Music that Taps your Creativity/Motivation?
February 26, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I need some recommendations for music to unleash the creative writer within. I get my best writing (indeed, my best work of any sort) done when I put on massive headphones and close out the rest of the world. That said, silence makes me sad, so I need a soundtrack to drive the creative process.

I'm not looking to be inspired by the music's message, per se. In fact, I'd probably prefer something non-English (foreign language or instrumental). Carmina Burana and Axelle Red got me through late night college writing/studying ... but I want something new!

So tell me - what music breaks down the walls of writer's block and keeps your momentum going strong during the creative process?
posted by roundrock to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with something non english. I find words hard to write when I'm listening to other words. Overly complicated music takes too many brain cycles, so I shy away from Rush and Tool.

Try Two Siberians. They play an acoustic guitar and electric violin. I saw them open for TMBG in 2003 and they were one of the best musical experiences I've ever had. Best of all, all their music is available for free. Start with Out of the Woods.
posted by valadil at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm also a writer and like to use a variety of ambient music. One of my enduring favorites is "Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics," a collaboration between Brian Eno and the jazz trumpeter Jon Hassell. For that matter, almost anything Eno in his ambient mode is connected with works for me. The Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's movie soundtracks are also good, in my case particularly the ones for "Derrida" and "Love Is the Devil." I share your preference for non-English-language recordings and instrumentals, by the way.
posted by mrdemills at 10:08 AM on February 26, 2009

I assume when you say the Burana, you mean Orff's work: what about revisiting the original?
Corvus Corax wrote an opera based on the Burana Codex. I think they have a second album of the same or similar as of recently. They're a german band, playing medieval instruments & tunes, sometimes with some metal woven in.

Alternatively, I always have found Mogwai to be good when I need to work without lyrics to distract.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not a writer, but I am in a creative field that requires me to bust through some road blocks from time to time.

I find that I'm able to get the creative juices flowing while listening to music as long as I'm able to keep the music fresh. I find myself going through two or three week blocks of listening to mostly one type of music and then I switch to something new after that period.

There's a classical music compilation on Itunes ("The 50 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music") that I got for $9.99. 50 tracks, several hours long. I combined this with Mogwai, the Rachel's, Kronos Quartet, and Mum to provide a soundtrack that got me through a pretty big block this past Summer.
posted by tommccabe at 10:13 AM on February 26, 2009

For instrumental, you should check out Zoe Keating.
posted by mattbucher at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2009

Awesome question. I have the same issues. One thing I use for ambient music is from a meditation podcast called Meditation Oasis. They have a thirty minute track that's just music. Yeah it's New Agey, but it does the trick.

The other items on here sound great, though.
posted by world b free at 10:17 AM on February 26, 2009

I too find that instrumental music helps with writing, less words to distract. I've been listening to a lot of Sound Tribe Sector 9 lately while writing memos and briefs for law school. They've got a hippy/electronica thing going on if that piques your interest. Best part is, you can find live shows to download for free here. Lots of different formats to choose from and the whole Archive is great in general for free music. Hope this helps.
posted by friendlyjuan at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2009

I vacillate between heavy, droning stuff like Jesu and Isis and ambient sound loops. For the latter, I use Raindrop and the sound loops from the Buddha Machine. There's also ambient music; I've always been a fan of Aphex Twin, personally.
posted by sinfony at 10:36 AM on February 26, 2009

nthing Mogwai. I would also recommend any Explosions in the Sky album for epic and inspiring instrumentals or Sigur Ros for non-english vocals. Movie scores also work well for me; right now the Dark Knight is on my current music rotation.
posted by theDrizzle at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2009

There's a lot on mefi music if you want to poke around there. I like Jchgf and god particle's stuff.

Also instrumental hip-hop is pretty good at setting a creative mood for me, especially J Dilla.

