Woman sitting on the floor working on a laptop

Music for working

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Speed Reading Mode

Mostly I use my Bose noise-cancelling headphones without listening to music at all (see my earlier post, how to concentrate on writing). Sometimes, however, music is essential to my working from home life. I listen to different kinds of music depending on how I'm doing: wake up, get started, keep going, calm down, concentrate etc. Here is a list of my top ten, but what works for you?

Music to work to 

  • Jazz mix tape: what Alistair Cooke described as the aristocracy of American Music: Earl Hines, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Also Bennie Goodman (Sing, Sing, Sing, With a Swing especially).
  • Flamenco guitar: Angel Romero, Paco Lucia etc. This is lovely to listen to. Lighter than classical music and more energising.
  • Foreign lyrics: I generally try to avoid music with lyrics that hook my attention. I love Joni Mitchell, for example, but if I listen to California I stop working and start listening. So, I prefer MC Solaar (French rap), Madredeus (Portugese Fados), Seu Jorge's covers of Bowie songs from The Life Aquatic (good songs, poor film), Caetano Veloso etc.
  • Wu-Tang Clan: it comes as a big surprise to people (me, especially) that I like rap music so much. Oddly, some of it, the Wu in particular, are good background for certain kinds of writing. Perhaps the beats synchronise the heart and typing. I don't know. It works for me when I need more energy. In particular: Enter the Wu-Tang and RZA's soundtrack for Ghost Dog.
  • Brian Eno: Apollo Atmosphere and Soundtracks are very good. Haunting. Remind me of the Apollo documentary. I have pictures of the two Apollo astronauts I have met - Buzz Aldrin and Charlie Duke - by my desk. I find anything space-related inspirational.
  • Cocteau Twins: Takes me back to my school days when I used to listen to it while I was doing my homework.
  • Classical: Bach is good writing music. My favourites: Six suites for solo cello performed by Yo-Yo Ma and The English Suites performed by Murray Perahia. But I don't listen to a lot of classic musical.
  • Modern classical: More to my taste is Philip Glass* (Mishima, in particular is good for pumping the blood), Michael Nyman (Alexander Balanescu's solos on Zoo Caprices are astonishing) etc. Incidentally, Glass wrote that he trained himself to compose every morning, whether he felt like it or not.

* I quite like this Philip Glass gag I found on the internet:

- Knock Knock.
- Who's there?
- Knock Knock.
- Who's there?
- Knock Knock.
- Who's there?
- Knock Knock.
- Who's there?
— Philip Glass.

Music can lift your day, which is why silent offices are not for us at Articulate. We all work remotely, so can head-bang to heavy metal or bop to pop all we like, in the comfort of our own homes. Now, doesn't that sound like a happy company?

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