Sweet Sounds for the Stressed and Cloistered
February 18, 2007 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Music-for-studying-for-the-@#%#-bar-exam-filter: Please help me balm the pain of preparing for this miserable test by recommending excellent music that's either wholely instrumental or not in English.

For the next week I will be doing nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, except studying for the Washington State Bar Exam. Music helps relieve the monotony, but English vocals are too distracting. I've dumped pretty much every track my husband and I own without same into a huge playlist, but I'd love to add to it. Any recommendations?

My tastes are pretty catholic, but to guide your recommendations, here are some random things I like:

* Rachind Taha
* Charlie Parker
* Warsaw Village Band
* The soundrack to Raumpatrouille (I like this to an insane degree, actually)
* Yma Sumac
* Serge Gainsbourg
* My Friend the Chocolate Cake
* Django Reinhardt
* Apocalyptica
* Dirty Three
* The kind of stuff they used to play on Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar.

Here are some things I don't like or can't use right now:

* Joe Satriani
* Kid Koala (Actually I love Kid Koala, but alas, its choppiness tends to shock me out of what I'm doing)
* Sun Ra (Same deal as Kid Koala-- I love it, but it takes too much focus to listen to it right now.)
* Kenny G
* Any classical piece that sounds like it could be the score for an animated film about a small woodland animal who by turns frolicks, is frightened by storms, flees, and then is safely recovered by his adoring mum. (Yes, this makes me a bad person. I keep trying to change. It keeps failing to work.)

Mad bonus points for anything I can download from e-music. Slightly less-mad bonus points for stuff I can download from Itunes.

Thanks much!
posted by palmcorder_yajna to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Cinematic Orchestra - Man With a Movie Camera (And others, I just really like that one; it's jazzy!)

I used to listen to The Blue Notebooks by Max Richter while studying all the time.
posted by SoftRain at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2007

This thread might be of some help.
posted by occhiblu at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2007

Chick Corea.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2007

Anything by Erik Satie, Godspeed You! Black Emperor!, Mogwai, Les McCann and Eddie Harris--Swiss Movement Live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival 1969. Gustav Holtz--The Planets.

The key to the bar exam is your schedule. Be rigid, have 5 minute breaks per hour and a whole hour break for lunch and dinner. Stop at about 10 pm, go to bed, repeat. If you need more tips, email me.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:48 PM on February 18, 2007

Brian Eno's Music for Airports
posted by fvox13 at 6:49 PM on February 18, 2007

Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians (GODLY)
The Album Leaf - Into the Blue Again
The Mercury Program - A Data Learn the Language
posted by dmaterialized at 6:53 PM on February 18, 2007

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His music is hypnotic and can really help put you in the zone.
posted by MsMolly at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2007

Aphex Twin's Ambient II will take up that space in your brain that gets distracted by things.

I second Music for Airports. Anything by Brian Eno is good to study to.

Philip Glass.
posted by found dog one eye at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2007

I'm not familiar with any of the music you listed, so I can't say whether this is in keeping with your taste, but I study to Rachel's Music for Egon Schiele. Also The Sea and the Bells, but mostly Eagon. Everyone I've ever recommended this to liked it tremendously.
posted by chickletworks at 7:08 PM on February 18, 2007

try this on for size:

get "The Siket Disc" by Phish. It's an instrumental experimental disc - it's very ambient.

In my opinion, it's a great choice.
posted by jimmyhutch at 7:12 PM on February 18, 2007

the soundtrack of de la guarda- the weird awesome brilliant brazilian concert/peformance/rave/musical.
driving, energetic, and rhythmic, with percussion and chanting (not in english). it's magic.
follow the link and click on "the show" to hear a few sample clips.
posted by twistofrhyme at 7:14 PM on February 18, 2007

Seconding Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

I'd also add Bill Laswell (though there may be the danger of some English lyrics, none of the Bill Laswell I have has any).
posted by pompomtom at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2007

I like soundtracks for this kind of stuff. I'd give a solid recommendation for the sound track to Orlando. It has one vocal track that you can skip. The instrumental stuff is great. I'd also check out NPR's All Songs Considered, Vol. One.

Some other sound tracks worth checking out in more or less descending order of suitability:

The Straight Story
Monster's Ball
Donnie Darko
Black Hawk Down
posted by chairface at 7:27 PM on February 18, 2007

Some music I love working to (you may or may not)

Sigur Ros
there are vocals but not in english, they are more like another instrument than anything else.
Vaka (untitled #1) From the album (), is definitely on itunes. (note: the children running around sounds aren't on the actual album)

Explosions in the sky

First breath after coma From the album "The earth is not a cold dead place"

You might have to skip a few tracks from there because there are vocals on some, but most of their stuff is instrumental. Some have vocals like the sample which are incomprehensible due to processing.
Haunted by a freak from "happy songs for happy people."

