Music While You Work?

Media, Observatory


Does reading or writing require total silence, or is it helped by music? There are albums you’re meant to play to unborn children or when you’re studying that are supposed to help you relax or increase concentration, but there’s no scientific basis for that. It’s mainly a question of preference. I always play music while I’m writing, although my brain can’t handle lyrics because I cannot screen out voices. It was always said that the perfect audience for Radio One was someone working in a biscuit factory. A mindless job could provide a perfect canvas for pop music.

I’ve tried most kinds of music while I write, and always come back to soundtrack composers or modern instrumentalists. There are composers who seem to enhance writing and reading. I remember playing the soundtrack to the underrated ‘Mary Reilly’ when I was reading ‘From Hell’, and it powerfully enhanced the visuals.

So let me recommend some listening for readers and writers:

Wim Mertens is a composer whose strange, circular instrumentals fit words well. There are an awful lot of albums by him, and many duplicate the same tracks, so it’s tricky collecting him. Both he and Michael Nyman have been used by Peter Greenaway for his film scores. Similarly Nyman can be both strident and calm. I have an exclusive album by him called ‘Sublime’ which is just that, and perfect for working to

Roque Banos is a  Spanish soundtrack composer whose music can break your heart, ranging from ‘Las 13 Rosas’ to the remake of ‘Oldboy’, and his albums are tonally of a piece, so they don’t need editing. Much of Alexandre Desplat’s music is wonderful – his Hollywood work is more formulaic – Hollywood favouring a densely layered sound – but his European scores are often wonderful. Listen to his score for Philomena’ and you’ll hear a two-note clue to the film’s subject matter – very clever.

Ennio Morricone is still scoring, and his soundtrack to ‘The Best Offer’, I film I enjoyed despite its polyglot scripting, reflects the subject – painting – and echoes his score about another painting, Dario Argento’s ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’. Philippe Rombi’s soundtracks are not unlike Desplat’s. He’s unafraid to work with small orchestras and simple orchestrations. Particularly ‘Dans La Maison’ and ‘Joyeux Noel’ are superb.

I had high hopes for David Arnold after his pastiche John Barry scores for Bond, until I realised that pastiching is really all he does, but Thomas Newman brought something fresh to ‘Skyfall’, and has an excellent back catalogue of soundtracks.

I keep all of these soundtracks on CDs because I’ve lost so much music in the Cloud lately, but the news that the iPod is to be discontinued is disastrous for collectors. The problem is that the iPod doesn’t have Airplay and needs hardwiring into sound systems. But my phone won’t hold a fraction of the music my iPod holds.  If you’re serious about music and play it a lot, what are you supposed to keep it on?

It’s one thing for technology to force us to Cloud storage but another if there’s no portable way of moving it around. I’m not about to start carrying my laptop with me just to play music. All suggestions/ solutions welcome!

13 comments on “Music While You Work?”

  1. Keith Page says:

    Maybe a lowbrow taste, but nothing beats Hank Marvin on a Fender Stratocaster.

  2. Peter Lee says:

    Regarding the cloud side of things I joined Google Play Music All Access. £9 per month (was £7.99 when I joined as an early adopter) and you get all the usual Spotify-style streaming malarkey, plus you can take stuff from the cloud offline, “pinning” it to your device be it a laptop, a tablet of a phone, so you can get to it without internet connectivity, which is useful for when you’re travelling. On top of that, even without paying, you can store up to 20,000 of your own tracks in the cloud – that’s 20,000 tracks, not x amount of gigabytes – which is a real boon. Well worth a look.

  3. snowy says:

    Resisting the wide open chance to have a pop at the wild and wacky world of fruit based products.

    Assuming that:
    A person would carry ‘pod anyway in addition to ‘phone.

    There is a well known company that make wireless flash drives. Similar in size and shape to normal thumb drives, so wouldn’t spoil the line of a pocket.

    Capacity about 64GB [current models, this might increase]. Will stream to the usual devices [and depending on the precise hardware config of the Home Hi-Fi might even plug straight in there].

    The theory goes, [I’ve no HW to test this on], load the tunes on the stick, pop that in a pocket/bag and use the ‘phone as a media player to enjoy the tracks on the whatnot.

