I need to listen to something interesting. But not too interesting.
April 13, 2010 11:51 AM   Subscribe

I need to listen to something interesting. But not too interesting. What can I do for non-distracting but not boring background noise while working?

I listen to music and I put on movies that I've seen before, but it seems like I spend excessive amounts of times finding the background noise that I need to facilitate work. Where can I got to quickly find some background noise that relieves the staring at the blank screen syndrome without becoming a distraction? Ideally, this would be something that I could access both at home and when I'm alone in the office (my office is pretty liberal about web browsing and music).
posted by _cave to Work & Money (58 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
A few months ago I asked friends for suggestions of music that fit this bill, and everyone recommended Four Tet. I don't know where you'd go for this (other than something like Pandora), but Four Tet on my iPod helps me stay productive.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:55 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Boards of Canada, Tin Hat Trio, Blue States, DJ Shadow -- these are my go-to artists when I'm trying to concentrate on something.
posted by davejay at 11:59 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of jazz for background music.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2010

I really find that listening to upbeat music in a language that I do not entirely understand works for me. So sometimes I tune in to the Iranian Radio station in iTunes, or yesterday I was listening to Rachid Taha on repeat. I do also listen to a lot of Four Tet and have friends who are into electronica suggest stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I like Acoustic Alchemy for this purpose. Mellow, pleasant, but definitely not boring.
posted by Citrus at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2010

I find that Thievery Corporation, at the right volume, can have that "barely there" effect while still being interesting. Also, seconding DJ Shadow.
posted by mireille at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2010

What works for me is Bach's solo piano pieces performed by Glenn Gould. At just the right volume, it helps to induce my concentration without overpowering my thought processes.
posted by cazoo at 12:07 PM on April 13, 2010

Maybe Iridian Radio?
posted by wittgenstein at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2010

I also reccomend foreign language stuff. I also find I get sick of it less quickly, you can't tell if the lyrics are dumb if you can't tell what they're saying.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:09 PM on April 13, 2010

Infected Mushroom, though it might be a bit too much. For good background stuff there is always Reiki music
posted by pyro979 at 12:09 PM on April 13, 2010

When I have to super concentrate, I can only listen to classical, but when I'm just having a normal day, I like to listen to supper club music. That and the Beatles.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:12 PM on April 13, 2010

The Sea & Cake, the aforementioned Thievery Corporation, and Bill Evans, are my go-to sources for this kind of music.

Also, if you are into it, Eno's Music for Airports is the granddaddy of contemporary ambient music, and pretty much ideal for this kind of thing.
posted by Chrischris at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend going through the radio stations on iTunes. Once you spend a little time doing this, you'll learn the stations you like and won't have to search through it again.

Also, WBER is a generally good radio station that streams online.

NPR is good/interesting background noise also though I've never tried streaming it. It looks like you can stream stuff here.
posted by wondermouse at 12:18 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I'm cranking on a deadline, I need familiar, repetitive, rhythmic music with lyrics. For the repetition and the familiarity are what make it non-distracting. For this I like a Pandora station based on Daft Punk. It gives me a ton of melodic electronica, plus Kanye West and Girl Talk.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:26 PM on April 13, 2010

I have two sources for this sort of thing: the ambient or folk tag on Last.fm (if you have an XBox or other came console you can pump it through your stereo/TV speakers, which is nice and background-like, or you can just listen online anywhere), and the MeFi Music playlists that I've created or found here. There's quite a bit of really good, mellow, interesting music you MeFites make. I find it's nice because I still feel socially connected, yet I'm alone, focused, and productive (without being distracted).
posted by iamkimiam at 12:27 PM on April 13, 2010

Soma.FM seem to still be doing their thing.
posted by philip-random at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Husky Rescue, Röyksopp, Erlend Oye all work for me.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:38 PM on April 13, 2010

In general, I listen to all kinds of music, but what works best for me as background music is KBRD.org. They bill themselves as "America's 9th best station" :)
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:40 PM on April 13, 2010

second on jazz...not modern experimental, but good old-fashioned swing...

i used to have a chinese classical music station on my itunes, but i cant seem to find it anymore...chinese clssical music is rad.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2010

Do you mind classical music? I listen to the Brandenburg Concertos nonstop while working. I find it actually helps me concentrate.
posted by theredpen at 12:53 PM on April 13, 2010

Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Boards of Canada all fit the bill, especially if you happen to prefer modern alternative music over Jazz or classical.

