I don't know for sure what his nationality is; it might be German. He primarily plays the harp, but he also plays a variety of oriental stringed instruments.
The first thing of his I ever heard was his track "Night Fire Dance" from Down to the Moon, and I heard it in 1990 on WNUA here in the Chicago area, before they stopped playing any interesting music.
These days the WNUA playlist is a constant drone of jazz-R&B-WTF-fusion. They used to play a nice variety of stuff, including "new age" music, which I happen to enjoy. I'm not talking about "music for orchestra and whale songs" and crap; I'm talking about music which is not jazz, not electronic, not ambient, not rock, not R&B, not rap, not soul, not...but relaxing and interesting and different.
It's hard to find anywhere on the radio these days. The satellites have it, though; Sirius has 73 and XM has--well, I'm not sure, but it's "Audio Visions" and it's channel 856 on DirecTV.
The track I heard on Sirius is called "Steam Forest" and I never heard it broadcast anywhere before I heard it on the Sirius box. It was always one of my favorites from Down to the Moon. You can really hear Vollenweider's signature harp in the song, for one thing.
Sometime in the early 1990s I heard about someone coming out with a "Lava Lite Video", which consisted of a lava lamp on the screen with hippie music playing. I thought, "No, that's wrong. It should be new age music, not hippie crap." I even went so far as to shoot a video myself but I never got around to adding the music, which is just as well since I used a tube-type camera, in not enough light, which left the colors looking washed out and the image a bit blurry.
Tube-type cameras--how quaint. They suck down power and produce a crappy image unless you're under the sun or a thermonuclear warhead test....
Anyway, Down to the Moon was to be part of the playlist for that video. Another Vollenweider album, White Winds, also was slated for that playlist.
...and this is old stuff, actually. White Winds is vintage 1984; and Down to the Moon came out a year later. The CD jackets say "Also available on cassette and conventional disc." "Conventional disc", for those of you who never experienced the 20th century as adults, means vinyl LP records.
Speaking of which...
ELO is releasing the 30th anniversary edition of Out of the Blue, which is a kickass ELO double album from 1977. I'm going to have to pick it up since it's been remastered, but I would wager it still doesn't sound as good as the LPs do, even on the kind of equipment I could afford.
I'm not kidding; ELO has always sounded best to me when I played the LPs. Jeff Lynne tunes the drums just so and for some reason the sound doesn't come through as well after it's been digitized into CD audio. It just doesn't sound right.
I don't play the LPs very often, because once they're worn out there's no replacing them without a long and arduous search, and I have yet to buy a turntable I felt good about using to play the old favorites. (And don't tell me to digitize them myself. CD-A is CD-A, regardless of who does it; besides, I doubt a guy with a $600 computer can do a better job than an audio mastering studio with $600,000+ invested in audio equipment. Maybe if we ever get recordable Blu-Ray or HD-DVDs that actually record sound at a higher sampling rate, maybe then.)
Besides, most of the time, the sound on the CDs is enough for me. I only need the full experience when I'm sitting in my rocking chair, in my room, in the dark, and I don't do too much of that anymore. Even now I'm listening to the two Andreas Vollenweider disks while I work on the blog because it's hard for me to find the time just to sit and listen.
It does keep me from getting the most out of the music, though.
If you can sit and listen to music without any distractions, it really adds a lot to it--you're not just hearing it, but concentrating on it. Take Bach's "Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor"; the passacaglia is superb and builds to a thundering climax that--if you don't listen to it with all your attention--you miss. It has no impact; you might as well just fast-forward to the end.
So you say, "WTF, now you're comparing Bach and ELO?" Not especially, but the theory is the same. ELO is good stuff (IMHO, anyway) and although rock and roll--as a medium--is not as sophisticated as classical music, it's still worth paying attention to.
Look, Bach versus ELO: ELO loses. Okay? I'm a rabid Alan Parsons Project fan; when the soundtrack for Ladyhawke--which was arguably a Project album, in all but name--lost the Oscar to Amadeus I wasn't even remotely surprised or angry. Let's face it: Mozart wins. Period. There's no competition there.