Godspeed you black emperor.
If you liked everything else, you'll probably like them too, I recommend "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven" If itunes charges per song and they ARE on it, you'll get a hell of a deal since there are only 4 songs on this double disc CD :).

Do Make Say Think
sample: Outer Inner & Secret kind of a crappy sample of an awesome song, but you get the idea. from the album "Winter hymn country hymn secret hymn."

That's all I've got for now, enjoy and good luck!
posted by dujoducom at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2007

My favorite work/study album is Ashkhabad - City of Love. Lots of energy, no distracting English words.

The compilation album Passion Sources has a lot of variety and beauty.

And a third vote for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
posted by moonmilk at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2007

if you like dirty three, then you might like rachel's (don't ask my why there's an apostrophe in their name). dntel, if you like electronic music. electrelane is good, but some of their stuff is a bit... dramatic, and might be stressful in a study environment. gang gang dance, maybe. stereo total are super-fun (and if you like serge gainsbourg), and they usually perform in german or french.
posted by wreckingball at 7:40 PM on February 18, 2007

My recommendations are based on having studied for two bar exams, 19 years apart (and passed both with room to spare).

First, I really recommend silence. I mean it-- you may think that you can multitask with the best of them and that the silence will drive you crazy, but you will need all your powers of memorization and hierarchical recollection (when the Rule Against Perpetuities applies, for instance), and while I work all the time with music of various sorts in the background, I mostly turned it all off for the push of the last days.

But when I needed something in the background, what worked for me was classical music. To be specific, Bach keyboard stuff, especially on piano. Maybe Mozart string quartets. It was calm and logical but did not require me to really listen (or worse, want to listen) to it. after all, Bach allegedly wrote the Goldberg Variations to put some nobleman to sleep. I didn't want ANY distractions.

Good luck enduring our little initiation ritual.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 7:41 PM on February 18, 2007

Yo Yo Ma: The Cello Suites

Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence Soundtrack

Thievery Corporation: The Mirror Conspiracy
posted by artdrectr at 7:55 PM on February 18, 2007

This is kinda the opposite way of how I listen to music, but I understand what you're going for.
Based on what you're giving as things you like (some are songs, some are albums, most are long):
I really like Alice Coltrane's Ptah the El Daud and McCoy Tyner's Sama Layuca, which are a bit forward from the jazz time you like, but still fairly skronkless.
Brian Eno and Robert Fripp's Heavenly Music Corporation.
Terry Riley's Rainbow In Curved Air
DarXtar's Traveler (which is like, just an endless Pink Floydy jam, which I find incredibly terrible to listen to actively, but is great when heard from the next room)
Don Cherry's Dollar and Ok's Tunes.
Far East Family Band's Parallel World (which is jap psych jam sweetness)
Forkladd Gud's Suite Birth
Karuna Khyal's Alomoni 1985, which has gibberish which occassionally sounds like English, but isn't (so beware if you're one of those people whose minds constructs sounds into words)
Brast Burn's Debon, which is kinda krauty Scandinavian almost jazz.
Tangerine Dream's Zeit
Kwaku Baah's Trance (which is long, dizzying oud music, mostly, with a little North African ululation).

But that's about four hours worth of music right there... (Lemme know if you really need any of these, and i can email 'em or something)
posted by klangklangston at 7:58 PM on February 18, 2007

The soundtrack (score) to Requiem for a Dream is my favorite instrumental album to study to.
posted by raf at 8:35 PM on February 18, 2007

I have exactly the same problem with music distracting me, especially when I'm deep into programming. I suggest tuning in to a Japanese Pop ("J-pop") internet radio station. It'll be a constant stream of the brightest, most sugar-coated candy pop you'll ever hear in a language you can't understand. It's kept me amused, alert, and upbeat for many an all-night hackathon.
posted by Netzapper at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2007

I hate to plug this again, but I play a lot of the stuff mentioned in this thread so far in my podcast. I do tell people that my show is good for getting work done to. Mostly instrumental, vocals are used strictly for sonic effect rather than conveying lyrics.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2007

Glenn Gould: The Well Tempered Clavier; The Goldberg Variations

They turn the gears in my head.
posted by benign at 9:09 PM on February 18, 2007

Four Tet: Rounds
posted by ch1x0r at 9:12 PM on February 18, 2007

Any solo work by Charlie Byrd will do you well. It's great music to just listen to– honest, introspective– but it's also safe background music, unlikely to distract you.

I second Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports and raise you Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror, which he did in collaboration with Harold Budd. It has a little bit more going on but is still very much ambient mood music.

