music for writing.

It’s difficult for me to read anything dense if there is music or other auditory distraction. Sometimes I’ll play nature sounds to drown out other sounds. Ocean and Storm are my favorites.

For writing, however, music is essential. Somehow having music playing entertains some over-analytical and busy part of my brain that gets in the way of pushing words out.

What works best for busying that part of my brain is instrumental (or mostly so–if the vocals mostly blend in, it’s ok) music without a strong beat or any abrupt changes. Complexity in the music is good, but it can’t be obvious about the complexity. This category ranges from insanely loud guitar rock to quiet ambient stuff. Here are some favorites:

Mogwai — This would represent the insanely loud guitar rock end of the spectrum. The Scottish guitar army. It was while writing and listening to their Happy Songs for Happy People that I realized how well this type of music works for me while writing. After completing a particularly long review, I couldn’t listen to Mogwai for months without feeling slightly ill. Now that I’ve collected more writing music, I love Mogwai again. [hear/buy]

Rhys Chatham
A Crimson Veil — A composition for 400 electric guitars, recorded live at Sacré Coeur in Paris. It was comissioned by the city of Paris for the Nuit Blanche Festival and performed in 2005. It is drony, shimmering, vast, and soaring. I wish I could have heard it live. [sample/buy elsewhere (i’m mad at emusic)]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
— another in kind of the same vein. [listen/buy]

Explosions in the Sky — I have several of their albums and they are all great for writing. They get accused of being Mogwai-ripoffs, so of course I would like it. [samples @ amazon]

Loop GuruThird Chamber and Loop Bites Dog — Electronic, trancy, world-music inspired. I love Loop Guru’s more energetic and bouncy albums like Amrita…All These & the Japanese Soup Warriors and Loopus Interruptus, but Third Chamber and Loop Bites Dog are very mellow and work great for writing. [listen/buy]

Yume Bitsu — More orchestral guitars. Here’s one description: “space-drone quartet Yume Bitsu play ambient rock music that could be the soundtrack to a psychedelic art film — or a psychotropically stimulated excursion into the deep space of consciousness.” That’s nice, but they have a 18 minute, 29 second song entitled “The Frigid, Frigid, Frigid Body of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg.” That is enough for me. [samples @ amazon]

7oi — A very recent find. 7oi is an electronic music composer from Iceland who makes up some of the best song titles ever. Much of this music is good for writing, but not all, so I pick and choose what goes on the playlist. [hear/buy]

Steve Roach
— “ambient-atmospheric-electronic music” [listen/buy]

Stars of the Lid
— “a duo specializing in drone-based ambient music” [listen/buy]

A mix: My friend Jens recently put together a mix called Shiver 2, which I’ve enjoyed for writing.

And there is more, but that’s all I’ll write about now because, er, I need to go actually do some writing.

9 thoughts on “music for writing.”

  1. My favorite music for writing/coding/working to is Robert Rich’s album ‘Trances and Drones’, which is exactly what the title says. It was recorded in ’81-’83, predating most all other ambient music, but I don’t think it’s ever been surpassed. It’s a double CD with six tracks, each about 25 minutes long.

    The CD is apparently out of print but you can buy the album online in MP3 or FLAC (and listen to excerpts too.)

  2. This is an interesting list.

    The best thing I’ve found for writing is Portishead. It’s dark and atmospheric and sexy and beautiful though her lyrics are not distracting. The song “Threads” with its long bellowing bass at the end or the incredibly slow build-up on “The Rip” are both perfect.

  3. It is amazing to find that music can help writing! I am an EFL writer. I feel hard to write in English rather than in my own mother tongue, Chinese.
    Could you tell me the ways music helps you to write?

    Thanks for your great help.


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