Finally, Do Make Say Think might be right up your alley. My favourite track to put on repeat is Soul and Onward.
posted by saxamo at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2009

When I would actually make an effort to study in college, I loved having Stereolab playing in the background. The lead mostly sings in French, and it's quirky and peppy enough to satisfy my need for good quality noise without distracting me by making me want to sing along.
posted by scarykarrey at 10:59 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like certain kinds of techno for this. I don't know the names of the different sub-genres very well, but I think that what I like is goa/trance. There are loads of internet radio stations -- look at the electronica and ambient channels on iTunes. I'm a particular fan of Philosomatika though it's a little much for first thing in the morning....
posted by kestrel251 at 11:04 AM on February 26, 2009

Writing fiction: movie scores. The original soundtracks of the three Lord of the Rings movies work pretty well for me.

Writing non-fiction (currently a treatise about some judicial aspects of information security): Bach's Brandenburg concerts, or anything else from roughly the same period.
posted by rjs at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2009

I used to never listen to music while doing anything else except listening to music. But a while back, when I was writing in coffee shops and needed some drown-out sounds, I started listening to Brian Eno and Harold Budd's "The Pearl" while I wrote. Now it's almost become a Pavlovian thing: When I hear that music I get transported into that "writer mode" (and especially into the world of the thing I was working on when I first started having The Pearl CD as my background music) and feel itchy to get to work.
posted by mothershock at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2009

You should consider Eyvind Kang, maybe The Story of Iceland or Virginal Co Ordinates, but that might be a little too musicy. I like working to his album Live Low to the Earth in the Iron Age but it is hard to find. I also listen to a lot of gamelan (Javanese, *not* Balinese; the latter is very fast-paced and intense) while I am working, and I strongly recommend the series Gamelan of Central Java. It's very subtly patterned and I find it takes over a certain part of my brain that ordinarily interferes with writing but leaves the worky parts untouched.

In fact I think I might put some o' that on right now and get back to work.

Other stuff to try: dub (esp. Dub Trio, or any modern dub with no vocals), Phillip Glass (I like Akhnaten myself), instrumental metal (e.g. Red Sparowes or Isis), ambient-period Eno, classical Japanese music.
posted by alexwoods at 11:55 AM on February 26, 2009

Miles Davis does it for me. Particularly Kind of Blue.
posted by te1contar at 11:56 AM on February 26, 2009

I can't listen to any music that's even remotely familiar while writing. Even if it's instrumental. After a while, I'm mentally humming notes.

So I've started listening to the stream over at Streaming Soundtracks. They have thousands of tracks from movies, anime, and video games. (All requestable as well.) There's a built-in system to avoid repeats and since their library is so vast, I rarely hear anything familiar and get exposed to lots of new stuff in the process.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2009

Seconding Drizzle on Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros, specifically the albums The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and ( ), respectively.
posted by shadowfelldown at 12:16 PM on February 26, 2009

Bedhead/The New Year work for me.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:25 PM on February 26, 2009

For a while Peter Gabriel's album Passion did well for me. It's (sort of) his soundtrack to the film Last Temptation of Christ, and I don't think there is a recognizeable word out of the whole thing.

I love the music just generally as well. If I ever am fortunate enough to have a wedding there's a track I want to use as the recessional.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on February 26, 2009

Along the same lines as Explosions in the Sky: Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Wait for it. It's totally worth it.
posted by scarykarrey at 1:19 PM on February 26, 2009

Wolfgang Voigt's GAS does wonders for my focus, but also doubles as great foreground ambient music as well. I know that sounds impossible. The good news is all his once-rare recordings were recentlyreleased as a 4-disc box set. It's really wonderful stuff.
posted by activitystory at 2:01 PM on February 26, 2009

I dunno if this would fit your style at all... "Neroli" by Brian Eno. As I recall when I first heard about it, this was sort of specifically designed to be background sound for creative or attention-requiring efforts. It's about 58minutes of almost random ambient tones. I've put it on when writing or reading sometimes, and it's really good - it fills the sonic space so you're not in stark silence, nor distracted by random noises from outside or whatever, but there's no "melody" to pull attention from what you're doing, nor words of any kind.

Also, you might consider Bach. Or maybe even some Philip Glass?
posted by dnash at 6:39 PM on February 26, 2009

I find that Soma FM does the trick, especially drone zone. I have to use the latter in moderation or risk working too long.
posted by yath at 9:12 PM on February 26, 2009

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