A RELATIVELY NEW musical form is on the rise. Dubbed "trance music" by some, "new age music" by others, it combines electronic instruments with traditional acoustic sounds, creating a sense of well-being, even euphoria. Some of the genre's founders and well-known practitioners include Kitaro, Vangelis, Harold Budd and almost anyone on the Windham Hill label. Here's a sampling of sounds that soothe as they stimulate:
DANIEL LENTZ -- "On the Leopard Altar" (Icon 5502). Playfully merging jazz, classical, pop and electronic music, Lentz uses humor and daring to create his dense, pulsing, textured sound. Dominated by repetitive keyboard patterns and piping, wordless vocals, Lentz's music, on first listen, bears a strong resemblance to the work of Philip Glass. But it is more melodically diversifed, full of flashing electronic colors and tunes that dart and veer off at sharp angles. There are many serene passages as well -- "Lascaux" is a particularly lovely piece performed entirely on tuned wine glasses that hum and ping; and "Requiem" features soprano Jessica Lowe singing alone in a cathedral, while church bells create a countermelody.
SOLISTI NEW YORK -- John Adams' "Grand Pianola Music" and Steve Reich's "Eight Lines" (EMI/Angel DS-37345). Though it's technically not "new age" music, Adams' minimalist work is relaxing and involving. The name of the 50- minute "Pianola" piece reflects the ripply, old-fashioned effect derived from the technique of two pianos playing the same notes, but slightly out of synch. The music is often grand and stately, but Adams maintains a sense of humor -- around the corner comes a full-blown parade, with marching band brass and big booming bass drums. Reich's "Eight Lines" is an exted chamber piece with lively flute and piano skittering over the sustained wind and string drone lines like water droplets on a hot griddle.
TRI ATMA WITH KLAUS NETZLE -- "Yearning & Harmony" (Fortuna FOR-LP016). This is soothing atmospheric pop that travels to the Orient via California. Tabla (water drum) and other Eastern percussion devices percolate happily beneath acoustic guitar, as a cheery electronic Fairlight coos and burbles and sighs above it all. On the particularly engaging "The Grotto," the group manipulates the percussive sound of water dripping as a central instrument. This music is equally happy when half-heard as background music or when listened to with concentration.
ARVO PART -- "Tabula Rasa" (ECM 25011-1F). A calming but eerie stillness pervades this collection featuring some top jazz and classical names. Violinist Gidon Kremer teams his nimble tones with delicate, hesitant piano from Keith Jarrett on "Fratres," a stately piece that is reconsidered later by the 12 cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. And the "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten," performed by the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, is stirring music imbued with a subtle melancholy; a mournful melodic declension is repeated slowly as distant tolling bells echo.
KITARO -- "Oasis" and "Silk Road II" (Gramavision/Gravity 18-7020-1 and 18-7011-1). Two new ones from the master (and biggest seller) of the genre. Performing on almost every brand of synthesizer yet invented, plus acoustic guitar and discrete drums, Japanese-born Kitaro writes and produces his serene, melodic music singlehandedly. Both albums are structured as suites, with one melody fading into the next like stages in a dream. "Oasis" incorporates cheerful water sounds -- hushed surf, trickling water, splashing fountains -- as a starting point for its rhythms; "Silk Road II" is more serene and delicate, with hints of Oriental spices. (I accidentally played "Oasis" at 45 rpm, and didn't notice my mistake till it was time to flip the record -- proof that Kitaro's stuff is safe at any speed.)
DORIS HAYES AND OTHERS -- "Sleepers" (Finnadar 7 90266-1). This record proclaims itself "lull music" right out front, and it works. Still, it's worth staying awake and concentrating on this collection of unconventional lullabyes by modern composers. Particularly good are Annea Lockwood's "Malolo," which mingles electronic tones with mellifluous Samoan words for sleep, and Daniel Goodes' odd, funny "The Red and White Cows," with slow patterns for viola and piano that shift and recombine in hypnotic mathematical structures.