Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The music says nothing to me about my life

Although my musical tastes are never cutting-edge, I'm even less adventurous when I'm working. I like to have music on in the background when I'm writing--but the key word is background: nothing that moves from loud to soft extremes; nothing too lyrically complicated; nothing that draws too much attention to itself. But it also has to be something that I genuinely enjoy. Because here's the thing: when I'm in the middle of a writing project, I can listen to the same three-to-five albums, by the same artist, for hours every day, for weeks straight. It's some combination of superstition, hypnotism, and OCD.

For at least the past five years, my standbys have been Bill Evans (better for fall and winter) and Stereolab (spring and summer). But this week something made me drag out my collection of Smiths CDs. The Smiths, you understand, were probably my favorite band from about the ages of 16 to 22. I rarely listen to them any more--but it turns out that although I used to have an intense emotional relationship to their music, it's now. . . backgroundish. I know every word and guitar riff so thoroughly that they give me pleasure without requiring much attention. (And as my college roommate--not a fan--pointed out long ago, there isn't really a lot of musical range there.)

And so, just like that, I've expanded my work-music repertory by 50%.

What do you listen to as you work--or do you?


Andrea said...

While writing my masters thesis I listened to the Edie Brickell album incessantly. I just recently reserected it to listen to while doing research. Classical conditioning do your stuff!

Walt Richmond said...

If I listen to music when I work it's usually Ravi Shankar, but generally I'm too easily distracted by music to work while it's playing.

Flavia said...


Classical conditioning for sure. Hope it works!


Funny. I have a hard time reading with music on--especially if it's something scholarly, though I really don't want music on when I'm reading a novel, either--but I can handle certain kinds of music for writing. It's just an extremely limited range.

undine said...

If I'm writing: Classical music, baroque or equivalent in the morning shading into the romantics in the afternoon and into space music in the evening. Very important: no singing. Nothing too loud or stressful.

If I'm doing repetitive tasks, grading, etc.: Something not classical--blues, jazz, rock.

Fretful Porpentine said...

I don't put music on when I read or write because I will tune out the music, and there is no point in listening to music you will not actually hear. I can listen to it just fine when I'm cooking, though, which one would think takes about the same amount of concentration.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

When I was writing my dissertation, I wrote to REM's Automatic for the People on repeat. These days, I have a playlist called "Work Mozart," which has a couple of concertos on it. I listen to that on repeat for pretty much all my work now -- writing, grading, whatever. As soon as I hear the opening chords, I am in the zone. It's conditioning I guess.

Renaissance Girl said...

The Smiths as background music? Oh, Flavia.

Work music: all baroque, all the time, the mathier the better. Otherwise, I will stop typing at the least provocation and get up & dance. Because (h/t Dead Milkmen) I'll dance to anything.

Flavia said...

I should add that I'm obsessed with getting the volume exactly right, too--one notch too loud and I absolutely CANNOT concentrate; one notch too soft and it doesn't do the ambient mood-setting thing I need.

It's lucky that I have a driving commute to work, or else I'd never be able to listen to the music I most like (genre not totally important, but complicated lyrics and driving rhythms are).


I regret to say that I returned to a different writing project this weekend and the Smiths aren't working AT ALL--there goes that theory. (Also, aw! DM.)