The specific genre you're looking for is loosely defined as "Post Rock"

Pandora/Grooveshark/Amazon can help you fill in more similar music based upon your particular likes/dislikes, as long as you provide them with a good starting point.
posted by schmod at 12:53 PM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding Boards of Canada and Royksopp.

For me, the Scandinavians, French, Scots and Germans have cornered the market on tranquilizing background music: Air, Mogwai, Sigur Ros, M83, mum, Apparat, Styrofoam, and the rest of the MORR Music catalogue. I also favour The Knife and Justice, but that's because I like shrieky and repetitive electro.

For acoustic stillness: Kings of Convenience, Elliott Smith and Carla Bruni.

I have spent the last three years carefully tweaking my work Pandora station around Royksopp's "What Else is There?"
posted by superquail at 12:54 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Soundtracks of movies that you like.
posted by bettafish at 12:56 PM on April 13, 2010

somafm.com is awesome. I used to listen to the Groove Salad station religiously while at work, but recently they've had a few extra vocals that seem to distract me. I've moved on the the 'Space Station'. It's available everywhere you can find an internet connection, in multiple stream formats. You learn to turn out the occasional "please support us with $$" blurbs pretty quickly (unfortunately for them). I bought the iPhone app, so now I don't feel bad.
posted by cgg at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2010

I tend to like electronica/dance music, and have settled on two internet radio stations: Soma FM's Groove Salad and Nathan Hale High School's C89.5.

I have also gradually built up a collection of specific MP3s that fit the bill for me. I have them all on a playlist in iTunes, which is at about two hours of listening time now. Sometimes I'll start the shuffle, and when it ends I know it's time to take a break.
posted by ErikaB at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2010

One word: Bach.
posted by valkyryn at 1:06 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about solo output from Graham Coxon , Blur guitarist? I put his albums on shuffle whilst working, and manage to get more done than listening to anything else.
posted by suzie sooze at 1:12 PM on April 13, 2010

Pat Metheny - One Quiet Night (acoustic guitar)

Gretchen Parlato (mellow vocal jazz)

Isan (instrumental electronica)

Enrico Pieranunzi (pianist whose style is kind of a jazz/classical hybrid)

As far as playing music for long periods of time through the web at work, I second SomaFM, or try plugging in any of the suggestions in this thread to Pandora or last.fm.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:16 PM on April 13, 2010

Self-link warning! I've crafted eleven Pandora stations for my own listening at work. Most of them have been tightly trained to stay on-focus because I never liked Pandora's tendency to wander cross-genre. I've never shared them but I might as well, since you're looking for something new. They're all very different in style, so you may find something you amongst the variety.

Acoustic Siesta - Extremely mellow, acoustic guitar instrumentals
Corazon del Sol - Latin-inspired jams (think Santana)
Electric Pulse - Bassy, distorted, robotic dance music and synthpop
Hard Hard Rock - Face-melting power chord ballads from the '70s and '80s
Modern Eclectica - Dramatic downtempo DJ compositions
Motown Memories - Classic R&B and soul music from the '60s
Psychedelic Haze - Countercultural music from the late '60s and early '70s
Retro Lounge - A mix of crooners and big bands, and new music inspired by them
Silk Seduction Café - Soft, romantic bossa nova and lounge music
Superfunkalicious - Disco, funk, and old-school hip hop
Symphony of Metal - Epic gothic metal with an operatic focus
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:19 PM on April 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

Hot Jazz Saturday Night. 3 hours of old school jazz, new program available every week.
posted by fings at 1:29 PM on April 13, 2010

Medeski Martin & Wood, especially the heavily groove-oriented Shack Man, and your mileage and tastes may vary, but I also find that Rush and They Might Be Giants make for great coding music.
posted by usonian at 1:42 PM on April 13, 2010

Seconding Eno's "Music for Airports." This is exactly why Eno created it and it is my go-to music for this kind of thing. I also like solo piano jazz; particularly Keith Jarret's "The Melody at Night, With You."
posted by pasici at 1:53 PM on April 13, 2010

We just recently noticed the Suburbs of Goa stream on SomaFM and have been really enjoying it. Interesting enough not to be dull, but few of the songs have lyrics in English so my brain doesn't find it too distracting.
posted by Lexica at 1:58 PM on April 13, 2010

Expanding on some good suggestions above in the musical solution category:

If you like The Sea & Cake, definitely check out Sam Prekop's solo albums. Same goes for Kings of Convenience and Erlend Øye.