Dave Brubeck's One Alone is a fantastic album to study to. It's solo piano, but again, very ponderous: perfect to keep on without getting distracted, should you desire.

I don't know if salsa interests you, but if so, the one Fania All-Stars album on eMusic is a good bet. The songs are long, the lyrics in Spanish (minus the thirty second introduction at the beginning), with very repetitive melodies and rhythms. Studying to more energetic music is sometimes useful.

If it were maybe a few months ago I'd suggest Bill Evans, but try as I might I can't help but stop what I'm doing to listen. God bless that man.
posted by invitapriore at 11:01 PM on February 18, 2007

For something current, try listening to the Curb Your Enthusiasm soundtrack while studying. I did this last week and I found the quirky Italian music to be a perfect background.

If you can deal with electronica, give Aphex Twin a go. Listen to Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 for some intense studying and then throw on Vol. 2 when you're taking it slow. Those are two easy to find albums. However, if you really want to get some good Twin then get his Melodies from Mars EP or maybe even download the entire Analord project. Good luck.
posted by ageispolis at 1:02 AM on February 19, 2007

I sometimes listen to (otherwise crappy) instrumental dub music while studying for its blubby vagueness.
posted by beerbajay at 2:13 AM on February 19, 2007

Try baroque chamber music, classical guitar, or early choral music. They create a brainy yet serene ambiance, without the woodland adventures (excellent description, btw -- I know exactly what you mean).
posted by ottereroticist at 2:47 AM on February 19, 2007

Super Furry Animals - Mwng. Pretty gentle and melancholy, not like their usual at all, and entirely in Welsh. And also excellent.
posted by corvine at 5:23 AM on February 19, 2007

I also recommend silence. Even if the music is instrumental, you still pay attention to it. The bar is no joke, and your full attention needs to be on the material.

That being said, here are a few artists I listened to while studying in law school:

DJ Cam
Thievery Corporation
Herb Alpert's Greatest Hits (to keep me awake)
Nightmares on Wax
DJ Krush
DJ Shadow
Dr. Octagon- Instrumentalyst
Cinematic Orchestra
Prefuse 73

Good luck!
posted by reenum at 6:53 AM on February 19, 2007

You mentioned Dirty Three, so definitely check out Mick Turner's solo albums. I also recommend Yo La Tengo's The Sounds of The Sounds of Science. Seconding The Mercury Program's A Data Learn The Language. Clifford Martinez writes some very good ambient soundtracks (Solaris, Traffic).
posted by carsonb at 7:36 AM on February 19, 2007

I swear by Dots and Loops by Stereolab. It percolates just enough to keep your energy up, but somehow stays in the background. Some of the lyrics are in French, others in English, but either way, you don't notice them unless you want to.
posted by umbú at 8:05 AM on February 19, 2007

Even if the music is instrumental, you still pay attention to it.

I recommended Four Tet- Rounds above, and I'm going to go further and say any music that falls in the the category that I call "experimental ambient noise" but I think real people call "intelligent dance music (IDM)" is excellent for this. I find that music that is mostly a collection of sounds without obvious harmonic or rhythmic structure incredibly good for concentration; it is the only thing I reach for when I'm writing particularly challenging code. Other cds I have in that vein are:
Jim O'Rourke-- I'm Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4
Keith Fullerton Whitman-- Playthroughs
Some stuff by the Books
Philip Jeck-- 7
posted by ch1x0r at 8:50 AM on February 19, 2007

Evan Lurie's Selling Water by the Side of the River is one my favorite instrumental albums.

(My first thought was Dirty Three, but you've got that. Seconding anything by Mick Turner, also. Or any other member of The Bad Seeds.)
posted by desuetude at 9:15 AM on February 19, 2007

I second explosions in the sky
posted by radsqd at 5:53 PM on February 19, 2007

Cesaria Evora. She won't be on eMusic, but I think you'll find her on iTunes.
posted by somanyamys at 7:24 AM on February 20, 2007

Response by poster:
This is exactly what I wanted! Yay!

And for those of you worried about the silence thing-- yes, I know. There are definitely a lot of things I -can't- do with music on. But with certain tasks (making flash cards for stuff I consistently miss, for example) having music helps me not want to flee the apartment screaming.

(And Missouri Lawyer-- if the whole exam were on the RAP, I'd be out boozing it up right now. I -lerve- me some future interests. If it were possible for me to practice law in 1752, I'd be -set-. Sadly, they they want me to know some admin law too. Also fixture filings, corporate governance, and products liability. Oh, well.)

Anyway, thanks, thanks, thanks a bajillion. See ya' on the other side.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:43 PM on February 20, 2007

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