Music for Blogging

Seefeel’s QuiqueFor moments of concentration, when I want to be particularly productive in hammering out a paragraph of overly articulated prose, I set iTunes to play “Quique,” an album of ambient, droning sound-spaces by the English quartet Seefeel. It betrays the fact that I came into adulthood in the mid-1990s to say that, because if there ever was a height of that obscure band’s popularity, it was the last decade, when dissonant and amorphous sound structures became all the rage. Good times.

I cherish this album a lot, mostly because it almost never fails to help me turn out the distractions around me. Looking at my playlist in iTunes, the tracks from “Quique” are far and away the most frequently played from my library, and as I do increasingly more writing, they are becoming entrenched in their positions at the top of my charts. Over the years, I’ve become more and more reliant on it, almost to the point when I can’t write without playing it. I can actually design to just about anything playing on the radio or television, but when I need to form sentences and string them into coherent paragraphs, I’m almost duty-bound to put this album on and turn up the volume.

There’s an entire study field about strategies for writing that I’m barely familiar with, I know. People have all kinds of sophisticated tricks to help them make that singular mental shift into a writing mindset, and I’m sure putting on a particular album, like I do, is just one of the more primitive methods of managing one’s writing environment. Still, I that bet the army of bloggers out there who have become writers almost by accident have developed their own, ad hoc strategies for doing the same thing. If you’re one of those new breed of blog writers, I’d be very keen to hear about the methods you use. Maybe it’s also as simple as putting on a particular album, in which case I’m sure everyone would be interested to know which one it is, or maybe it’s something else that I could be doing instead of listening to these same nine tracks (as much as I care for them) over and over and over again?

  1. When I write I listen to the soundtrack for A Thin Red Line, dramatic I know, but it does the trick. And yes, there are a million different ways I attempt to get in the mood, very few of them work. Although reading what I wrote the previous day aloud works pretty well. I guess I talk to myself a lot while writing.

    The Insider is another good soundtrack for writing, by the way. If you like 90’s stuff check out the soundtrack for Heat.

  2. I love writing with music on, but I can’t concentrate if it’s coming out of my computer’s speakers. I have to have it “around” me somewhere. For some reason, music coming out of my computer screams “listen to me now!”, whereas from more distant speakers, the music’s message is more “I’m around. Listen or not, I don’t mind”.

    And stuff with lyrics is a no. Piano jazz generally does the trick.

    Go figure.

  3. When I need to write, I find the best music I could play is no music whatsoever. I tend to get the most writing done in noisy cafés, believe it or not.

    Music tends to be too distracting for me as I’m incapable of fully pushing any music into the background – another reason why I avoid trips to Walmart and its excruciatingly bad muzak. At the same time, I abhor silence. So the buzz of a café is a perfect balance.

    If I have to listen to anything, The Rachel’s or some piano-based jazz like Thelonious Monk or Bill Evans works great.

  4. When I want to get down to it I’ll play OSTs from certain films (my most common being Meet Joe Black and Gladiator), however I often just let Winamp play random tunes and work away.

  5. Khoi, you should definately check out Auburn Lull’s first album. I have a link to my favorite track from that album here.
    I listen to this album, along with alot of Boards of Canada and Brian Eno, when I work.

  6. I also tend to listen to a lot of ambient and atmospheric music when I write, design, program, etc. Seefeel is a fave, as is Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, July Skies, and pretty much anything else that’s been labelled “dreampop” or “shoegazer”. For me, there’s just something so evocative and intrinsically beautiful about this sort of music that I always feel inspired to do *something* when I hear it.

    And thanks for posting that Auburn Lull track – gorgeous stuff.

  7. I don’t have a certain music for writing, but when I really need to concentrate on design work I put on Pink Floyd’s Division Bell album. It’s atmospheric and the style seems to lend itself to creativity!

  8. Homeworld Soundtrack – came with the game. Good stuff. Also good for driving. Keeps you awake (ie, not too ambient), but you don’t end up going 95 in a 65 either.

