Saturday, November 21, 2009

In review--The Art of Relaxing Music

Updated review on March 18, 2013
Sea of Light (1999)
Symbiosis Music (UK)

Touching the Clouds (1995)
Symbiosis Music

Aotearoa (nature recording/New Zealand)
Symbiosis Music

When I recently wrote an article on the benefits of music for relaxation I came across Symbiosis Music’s website. Two of the recordings I requested were recorded in the 1990s, long before research about the brain and music surfaced into the mainstream and long before the PBS documentary Science & Song. Synthesizers were employed more generously during that era with new age and other types of relaxation music, though some music awareness people I know now including myself, find that synthesizers cause tension and other symptoms.

My opinion based on my own music and personal experience leans towards relaxation music performed on all acoustic instruments with overtones of these instruments providing musical washes and drones. However, I add that my body and emotions do not respond well to drones or washes and on occasion I have found that I feel depressed around music without strong melodic content whether heard in improvisational jazz, modern European classical, synthesized new age music, etc… So before I review the following recordings, I want anyone reading this review to keep all of that in mind.  Reviewers are human.

New research has taken in an in depth look at different ways our brains react to music and sound. People suffering from autism or dementia react differently to music than the average person, and differently than each other. Some people need music to stimulate them while others need music to sooth their nerves after too much exposure to electromagnetic fields and an over abundance of audio prompts heard throughout any given day. Some people need nostalgic music to relax, while others find nostalgic music invasive. Some people enjoy melodic catchy music, while others feel annoyed by it since it’s hard to wash from the mind over the course of a day.

Let's look at Sea of Light. A few of the tracks left me feeling tense. Overall, though I enjoyed John Hackett’s beautiful flute playing, the acoustic guitar, Andes flute, hammered dulcimer and gentle percussion. I preferred some of the Erik Satie-style solo piano pieces and the slower tempo and warming pieces. So here is the breakdown.

Deep Yellow—Warm, crisp acoustic guitar, resonating bass tones, even tempo with a hint of a melody.

Red—Slow moving, low-end flute, irritating pulsing bass rhythm, slightly dissonant. Since bass tones discharge the nervous system, I did not find this piece energizing as the color red would imply nor did I find it grounding even with the lower tones.  The dog reacted badly to this track, but neutral to the others.

Orange—Feels tropical, warming with an upbeat flute and gentle percussion. Though I could do without the synthesizer wash.

Pale Yellow—Slow tempo, Erik Satie-type piano, a lot of high end so it charges the nervous system even with the slower tempo. The dreamy piece also recalls another relaxation favorite, Revelry by Claude Debussy.

Green—This one feels melancholic even with the warmer tones played on the acoustic guitar. I could do without the synthesizer wash, but I like the wind chimes. The flute on the track recalls Native American composer Mary Youngblood’s work.

Blue, Indigo, Violet and Amethyst—too much synthesizer, felt cold and dissonant to me. I prefer to skip over these tracks.

Grey—Brings in a slow tempo breathy Andes flute, slightly melancholic, but I find it beautiful coming from Latin heritage. The other listener did not enjoy this track.

Apple Green—Melodic acoustic guitar with rich bass tones gives off a warming effect.

Deep Blue—This track left me feeling irritated and tense. It reminds me of a soundtrack for a scary movie.

Peach—Fortunately Deep Blue is followed by Peach, a beautiful full-spectrum solo piano piece that again recalls Erik Satie.

Turquoise—The synthesizer irritated my nerves.

Silver—I could do without the synthesizer wash at the beginning, though I enjoyed the lovely flute which warms up the piece.

Rose Pink—Slow tempo, relaxing and warming.

Gold—Gorgeous duet between hammered dulcimer and flute. Hackett delivers a beautiful performance on this piece and a great way to end the album.

Since each of us listens to music differently and some people respond positively to synthesizers and other electric instruments, I feel that it is best to visit the website and sample the music before purchasing. You can do so at

The 1995 recording, Touching the Clouds includes synthesizer along with flute, guitar, marimba and percussion. Although I normally do not respond well to electric instruments, I have found this particular recording relaxing and have used it at bedtime to fall asleep. Some of the tracks leave me feeling tense, but overall, I have experienced positive results.

Medical research at Kingston University (UK) showed some encouraging results as far as relaxing patients by slowing down body rhythms. Twelve recordings, including Touching the Clouds were used in an experiment. The recordings ranged from hard rock to European classical and new age music. Touching the Clouds tied with a Vivaldi track for the most effective recording in the research. For more information on the findings, visit and click on the research tab.

So far I have tested this recording out for background music for yoga, relaxation and I worked at my computer with the music playing. Though this music relaxes me to fall asleep at night, it does not leave me feeling heavy when I work with the music playing in the background and it does not leave me feeling sleepy when I employ it for my yoga practice. I have also found the music non-intrusive when I play it in the morning when I meditate and journal.

The final recording, Aotearoa (Beautiful Sounds of Nature from New Zealand) provides listeners with pure nature and bird sounds, from surf to over-excited birds in the last track. What I enjoy about this recording is the absence of any musical instruments. It feels like an immersion in the natural world of New Zealand, not quite relaxing, but certainly I find this nature recording enjoyable. I highly recommend it for bird lovers. In fact, if you can’t afford a trip to New Zealand, you can put this one in the player and hear Bellbirds, Kaka, Tui and other species surrounded by crashing waves, a thunder storm and other natural sounds.  Though if you have a pet with a fear of thunder storms, play this recording at a low volume. We often forget the sensitivity of our animal companions, especially the ones with phobias.

Certainly this recording would be suitable for drowning out noises, for visualization, meditation and I have found it non-invasive for playing in the background while writing and performing other tedious tasks. Proceeds from the sale of this recording support the work of the ecological non-profit Tiritiri Matangi (New Zealand). And certainly folks, I don’t think you can get any closer to nature via a recording than this one.
Symbiosis Music

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