In its own way, new age music is a controversial genre. Its relative safety, shallowness, and—worst of all—therapeutic intent fly in the face of what many aesthetes revere in music. At the same time, the smoothness and high production values inherent in new age music can be of great service to the very aesthetes who disdain it. After a few hours decoding the chaos of contemporary metal or enduring the sadism of power electronics, a session listening to a bit of new age can be an extraordinary palate cleanser. Australian composer Catherine Duc‘s Voyager has the new age smoothness for those who seek it while still showing an ability to reach beyond the limitations of the genre.
The two most laudable qualities to this album each enhance the other. The first is the use of real instrumentation, especially acoustic guitar and uilleann pipes. The instruments appear in the music as more than simple dressing. Instead, the organic timbres are an integral part of the music, revealing it, in most cases, as something more than inconspicuous wallpaper. For example, the minimally processed rhythm guitar on “Antilles” cuts through the sugary keyboards and ocean-wave sound effects in a way that tempers the entire track. Eventually, the guitar line is swallowed up again, but the effect remains. The song is plainly a musical seascape in the usual soft-focus new age style, but there is sincerity in it.
Like “Antilles,” most of the tracks on Voyager break loose at some point from the new age chorale in one way or another. This is the second strength of the album. If the music ever evokes a sense of massage therapy or metaphysical bookstores, that sense does not last long. Subtle as they are, there are enough quirky flourishes throughout the album to lend the music some depth.
At the same time, there is no shortage of nits to pick from Voyager. Predictable Irish melodies, uninspired vocals, trite use of Tibetan and Sanskrit chanting, and more litter the album. None of these things are done with complete tastelessness, but they are definitely enough to turn off anyone who already dislikes the genre. Those who do enjoy new age may find Voyager a less than ground-breaking yet still satisfactory piece of restful listening.
01) Owen’s Boat
02) Inishowen Dawn
04) Mantra (feat. Natalia Christiana)
07) Lhasa Lullaby
08) Black is the Colour
09) The Seventh Chamber
10) Seallaibh Curraigh Eoghainn
11) Essence of Dreams (Essential Dance Remix)