But new age music is largely meant to be listened to, and you have to listen to it to get the most out of it. The good stuff is complex and intellectual, and it has a flow. (The not-so-good and the bad? Hideous, hideous stuff; it's a waste of electricity. Yeah, I'm talking to you, guy who thought it was a great idea to combine whale songs and indian flutes. You're a frickin' douchebag.)
The latest trend in the stuff, though, isn't very good either. 90% of the time I hear a new piece these days, it's got:
1) a doumbek--a ceramic drum of mideastern origin
2) middle eastern-sounding chanting
3) some woodwind instrument, also of mideastern origin
Some songs are produced in which these elements are used sparingly and enhance the overall quality of the song. But most? Theodore Sturgeon said it best: "90% of everything is crap." The last thing I want to hear is seven minutes of adenoidal whining in Farsi and some dude who can't play his woodwind trying to play it like a pro. The doumbek? It has a neat sound, but when you hear it in every freaking song it gets old really, really fast.
"Middle-eastern" is the big rage in that community these days. It probably has something to do with the war, though I'm at a loss to understand precisely what the relation is. "We're beating them up! But we can show that we appreciate their cultural heritage" or some nonsense, perhaps. It makes me ill, that's all I know.
I think that may be why I got so heavily into anime music: it has to be good because the people who publish it expect it to make money; it's not pretentious crap that some navel-gazing moron is producing because he's on a "spiritual journey" and can't find any other way to justify it.
I mean, hell, at least the people who are producing the "Reiki Healing" stuff are trying to meet a need, stupid as it may be. People who practice Reiki need a certain kind of music to set the right atmosphere. (No doumbeks or chanting on that CD, at least.) As silly as I think Reiki is, at least these people are thinking about selling their stuff, so they're not making it the musical equivalent of checking their own feces for fiber--they're actually making music someone might want to buy.
I fail to see why that somehow "de-legitimizes" art. So it's made for consumption--so what? Why is art that no one wants the only "pure" art? If I take the trouble to generate some kind of artwork, for me it's the ultimate validation if someone actually wants to give me money for my art. That says, "Hey, dude: your stuff is so cool I want to own it. My life won't be complete unless I have this." People who disdain that are pretentious, arrogant morons. And usually they're pretentious, arrogant, and incompetent morons.
People like that look down their noses at Thomas Kinkaide, "painter of light"--but he makes a ton of money off his artwork. Oh! His work is so pedestrian! It's so hackneyed! It's not art.
But if you look at his work, think about how much time and expertise it takes to get the look and feel his paintings have. It's not paint-by-numbers and there must be a significant mastery of his medium to produce the kinds of paintings he produces--and they're beautiful. I doubt more than half of his detractors could paint something that looked that good.
I have heard people argue that Bob Ross' work is not "art" either because there's no "meaning" in it. It's just landscapes. These same people will also seriously argue that the guy who splatters paint with jet exhaust is a genius.
One requires some technical mastery of color and painting techniques. The other one requires the money to pay for the use of a jet airplane and a good set of hearing protectors. Which is really art?
But because one makes art accessible to the "unwashed masses", he's a hack.
Music's gone the same way, at least in the "classical" world. The "best" composers write music which is atonal and arrhythmic. Hell, I can do that. Give me a piano and a recording studio and I'll give you all kinds of that shit. I could do that with one hand behind my back and a blindfold on. Hell, I could do it with my feet.
Oh, but you see, if I do it, it's not "art", because I didn't go to the right schools or study under the right people. If some jerk who did does the exact same thing it's "genius" and "a startling departure for the world of classical piano".
No; it's shit. Regardless of whose anus it comes from.
Because of this, I'm for the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts. If you can't make art that people want to buy you're not an artist, in my book. It's like calling someone on the phone: it's not communication unless someone else picks up and talks to you.
If I draw a comic book and no one likes it, and no one buys it, I know that--for whatever reason--my art wasn't good enough. If it doesn't speak to people--if it doesn't grab 'em by the collar and yell, "BUY ME!" in their faces--then why should I get money for it? My communication is faulty and I have no right to expect anyone to buy something that they won't enjoy.
I think the same applies to all forms of art--music, painting, sculpture, comics, literature, what have you--and people who disdain popular art because it's "pedantic" are the ones who don't get it.
They may sneer at it, but that's fine, because people like that don't like anything but the smell of their own flatus.