  9. Most of the times I just find myself working in absolute silence. Since I’m into the high end audio hobby and all, it becomes quite a challenge for me to find “music for work” that doesn’t become distracting, since I can’t use just any music as background – I have to listen to it.

    However, I have found ambient drones and the like are perfect when I need to be concentrated and productive and silence (or rather lack thereof) just isn’t cutting it. So acts like Stars Of The Lid, Tom Heasley, Brian Eno and Markus Guentner are what makes the bulk of my iTunes playlist.

  10. “Maybe it’s also as simple as putting on a particular album, in which case I’m sure everyone would be interested to know which one it is, or maybe it’s something else that I could be doing instead of listening to these same nine tracks (as much as I care for them) over and over and over again?”

    Maybe you could try listening to Seefeel’s Polyfusia in addition to Quique. 😉

    I find soft lighting helps. As well as Filter Dub from Quique.

  11. The new Boards of Canada, as Sam said, is decent for writing, but I’m similar to beto, not in having a high-end audio as a hobby, but in never being able to fully push the music to the background. I’ve found that pink noise (generated by the excellent app Noise) somehow snaps my mind into a more focused state and helps it stay there for much longer periods of time. Anything else seems to be too distracting for long-term intensity.

  12. Hello Khoi. First time caller, long time listener here…

    First off I want to say that your layout is pretty much my favorite for blogs. I seriously love your use of the grid here. Clean structure and a remarkably appropriate use of rules are a personal favorite in styles.

    Secondly, I checked out those samples on iTunes and it’s some nifty stuff. I added the album to my shopping cart for a little splurging down the road.

    Some other albums that are similar that you may be interested in are Air (the Moon Safari album is the way to go) and Ray Lynch (the Deep Breakfast album is also recommended).

    *Sidenote: those links will open in iTunes, or at least they should

  13. Oh man, excellent choice. I love Seefeel. That’s awesome to hear you talking about them — so few people know them. I first heard them on Warp’s Artificial Intelligence II comp in, yikes, 1994 I think. If you don’t already have it, check out Polyfusia as well. Their stuff is perfect when you need to focus. Another good choice for that is Pan American’s 360 Business/360 Bypass.

  14. I forgot to mention in my earlier post:

    Isolжe – We are Monster (Review)

    Superb impish liquid funky house-infused-via-Morr-Music-Germanic-sharp-cuteness-type stuff. Really pumps me along and makes me far more productive, but is never overbearing (it’s far too wry for that).

  15. I have a similar strategy. I can code and design with any distraction in the background, usually iTunes set to a huge playlist on party shuffle (I do need noise though). But when it comes to writing, I need music with minimal or no vocals. For this I normally turn to Biosphere’s Patashnik, ambient electronica which envelopes me while I’m writing and acts as a buffer to the outside world.

  16. Thanks for the recommendation Khoi. I previewed Seefeel and bought it after listening to the first few tracks.

    It reminds me a little of my favourite work music: Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”. The opener on that album, “Xtal”, has exactly the right mix of beats and space for getting focused.

    I’d also like to second Ward’s recommendation for “Global Communication”, especially their “76:14” album. Beautiful stuff.

  17. Underworld-Everything, Everything. It may be a little too beat-tastic for some people, but I find a good, mid-tempo beat with some repetition and nonsese words just enough to quiet the voices in my head. Plus, it’s live, so there’s some nice crowd feedback which makes it a little less sterile. I’d also have to second the Aphex Twin suggestion by Mark.

  18. For most writing, including blogging, I can listen to any kind of music. When I’m really into the writing, I don’t really hear the music anyway. And when I do notice it and split my mental energy to listen, it’s not very hard to get back into what I’m writing.

    When I’m working on my novel, I don’t listen to much music. If I do, it almost always has to be something instrumental. I’ll put on some jazz, preferable traditional jazz as opposed to synthesizer-heavy contemporary jazz.

    Often, I’ll play music from a movie soundtrack in the background. Listening to “scene music” sometimes has a profound effect on the scene I’m writing. For a long time, Eric Clapton’s soundtrack for “Rush” was a huge favorite of mine, and I still return to it often.

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