There was a time when the fusion of two musical fields was a bold adventure. In the 1950s, Gunther Schuller did it with jazz and atonal music; the '60s gave us Miles Davis and jazz-rock; Philip Glass did it in the '70s with rock and Minimalism.
Today, the fusion of musical styles is no longer bold or even adventuresome. In fact, new-age musicians are routinely crossbreeding music to the extent that today's purists might be accused of living in the past.
Tonight, a concert at the Wiltern Theatre offers a taste of fusion and what's new in new-age music. Three composers--Yanni, Patrick O'Hearn and David Van Tieghem--have teamed up for "An Evening of New Music." The concert is expected to attract a varied audience of easy listening, rock and avant-garde enthusiasts who are generally learning that whatever their musical interests may be--from Third World music to John Cage--there is something about the adaptability of new-age music to different sensibilities that makes it a force to be reckoned with.
"I learned to accept a wide variety of musical styles when I was growing up in Greece," recalled composer/keyboardist Yanni from his home near Laurel Canyon. "At night you could pick up stations from Northern Africa, Arab countries and Europe. And there were no rock stations or classical stations--each station would just play everything."
A former psychology student, Yanni (who only uses one name) is a self-taught musician who shuns labels--especially Greek and new-age. "When someone says new-age music , I think of something that you put on in the background while you're vacuuming the house or something," he says. "I don't want to relax the audience, I want to engage them in the music, get them interested."
"In the early 1970s, I must have worn down the grooves of at least two copies of Paul Horn's record 'Inside'--to me, he's the grandfather of new-age music," admits O'Hearn, who studied classical bass as a child and later became a rock bassist, first with Frank Zappa, then with the new-wave band Missing Persons.
"Also early Weather Report and their use of Third World music was a forerunner to all of this," he continues. "In fact, I think that it's that eclectic bag of world music elements found in groups like Weather Report that best defines what new-age musicians have been turning on to all along."
If O'Hearn favors the sophisticated, progressive rock side of new-age music, and Yanni appeals to the more mainstream pop audience, then the remaining member of the trio, David Van Tieghem, represents the avant-garde faction. A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music with a career that has found him performing with several avant-garde composers including Robert Ashley, Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson, Van Tieghem has also worked with the Talking Heads and Duran Duran, as well as with choreographers like Twyla Tharp.
"I'll work with just about anyone who'll hire me and who's doing quality work," says Van Tieghem, who now resides in New York City. "I wouldn't call myself a new-age artist; I'm probably best described as a performance artist."
But despite a resistance to being pigeonholed, Yanni, Van Tieghem and O'Hearn (signed to a record label called "Private Music") all emerge as composers of a very similar vein. All work with synthesizers and use simple, idyllic tonal harmonies that new-age radio stations, such as the Wave (KTWV, 94.7 FM), have been playing to no end.
For the Wiltern concert, each of the three will play a separate set beginning with O'Hearn, who has formed a special ensemble of musicians for the occasion. Selections from O'Hearn's album "Between Two Worlds" will be performed, even though O'Hearn originally recorded it using computer sequencers and MIDI systems in lieu of hiring musicians.
Van Tieghem also plans a solo appearance using acoustic percussion instruments--including several homemade instruments and found objects. His largely improvised set will be accompanied by an electronic tape.
Yanni will use an ensemble in which he will play a large keyboard setup. He will perform selections from his album "Chameleon Days."
"What we are going through now is a major turn in the history of music," observes Yanni, who hopes to expand his horizons in a proposed project with the Dallas Symphony. "In the past, if you wanted to create new sounds, you had to invent a new instrument which would take years to develop, but today, you simply turn a knob.
"All in all, it's the rapidly evolving technology in recording and musical instruments that is behind much of what's happening in today's music. But we live in a society that disposes of things much quicker than before. Yes, there is a lot of different things going on, but what will develop into something that will last is still a mystery."