Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

The Dynamics of a Cultural Struggle in Academia: The Case of New Age Music Research

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

The Dynamics of a Cultural Struggle in Academia: The Case of New Age Music Research

Article excerpt


In recent years New Age music (NAM) has become a widespread and familiar musical category--on radio stations, in music stores, at festivals and at musical performances. Along with the massive inculcation of NAM into the cultural market, a lively debate has arisen regarding the values it represents, the way it is marketed, and its artistic value.

When we began studying the cultural conflict being waged around NAM, we discovered that the emotions, ideologies, politics, and balances of power that characterize this struggle are also reflected in the arena of academic study. Academic research is perceived as neutral, objective, and as providing only scholarly analysis. However, academia is actually an additional arena for the cultural struggle, echoing the same claims.

In this article, academia is the object of the research. We examine the way an academic struggle is conducted over a cultural issue, and highlight the processes that form norms, standards, and truths. We focus on the characteristics of the struggle, namely preferred values, manners of thought, and ways of expression--both for NAM's defenders and opponents. A unique challenge in conducting such a study is keeping in mind that we the authors belong to the field being examined.

We will begin with a presentation of NAM and the broad cultural context from which it emerged--New Age culture. Later, we will address the various academic discourses that are at the core of our study (see Fig. 1 (2)): research of New Age culture and of popular music, and cultural criticism. The latter constitutes a theoretical infrastructure for this article, as will be elaborated on in the methodological paragraph. The main body of the article is a description and analysis of the academic discourse about NAM. Finally, we will summarize the findings and discuss their implications.


New Age Music

NAM is a vocal and instrumental musical style, which developed in the second half of the twentieth century as minimalist music meant to create a particular atmosphere, usually tranquil and meditative. Among its first harbingers one may recall Brian Eno (Hibbet 2010, 299), Mike Oldfield, and Wendy Carlos (Berman 1998, 256, 259). In the 1980s NAM entered public awareness and began to be an accepted category in the marketing language of record companies. In the early 1990s some people identified NAM as the one of the most significant components of the music industry, although it also became the most disputed musical genre (Zrzavy 1990, 33).

NAM is a super-category that includes many musical sub-categories (3) such as ethnic, World, Trance, ambience, space, healing, meditation, nature, minimalist, Muzak, environmental, and so on. For instance, at AllMusic Internet site, a well-known online music guide service, New Age is listed among twenty one musical super-categories (such as Rock, Jazz, and Classic), (4) with twenty four "subgenres and styles." (5)

NAM's widespread cultural presence is expressed in extensive marketing activity, festivals and performances, on websites and in databases that feature music and video-clips. For example, the Amazon website features a NAM category among twenty categories such as Rock, Classical, Jazz, Opera, and Vocal music. While the New Age category contains 86,358 items, Blues contains 85,946 items, Classical 382,311, and World music 600,680. (6)

Among the many NAM singers and artists, suffice it to mention a few central examples. Enya is one of the most famous New Age artists and singers. She began to become famous in the mid-1980s as a performer and composer of World music and Irish music, through the documentary series The Celts, which was broadcast in Great Britain by the BBC, and which traced Celtic culture in Europe (a popular subject of interest in New Age culture). Enya's success grew in the 1990s, and her album A Day Without Rain sold 15 million copies in 2000. …

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