changed when I discovered New Age music. It is like metaphysics; faithfully accompanying my life and letting me dance as if floating in the air.
Terry Hu, Ancient Future, Taipei: The Fine Press, 1990, pp.48-52.
 For an original work, see Terry Hu, ‘Midnight Kiss 午夜香吻’, http://youtu.be/bKfUP548k6M. For Hu’s cover of John Denver’s ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’, made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary, please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgZ-wbJ_EoU
 Pan Wenjing 潘文菁 A Study of Wind Records’ New Age Music 風潮唱片新時代理念研究, Bachelor Dissertation, Nanhua University, 2011, p.24. Wind Records’ English website is at http://www.windmusic.com.tw/en/
 See the liner notes for Imee Oi 黃慧音, Mantras of the Sanskrit 梵音心經 (Taipei, Wind Records, 2005).
 ‘Music Born From Space’ is a translation of 「空中生起的音樂」. It is possible that while in New York Hu was listening to the long-running New Age and ambient radio show ‘Hearts of Space’, which had been syndicated across the USA in January 1983. See https://www.hos.com/#music/history