After reading my thoughts above, a good friend of mine (with great knowledge and appreciation for quality instrumental music) emailed me. He explained how difficult it is to categorize some pieces of music into musical styles and to categorize some composers into one of the musical genres discussed. I quickly realized that for him, my article didn't come across the way I intended to.
This experience showed me two things: first, I might not be the greatest writer when it comes to expressing my musical views… unlike with music, it can be very difficult to reach everyone from casual web-surfers to music enthusiasts and from music professionals to music theorists alike, with the same thoughts just by typed words. If you enjoy ambient and downtempo music as much as I do, do yourself a favor and go check out music of the gods.
Secondly, I realized how the concept of strictly categorizing music styles and pigeonholing composers into certain styles is still a practice that many do. While I thought that strictly defining the "official" characteristics of musical genres and forcing every piece of music into one were things of the past, evidently doing so is what my friend warned me against, thinking that my article was trying to define who's ambient and who's new age.
While I completely agree with him as far as the pointlessness of such practice, for the first reading, he misunderstood the point. So I thought I'd share one of my email replies to him, here on this website – I believe it will make some of my readers interpret the original post in a different light.
"The main point is the difference between the ideology behind Ambient and New Age, how different things both of these expressions meant thirty years ago and now, and what transformations they have gone through that resulted in their meanings today. This is a much more important and involved topic than the argument about sub-categorizing musical styles, with which too many people seem to be still wasting time.
Just like in the case of some wedding music and traditional ethnic music: the performers' skills, technique or the instruments used might be the same, but the purpose of their music is probably completely different. It doesn't matter which one is the "more musical" or "deeper" music, what's interesting is why the same piece is performed in completely different ways, what the approach and purpose of the performer (or arranger, composer) is. The ideology determines the tools that one or another composer or performer uses (musical expressions, performance style, atmosphere, message).
The same is true for the composition in ambient or new age styles. Composers who started their career with new age music came from a different scene from a different angle – back then the gap between the two was pretty big, then smaller, then big again today. Although I had thought about not even mentioning any names in the article (to avoid making the reader focus on the familiar examples) but it's difficult to describe music without either referring to a few known examples, or playing it.
Back to the differences for another thought. The traditional motivation behind Ambient for a decade was experimentation. Which doesn't have much to do with the purpose of New Age, referred to as "space music" in those times. Similarly, Brian Eno's and Vangelis' purposes were different when they produced their pioneering albums using electronics. While Vangelis wanted to express emotions by using orchestra-like instrumentation without an orchestra, Eno wanted to create a soundscape that had not been heard before, with practical applications, putting the importance of emotions and melodies behind experimentation and the ambient nature/purpose of his music. At the same time, he ended up generating a unique feel and atmosphere, which indirectly (when the listener was effected by these moods while listening to the album for a while) resulted in a new, "personalized" feel developed in/by the listener.
As far as the composer's perspective, the ways and process of self-expression, the motivation, purpose behind composition, and even the tools used, there is still a major difference between ambient and new age (especially since the industry's interference in the 90's) today."