What music puts you in the mood to write? At the moment, I have on Alice Coltrane’s “Battle at Armageddon” from her 1971 Universal Consciousness, a work of psychedelic free jazz that makes my fingers skitter over the keyboard and sends thoughts racing through my mind. Should Coltrane’s mystic jazz counter the mood I want to summon, I might find something less syncopated, more lugubrious, ominous, melancholy, serene, etc. (Perhaps Grouper’s atmospheric suite of reverb-drenched tone-poems The Man Who Died in His Boat.)
This interaction between the ears, the fingers, and the writing mind struck our interest back in 2012, and we put out a call to readers to suggest the best pieces of music to write by. Some readers found that silence made for the best—or only—accompaniment. Many more made recommendations ranging from Miles Davis, to minimalist composer Steve Reich, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, the classic Krautrock sound of Neu!, the dub reggae of King Tubby, the violin Sonatas of Bach, and the ambient soundscapes of Brian Eno. We took it upon ourselves to compile a sampling of your suggestions with Youtube videos at the time. Now we offer above a more portable Spotify version of our “music to write by” playlist—over 13 hours of music. (Stream it above. Or find it online here. If you need to download Spotify, grab the software here.) I’ve added Alice Coltrane, Grouper, and the beautiful …Until We Felt Red (2006) from one of my favorite guitarists, Kaki King.
I hope this playlist inspires you, or at least inspires you to make your own. While it could go on indefinitely, the key to a good mixtape is the art of judicious selection. Please tell us in the comments, what would you absolutely have to add? What artists, composers, and musicians get you in the mood to write, help you shift tempos, or move you from major to minor keys while you compose, whether you write nonfiction, poetry, technical manuals, or the Great American Whatever? We’ll add many of your suggestions to the playlist over the next few days.