Abstract

Music from the Hearts of Space, a freeform music program that aired across Northern California on KPFA-FM Pacifica Radio from 1973, set forth an expansive transgeneric vision of contemplative atmospheric “space music” whose properties, in the following decades, would become more popularly codified as either “new age” or “ambient.” Histories of these latter genres typically separate out ambient’s avant-garde lineage and secular functionalism from new age’s therapeutic and spiritual concerns; but an examination of Hearts’s first decade on the air, leading up to its 1983 syndication via National Public Radio’s satellite network, reveals a sonic and cultural milieu that belies this eventual generic split. Through investigation of Hearts’s private archive and interviews with the program’s host Stephen Hill, as well as industry research, cultural-historical study, and style analysis, I situate the genesis of Hearts’s proto-ambient sound within the Bay Area’s new age movement of the 1970s and early 1980s. Informed by the metaphor of the global media environment established in systems theory and popularized by Marshall McLuhan and Stewart Brand, artists and media producers within this grassroots technoculture designed and spread “alternative” personal media for the development of holistic awareness. These media included slow, reverberant, hypnotic recorded music, as curated by Hill and his cohost Anna Turner under the guiding concept of “space music.” This early history and analysis of Hearts’s space music as an atmospheric medium for attuning the listening self to a worldwide media ecology deepens and complicates genealogies that isolate the formation of ambient music from that of new age, revealing a cross-pollination of highbrow and countercultural ideals that led many musicians associated with the new age movement to similar sonic conclusions to those of ambient music architect Brian Eno.

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