Nthing Four Tet. IYLT: Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works '85-92, Manitoba's Up in Flames, and if you can find them the really early albums from Dntel, Early Works For Me If It Works For You and Something Always Goes Wrong.
posted by carsonb at 2:00 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I think the Manitoba album says "Caribou" on it nowadays instead.
posted by carsonb at 2:01 PM on April 13, 2010

Personally, I find that I can't hear words and work with words on my screen at the same time. So when I'm editing, I listen to instrumental trance music. I've spent months training a Pandora station to play only that.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:11 PM on April 13, 2010

Oh, I think the Manitoba album says "Caribou" on it nowadays instead.
Electronic whizkid Manitoba has been forced into a name change.

Handsome Dick Manitoba, frontman for U.S. punk band The Dictators, sued the Canadian artist (real name Dan Snaith) for trademark infringement — strange considering the punk has never released anything under that name.

From now on, as a result, whenever you mean Manitoba, you'll have to stop mid-sentence and say a different name: "Caribou."
Manitoba/Caribou released a bunch of material on The Leaf Label, and I'd say the label full of other artists with his sort of sound. He's also distributed/released on Domino, though their sound varies more.

Lo Records has more variety than Leaf, but they have a lot of good compilations. If you like the more electronic side of things, Warp is full of good, like Red Snapper (jazzy/electronic blending of sorts), Nightmares on Wax (downtempo/often instrumental hip-hop beats), Phoenicia (more eclectic electronic stuff, maybe too active or weird), Plaid (all kinds of good electronic stuff), Max Tundra (never really got into him, but people seem to like him), and more.

In the UK, the Tru Thoughts label is a font of jazz-breaks-hiphop-soul-funk-beat-sounds, though many their releases don't travel far from England. Ninja Tune is a similar label, and there is some artist/style cross-over between the two labels (see Bonobo, whose new album I luuuurve, Quantic and his groups/aliases, Zero dB, who might be more vocal than you'd like for background sounds, The Cinematic Orchestra whose name is quite suitable, Polish producers known as Skalpel, and plenty more).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:25 PM on April 13, 2010

I think A Hawk & A Hacksaw (Leaf Label!) are meant to be listened this way. Whenever it comes on and I'm wearing headphones, yech. But from the other room? Or from tiny, tinny speakers turned low? Yeah!
posted by carsonb at 2:43 PM on April 13, 2010

If you are looking for something other than music, I love listening live feeds of air traffic control towers.
posted by joydrop at 2:57 PM on April 13, 2010

Sometimes, when I miss working in an office and need some human white noise, I put on chatty podcasts. Not the slick kind with content I'm interested in, but like the Penny Arcade D&D games or Kevin Smith's Smodcast. It's just like trying to ignore coworkers!
posted by Freyja at 3:04 PM on April 13, 2010

You need listentoamovie.com!
posted by AV at 3:21 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about Mystery Science Theater 3000? I often use episodes of that as a backdrop when I want voices instead of music.
posted by tomboko at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2010

Response by poster: These have been awesome so far, keep them coming!
posted by _cave at 4:00 PM on April 13, 2010

posted by scarykarrey at 4:26 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

along the lines of upbeat foreign language, try the Buena Vista Social Club.

I used to listen to Pink Floyd and other similar concept albums because there is no distracting break from track to track.

Also, +1 on those custom Pandora stations!
posted by jander03 at 4:34 PM on April 13, 2010

My go-to for productivity music is this mix, 'Ambient Architextures'. Very mellow, plus nice and long.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:27 PM on April 13, 2010

The Cliff Martinez soundtrack for Solaris is one of my favourite background working albums ever.
posted by tomble at 11:23 PM on April 13, 2010

That and the Beatles

The Beatles are anything but conducive to concentration for me.

I personally like jazz and classical for non-distraction sound-filling. (Although on one public radio classical program I sometimes to listen to during lunch while reading, the host seems to talk an awful lot).

