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The Playlist: Using Music to Navigate through Times of Stress

by Erik R. Slagle

If you’ve ever been to a planetarium space show, gotten lost in the atmospheric soundtrack of an IMAX presentation, or drifted off into the cosmos with a cable TV documentary, there’s a very good chance you may have been listening to Jonn Serrie. This composer, whose body of work is extensive but whose name may be unfamiliar, has released albums with titles like “And the Stars Go With You,” “Planetary Chronicles,” and “Space Music.”

His music was fitting for a year like 2020, when it often felt like we were living on another planet. Or maybe we would have liked to have been.

Musical minds like Serrie’s can turn out scores and individual pieces that have been proven to relax the mind and body. I’ve written here before about Marconi Union, a British ambient music trio who built “Weightless” around scientific principles for lowering blood pressure and slowing your heart rate. Thierry David, Darshan Ambient, Anugama, Brian Eno, Jeff Oster, Chronotope Project, and Mars Lasar are just some of the myriad other names you should know if you want to explore how music can lower your stress levels and make you feel healthier, more at peace.

Here are some selections to get you started on the road to a quieter mind:

Jonn Serrie, “Lumia Nights”: In 2001 Serrie – then almost 20 years into his illustrious career – released a collection of space-inspired electronic numbers that brought new meaning to the old phrase, “the music of the spheres.” Put this on, and drift off to a galaxy far, far away. (And yes, Serrie has also scored in the past for LucasFilm!)

Dimitri Grechi Espinoza, “Angel’s Blows”: Alto sax man extraordinaire Espinoza is a bit of an enigma, but “Angel’s Blows” –recorded in 2014 at a centuries-old Italian monastery – is unmistakably spiritual. The haunting, echoing reverb of his instrument is both romantic and unsettling, as he explores the space between sounds in a way that’s reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”

Kamal, “The Quiet Earth—Dusk”: This selection from German New Age icon Kamal Engels cycles through themes of hope, evolution, and eternity. Made entirely on synthesizers, Kamal’s easy, soothing melodies are ideal for taking a mental break when you just can’t watch the news anymore and need to disconnect from your devices.


Ludovico Einaudi, “Elements”: Pulsing through over an hour of layered electronic sounds, this 2015 album explores themes of nature and growth. Or at least that’s what Einaudi himself has said about it – to listeners like me, it just seems to have a heartbeat of its own. It allows you to synch your breaths and get down into the “square breathing” promoted by meditation experts as a way of naturally lowering your pulse and blood pressure. And that’s something we could all afford to do from time to time!