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    In the last two decades or so, I’ve come to appreciate my classical music much more than my 30s to 60s jazz or my 60/70/80s pop. But I can’t write to the classics, particularly the Baroque, as it is too involving. (A lot of pop listened to when I had homework though.)
    So, it’s a rather quiet place around here when I write. I do take breaks though and watch the squirrels sitting on the deck railing watching me: tails nicely curled, heads slightly lowered, front paws together. Give each one a saffron robe, beads, and a bowl and you’d almost think you were living near a wat. (And, yes, these are the grey squirrels of dark fame.)

  5. admin says:

    In one respect I’m old school – I burn a copy of everything I like enough to download. Much of what I listen to is so obscure that it’s not listed online anywhere, though, and that’s where the Cloud lets me down. I have to find the CD in another country, then upload it.

  6. Mim says:

    I keep CDs of everything too – I just don’t trust the permanence of the Cloud. It’s why I keep hard copies of books I especially like, in addition to owning a Kindle. (Yes, all my Fowlers are in hard copy!) iPods will still work after the hardware’s been discontinued, won’t they?

    I work in an open-plan office, and use my iPod to stop myself spending the day ‘meerkatting’ at everyone who walks by. Most days it’s swing, 20s jazz or rockabilly, but Friday is Bond Themes Day. And I’ve been on a Julie London kick lately, her stuff’s nice and smooth for working to.

  7. Alan G says:

    Just like to point out that I spent yesterday lovingly restoring an ancient creaking record player. Yes – an actual record player.

    And, yes, that was Elvis at full blast.

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    An enjoyable discussion. And part of the enjoyment of a collection of music is having it in many differencing formats that can still play be played. (Way to go Alan.)
    When I was a kid, I bought a lot of WWII music on red label His Master’s Voice from you know where. Since then I’ve gone through every new format there has been and kept it all, except 8-track.
    I download some music, but miss not having liner notes, etc. And finding a specific part of a track to listen to just isn’t as easy as lowering a stylus onto a disc groove So hip-hip for well-kept vinyl. Although listening to 78s is a very healthful thing: all up-down, turn the platter, up-down, change the platter. Changers are fine, too, but by now the discs are old.
    Music and the equipment it’s played on is great fun.

  9. Vivienne says:

    I’ve decided I’m not very musical – I like it, and various types from early classic, via jazz, Elvis, even some modern, but do not find I buy much/download/or have a iPod, which speaks for itself. On the other hand, I did start an analogue collection: this was a small notebook I wrote the lyrics in so I could sing when I was out walking.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Right on, Vivienne. I’m all for analog myself, although the 78s and 33s are a lovely way to spend the evening. There is a lovely record store downtown which has a special section to handle vinyl. They will buy as well as sell. I’ll bet other cities have similar stores if you look for them.
    One piece of furniture in our living room is a cabinet wind-up gramophone. You can regulate the volume by opening or closing the louvres on the front. We don’t use it generally because the steel needles (which you can also buy) will wear out the record fairly quickly we’re sure.

  11. snowy says:

    On the subject of LPs [Deep English]
    At the weekend I was prevailed upon to explain the arcane antics of George ‘Porky’ Peckham to someone born in the 21st century. [I did try to put them off but they were in earnest.]

    On matters Cloud-y

    a) Cloud storage, you can do whatever you want to do however you want to do it.

    b) iCloud, you can do whatever you want to do provided Apple lets you.

    c) iTunes [inc. Match service] see (b) above, but only in the country you first registered in. [And if you try to do anything else they will make it very very difficult.]

    [Nothing against Apple it’s a product of both the biz model and managing artist rights, I’m surprised it works as well as it does.]

  12. Jo W says:

    No suggestions from me for carrying music around,except in one’s head. My very varied music is to be found on CDs,cassettes and yes,vinyl. Plus all the machines to play them on too. I also can only concentrate on reading or writing when there are no lyrics to distract. That’s why I just turned off the TV,so that I could comment!

  13. snowy says:

    Touching on a remark by our metallic friend in the hoopy frock. iPods will carry on until either the in-built battery pack dies or Apple discontinues the software that allows transfers.

    There is no sensible reason why ‘phones can’t have the same storage as an ‘pod.

    But when the only difference between ‘phone models is the storage space [eg. 5S comes in 16,32 and 64GB] and people will happily hand over an extra £100+ to have a extra/different chip [cost less than £4] pre-installed. Who wants to slaughter the goose?

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