The Best Music to Write By, Part II: Your Favorites Brought Together in a Special Playlist

Last Fri­day, we raised the top­ic of writ­ing to music, and we asked all of you out there what music you write to, if you write to music at all. The num­ber and vari­ety of your sug­ges­tions was a lit­tle over­whelm­ing, and very wel­come, and pro­vid­ed a wealth of rec­om­men­da­tions to put togeth­er into a playlist. There was quite a lot of agree­ment among you and a near-con­sen­sus on instru­men­tal music over vocal. But it also came as no sur­prise that Open Cul­ture read­ers’ tastes span a range of gen­res, cul­tures, and peri­ods and that every­one who wrote in seemed to raise the bar a lit­tle high­er for drop-dead gor­geous, med­i­ta­tive com­po­si­tions.

Out of all of your rec­om­men­da­tions, I have made a selec­tion of six­teen artists that I believe is rep­re­sen­ta­tive. (Apolo­gies if your sug­ges­tions didn’t make the cut—there’s bound to be some bias here). What­ev­er your pos­ture and pref­er­ence for vol­ume lev­els, light­ing arrange­ments, or time of day or night, you might try on each of these while you tap away at your lat­est piece of work. Who knows? You could strike a new rhythm, hit an unfa­mil­iar groove and shake out of a too-famil­iar rut, or shift the tem­po just so, change per­spec­tive, tem­per an unruly mood….

Or maybe just find some cool new music to dig while you cook din­ner.

Last week’s post began with Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, which I believe inspired some jazz lovers to com­ment. Komiska sug­gest­ed the top-notch Mod­ern Jazz Quartet’s ren­di­tion of “Lone­ly Woman” (above).

Bill Evans’ name also came up quite a bit in your sug­ges­tions. Below is his “You Must Believe in Spring.”

Min­i­mal­ist com­pos­er Steve Reich, and oth­er con­tem­po­raries of his like Philip Glass, got many a men­tion. Below is a live per­for­mance of the first two sec­tions of Reich’s Music for 18 Musi­cians.

Ambi­ent syn­the­siz­er music by the likes of the Scot­tish duo Boards of Cana­da, Tan­ger­ine Dream, for­mer Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, and Bri­an Eno came up quite a bit as well. Com­menter Emma Gray Munthe men­tioned the work of less famous but very influ­en­tial elec­tron­ic com­pos­er Jean Michel Jarre. Lis­ten to his ground­break­ing album Equinoxe below:

A few of you point­ed out that any kind of music serves to dis­tract from your process. Cheeky Michael West said as much and more how­ev­er with his lacon­ic ref­er­ence to John Cage’s 4’33″, the ulti­mate min­i­mal­ist com­po­si­tion. Below, lis­ten to (or observe, rather) an orches­tral inter­pre­ta­tion of Cage’s con­cept:

There were quite a few tra­di­tion­al­ists among you. Bach topped the list of com­posers and among clas­si­cal musi­cians, Glenn Gould’s name popped up sev­er­al times. Take them togeth­er in a ren­di­tion of Bach’s Vio­lin Sonata No. 4, per­formed by Gould and vio­lin­ist Yehu­di Menuhin.

The work of mod­ern Eston­ian com­pos­er Arvo Pärt came up quite a bit as well. Below, lis­ten to his 1977 Tab­u­la Rasa.

Com­menter Luke wrote that he likes to work to “a blast of noise” and rec­om­mend­ed Charles Mingus’s 1963 The Black Saint and the Sin­ner Lady as an exam­ple:

Miko sug­gests clas­si­cal Indi­an ragas of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Below is a won­der­ful record­ing of Shankar’s sitar work.

Part of the fun of com­pil­ing this list is redis­cov­er­ing old favorites, like Shankar, and also dis­cov­er­ing new ones. Enzo rec­om­mends the work of Argen­tine tan­go com­pos­er Astor Piaz­zol­la, which I imme­di­ate­ly fell in love with.  Below is “Spring” from his Sea­sons:

A num­ber of you men­tioned the most­ly-instru­men­tal “krautrock” of bands like Neu! and Faust. Lis­ten to a per­son­al favorite of mine, Neu!’s “Hal­lo­gal­lo”:

With­out bands like Neu!, there would doubt­less be no instru­men­tal “postrock” like that of God­speed You! Black Emper­or and Earth. Kat­ja wrote in with a late rec­om­men­da­tion for Japan­ese instru­men­tal rock band MONO.

In dark­er moods, the dron­ing ambi­ent sound col­lages of Demdike Stare might suit you. Alban Elfed sug­gests them to “help sat­u­rate the air” with an “occult vibe.”

South Africa’s Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo pro­vides what Paul says is good music for him to write to since it’s in a lan­guage he doesn’t under­stand and thus he “does not have to imag­ine what’s hap­pen­ing in [the] song’s plot.”

Joan rec­om­mends the dub reg­gae of King Tub­by. Take a lis­ten to his “Bad­ness Dub” below.

Last but not least comes Mark Knopfler’s “Pri­va­teer­ing,” from our own edi­tor.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.