The elusive term new-age music means different things to different

ears:

Thousands of happy consumers hear meditative instrumental music to help them unwind after a rough, upwardly mobile day.

Critics hear an uninspiring, bland mixture they call “yuppie Muzak.”

Cult watchers hear the echoes of the new-age religions and holistic therapies with which some of the artists identify.

And retailers hear that familiar and near-sacred sound: the ringing of cash registers.

In its beginnings, this new genre was connected to nonrational religious world views and was designed to take you inside yourself to connect with the universals and absolutes within. But not all new-age artists are interested in accessing inner space. Many are simply drawn aesthetically to this fusion of jazz, classical, and folk elements.

Listeners likewise are mostly unideological. They simply like their music pretty, peaceful, and packaged on state-of-the art, audiophile-quality compact discs, chrome cassettes, or virgin vinyl.

Out Of The Health-Food Stores

The dawn of new-age music was a 1964 album by Tony Scott called “Music for Zen Meditation,” and over the next two decades there came increasing numbers of cult classics. But now, new-age works have come out from behind the counters of health-food stores into the musical mainstream. There are new-age music radio shows, such as “Music from the Hearts of Space,” which airs on 197 public radio stations. There are new-age music TV shows, such as “New Visions,” on cable station VH-1. And this year there will even be a Grammy Award for best new-age recording.

Even as new-age music’s religious connections are fading, its popularity is growing. Radio-programming consultant ...

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