Music Reviews : Milladoiro’s Celtic Sounds at Caltech

Perhaps using the term New Age to describe a certain type of music is a bit like using the “L” word to describe a political opponent: It unfairly polarizes the argument. Yet it’s undeniable: Milladoiro performs New Age music--worse yet, Celtic New Age music.

On its first U.S. tour, the group from Galicia, a Celtic region in northwest Spain, came to Beckman Auditorium at Caltech on Saturday night branding themselves as the leading exponent of Galician music.

The seven-member ensemble makes use of a variety of traditional instruments--Celtic harp, hand drums, bagpipes, accordion, the inevitable penny whistle--and combines them with more modern instruments--synthesizer and contemporary flute, clarinet, electric violin and acoustic guitar--all amplified plushly, reverb applied generously.

The arrangements are slick, starting simply, with mouth flute and synthesizer, say, adding instruments and changing combinations until the final chorus when the whole band combines in jigging merriment.


Contemporary chord progressions are applied, jazzy rhythms emphasized. The non-variety of Milladoiro’s two-hour program was amazing, and since historical authenticity wasn’t attempted, tunes generally weren’t even named.

Mellowness seems to be a key aesthetic here, from the warm, ever-velvety sound scheme, to the purples and reds of the lighting design, to the non-visceral quality of the dances: Milladoiro shoots for cool, up-tempo lilt, not primitive, foot-stomping vitality.

It’s a shame to hear these simple old tunes gussied up this way. It’s like adding a disco beat to Gregorian chant. It’s furniture music for the historically oblivious.