Have you considered nature sound type stuff, like rain or surf?

I wish the big bookstores would follow some of the suggestions in this thread rather than playing loud dance floor tunes. C'mon, people are tryin' to mooch here!
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:34 PM on April 13, 2010

If you're more into spoken word I adore Radio 4. Probably only available in the UK though - click the little pink "Listen Live" button in the top right corner, or check out their podcasts. Along the same line is Speechification which has fantastic spoken word stuff from all over the place.
posted by alby at 2:40 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use SolarBeat for this very purpose. It is surprisingly soothing. I usually open it in its own tab and let it play for hours.
posted by kidsleepy at 10:11 AM on April 14, 2010

Kraftwerk, like the Tour de France soundtrack maybe? Or the more obvious well known stuff too ("Computer Love", "The Model", etc.).

Love that the very first suggestion was Four Tet (that weird-sounding beginning moment is not part of the song). Absolutely spot on. Also digging the recs for post rock (Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky) and hipster elevator music like The Sea and Cake ("Parasol", "The Colony Room", and "Sporting Life" FTW). Someone mentioned Sam Prekop's solo stuff--yes!--and I would add to that Archer Prewitt's, which tends toward very pretty, summery, gentle and simple lovey-dovey stuff ("Good Man", "Tell Me Now"). And Boards of Canada and Kings of Convenience and Bill Evans and Stereolab ("Lo Boob Oscillator" for example), yes! And the obvious must-be-and-was-mentioned stuff too--Eno (you might dig his work with Cluster too, though it's super interesting/compelling it somehow works as great background music) and Aphex Twin.

Some of Electrelane's more repetitive, trance-state-like stuff off The Power Out and Axes might work, like "Blue Straggler", "Only One Thing is Needed", "Atom's Tomb". Or the gentler poppier stuff, like "If Not Now, When?"

He's usually too emotional (heart-wrenching), but Spiritualized's happier (ahem, druggier) songs like "Lay Back in the Sun" and "Let It Flow" might work.

Maybe it's wrong to say this because the instrumentation got so lush, but a lot of the new-newest soft-sounding Radiohead tracks work as background sound for projects for me. "House of Cards" etc.
posted by ifjuly at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2010

Personally, I can't listen to anything with vocals or words or I start to get distracted, so I listen to iTunes Radio electronica. A station I particularly like is PsyChill from Digitally Imported. Another station I've been listening to for a while is Groovera's Low Mercury. They're both just generic, downtempo, repetitive electronica stations, with sort of an "international" sound. I also like stuff like Boards of Canada and Thievery Corporation, but after a while I had internalized their albums.
posted by Demogorgon at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2010

It seems like I've been pushing Alan Watts lectures recently. There's a torrent out there with like a hundred of them. That's exactly what I do with them. He's been dead for a long time, so I don't feel bad, if they're not actually public domain anyway.

You probably need a zen bent, though.
posted by cmoj at 2:02 PM on April 14, 2010

I have a playlist that includes Four Tet, Fever Ray, Burial, Earth, Boards of Canada and Cluster that's floating my boat at the moment. Oh, and Clint Mansell's Moon soundtrack should also fit the bill.

I also listen to various classical music (I like Prokofiev) and BBC Radio 4 (which is available worldwide, unlike their TV offerings).
posted by jonesor at 4:35 PM on April 14, 2010

Another vote for post rock, e.g. Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You Black Emperor. It's music that has a bit of drive to it, and so doesn't just make my brain switch off like a lot of the chill out music listed above.
posted by chill at 12:31 AM on April 15, 2010

Mix Riot
posted by empath at 11:00 PM on April 15, 2010

Seconding listening to songs in a language that is foreign to you. I got a CD from an Indian grocery store. It's sortof a Bollywood's greatest hits compilation. It works great. It's peppy, interesting music, but since I'm not able to sing along or follow the lyrics at all, I never find it distracting.
posted by marsha56 at 4:43 PM on April 16, 2010

Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works
Tosca - Suzuki
Camera Obscura - Underachievers Please Try Harder
Nouvelle Vague - self-titled
my flatmate suggests "Blockhead" (which is trip-hop)
posted by yoHighness at 3:34 AM on April 20, 2010

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