Space. Staring into the night sky has offered humans inspiration for eons. We employ the metaphor of space often, in our desire for limitless possibilities and tapping into an inner reservoir when seeking to implement outward change. What can be envisioned can be accomplished, and it is by creating space — mental, emotional, physical — that we move forward.

As in life, so in music. Japanese novelist Harukai Murakami recently published his conversations with famed conductor Seiji Ozawa. Discussing Glenn Gould’s rendition of Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, the two men are amazed by the subdued tempo. Ozawa notes that it’s right on the edge of falling apart yet it never does. “It is strangely slow, but playing it like this, Gould makes it work. It doesn’t feel wrong at all.”

We often think of music in time, but from a producer’s (and conductor’s) standpoint it’s all about space. The space between notes, beats, instruments — timing is everything. And as every physicist knows, time and space are inseparable. Across the landscape of a song, space matters.

The space in music creates pleasure

There is neurological precedence for this. We often receive a pleasurable sensation when the beat of a song drops, as the dopamine begins to be released in anticipation of the beat — the space before the release. Good drummers hang back on the beat, making you wait for the sensation.

Italian cardiologist Luciano Bernardi researched which musical elements were most effective in calming the mind and body. Subjects listened to six selections: slow, medium, and fast classical music; techno; rap and soothing Indian sitar. Between each selection, the participants heard silence — 15 seconds, one minute, two minutes — so that Bernardi could discover how long it takes to react before another selection begins.

As listeners waited, Bernardi’s team measured standard markers of relaxation: breathing rate, pulmonary blood flow, blood pressure, and heart rate. Most results were as expected. Rhythm showed a significant impact: fast tempos increased breathing and heart rate; slower music reduced them.

But the big surprise was what happened during the random periods of silence.

It was then that the greatest evidence of relaxation occurred: decreased blood pressure; slower ventilation rate; lowered heart rate. Silence outperformed every selection, with the two-minute periods having the greatest effects. Silence seemed heightened by contrasts, perhaps because it gave test subjects a break from careful attention. 

A playlist that curates space

Spaces during music might not be as relaxing as silence, though top producers value their pauses, letting their songs breathe. This is not to detract from the power of aggressive, upbeat, and hyper songs, which have their own value. Music reflects all of our varied moods and emotions, as songs are outward expressions of inner sensations.

This playlist that makes space features 12 songs that breathe. Classical elements of strings, flutes, and ivory are heard in selections by Kaya Project, Jef Stott, Loscil, Bombay Dub Orchestra, and Marconi Union, whose track featured here, “Weightless,” was voted by a group of neuroscientists as the “most relaxing song ever.” From my own experience it is the closest thing imaginable to floating.

Space between beats is important too. For slightly more upbeat tracks I chose a haunting oud-driven groove by Smadj, a percussive gem by Desert Dwellers, and some dubby tracks by Sonomad, Blundetto, and Thievery Corporation. A dripping jazz ballad by Hird and a punchy trip-hop classic by Portishead round out this month’s flow.

Just as meditation helps us create space between thoughts, music helps give our emotions pause. We step back and reconsider how we’re moving and what we’re thinking. A good song gets inside you and works its magic from the inside out. Here’s to moving in the way you envision.

Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images, :MStudioImages