Tranquil Trip

Katherine Kurner is a home-based massage therapist in Vista, California. She owns a 40-gig iPod. Kurner, 36, previously owned a Sony NW-HD1 20-gig player. She uses an adapter made by Apple so the Pod can play on her car's sound system and rips most of her selections by downloading songs onto her PC from her 1000-plus CD collection. Kurner does not file share or support free downloads, but she does admit to buying the occasional song online from the iTunes Music Store.

"I was originally motivated to become a massage therapist by my grandfather, who was a Cherokee medicine man. He told me at age seven that I had healing hands. Then, later, as my mother was nearing the end of her life...I gave her hours and hours of massage to try and bring her some relief from the pain she was experiencing due to breast cancer that had metastasized to bone cancer. After she passed away...I took a year off, moved to Switzerland. While there I took a Swedish massage course.

"When I first began doing massage therapy professionally, I had all my massage music stored on the hard drive of my computer in the therapy studio and I would play the music through the computer speakers. But I found, especially in the summer, that it got very warm in the room because of all the heat the computer generated. When I got the iPod I developed different massage playlists, and now I use that when I'm in my studio."

Is music for massage considered its own genre? "Over the past few years," Kurner says, "massage has become kind of a trend, so there are lots of CDs that are geared toward meditation and massage and the whole 'tranquil trip.' You have to keep it interesting. As a therapist who is seeing anywhere from two to four people a day -- most of my sessions are 90 minutes -- you're gonna go wacko if you're just listening to Enya over and over again. Pretty soon you're gonna have to hide the sharp objects."

Meaning that the music affects the masseuse as well?

"I don't know that it alters the [therapist]. But I do remember one mix," she says, "that had a faster song towards the end. I must have begun to pick up the tempo because my client asked me if I choreograph my massages with the music. 'No,' I said, 'not purposely.' And she said, 'I just kind of could feel that in the slower parts you were slower and in the faster parts you kind of picked up.' "

I ask Kurner if she's dropped any songs from the rotation over the years. "Yeah. I used to use Enigma quite a bit. I just found them to be a little too distracting, a little too uptempo. And there were parts in it that were, you know...a little too sexual, that I didn't really feel were appropriate. If you've ever heard Enigma, you know that there are parts in their songs where they're panting and, you know, moaning and groaning."

Any unique problems with using an MP3 player in the massage environment?

"When I was first learning to use the iPod, I didn't realize that...when one playlist would finish up, the iPod would continue playing into the next playlist. So one time when I was in the middle of a massage, 'Nature Sounds' came to an end and the iPod busts into [she half sings] 'I can't get no satisfaction...' " Did she speed up the massage? "No," she laughs. "I just said excuse me, we're experiencing technical difficulties and I rectified it.

"In order to make my playlist, the music has to transport you. It has to really take you away from your life, your stress -- whatever's bothering you." I ask her for some song titles. "A lot of it's really obscure," she says, perusing her list. "God, and I hate to say it, but there's this Yanni tune that's really good. I hate to endorse Yanni."

Katherine Kurner's Top Ten Massage Playlist:

1. "Bellissimo," Ilya

2. "Bread and Wine," Peter Gabriel

3. Sting's version of "My One and Only Love"

4. "Meditation," Michael Benghiat

5. "Fireworks," Moby

6. "Ancient Person of My Heart," Enigma

7. Norah Jones's version of "More Than This"

8. "Nature Sounds," Sounds of the Sea

9. "The Bricklayer's Beautiful Daughter," Will Ackerman

10. "Celestial Soda Pop," Ray Lynch

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