In my experience when one lives alone one tends to create ritual and routine to provide structure. I first entered graduate school in the early 1980s to pursue a degree in American Studies with a concentration in American film and theatre with the goal of writing film and theatre criticism. After completing most of the coursework for that degree, I decided I wanted to pursue a theatre degree instead and transferred the applicable theatre credits from my American Studies courses toward that terminal degree.
Because of those choices and my indecision, I spent a lot of time as a poor graduate student in Tuscaloosa. Somewhere along the way, on my first and still favorite public radio station, WUAL-FM at the University of Alabama, I discovered a relaxing weekly hour of contemplative music then called “Music from the Hearts of Space.”
The “Music from the Hearts of Space” broadcast aired every Sunday night and quickly became a part of my Sunday routine. I got into the habit of cooking a good Sunday dinner of fresh ingredients and, after I cleaned up from dinner, I would turn off the lights and settle in with the radio just in time to relax to the variety of themed mood music that aired from the ‘Hearts of Space” San Francisco Bay-based studios. Then, thoroughly chilled out, I was ready for bed and to face a new week.
“Hearts of Space” has a simple format that has given me many hours of relaxation over more than thirty years now. After a soothing introduction by creator and host Stephen Hill, an hour of ambient or “space” music is blended and played with seamless transition. There is usually a thematic, seasonal, geographical, or instrumental through-line to the music geared toward relaxation and contemplation. I have been known to call the music “elevator music for Baby Boomers” but rarely have I heard a transmission of “Hearts of Space” that I did not enjoy.
“Hearts of Space” has introduced me to contemporary Native American artists, international music, electronic aural atmospheres, and a variety of experimental and avant-garde sounds in addition to a blend of traditional, classical, Celtic, and other sounds. I developed a passion for the sounds of Tibetan temple bells based on my exposure to “Hearts of Space.”
Kicking in around the midway point of each transmission is what Stephen Hill refers to as “the deep zone.” By that point in the broadcast, if the listener is giving his full attention, the worries and stresses of the week or day have lessened and the desired relaxation is achieved. It’s deep tissue massage for the brain. Finally, Stephen Hill’s calm voice is back, repeating the tracks and artists of the past hour and dispensing program information.
The show’s title was shortened to “Hearts of Space” somewhere along the way. I was hooked in the ’80s and I have been hooked ever since. Whenever I moved around the country over the years I would quickly locate a local public radio station and find out what time the show was broadcast. If my week isn’t launched with a “Hearts of Space” broadcast I feel that it has an off-kilter start. Because of the program’s sort of “hippy-dippy” nature, I used to regard it as sort of a guilty pleasure but I have been surprised over the years by how many people share my love for the broadcast and listen to it faithfully.
Over time it seems that fewer public radio stations broadcast “Hearts of Space” weekly but there is an online streaming audio service that provides access to what are now over a thousand hours of weekly broadcasts online (www.hos.com).
I frequently have “Hearts of Space” playing in my office and occasionally a student will look puzzled and ask what they’re listening to — especially when there are some of the more off-the-wall selections like music featuring whale calls (and there are occasionally those). “Hearts of Space” has become an ongoing source of exposure to artists or sounds I would not otherwise be exposed to.