And You Thought New Age Music Was All Schlock

Various Artists
I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990
Light in the Attic

New Age music is often associated with spacy sounds and pseudo-mystical hokum, but the intriguing I Am the Center offers a more nuanced perspective. While this two-disc, 20-track set doesn’t entirely escape the slack blandness of New Age clichés, there’s startling diversity to be found in the self-released efforts of these intrepid souls, most of them dating from the ’70s and ’80s. Employing everything from synthesizer and harp, to violin and electric piano, to autoharp and (of course) flute, the oozing songs range in length from two to 13 minutes and may well induce a state of altered consciousness in receptive listeners. Among the highlights: Thomas de Hartmann’s spooky piano sonata “The Struggle of the Magician Part Three,” written by the guru Gurdjieff; the unearthly tones of what might be guitar on Wilburn Burchette’s “Witch’s Will”; and the mind-melting analog synths of Don Slepian’s “Awakening.” Even the lesser entries on I Am the Center testify to the admirably enterprising spirit of idiosyncratic artists who value self-expression above commercial potential. Now where did I leave my mantra?