Tag Archives: music to write to

Game On

For a lot of colleges and universities, the fall semester is coming to a close.  Student term papers are almost due, and for their professors, the real work of winter writing projects begins on the other side of just one more grading marathon.

You’ve done the research and collected the data.  The terms are defined, and the points are in order.  The office is uncluttered, the desktop cleared, and the coffee’s brewed and poured.  Now close the door and don the headphones because at last it’s just you, the blinking cursor, and some sweet music to write to.

Daft Punk, “End of Line” [Buy the soundtrack to Tron Legacy]

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Close to the city/And far from its clamor

Two months ago, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan released his “Best Jazz Albums of 2009,” and number three on the list was Jim Hall and Bill Frisell’s 2008 release, Hemispheres.  It’s two discs worth of thought-provoking yet non-disruptive jazz by two of the genre’s most innovating guitarists.  The second disc features a rhythm section consisting of Joey Baron on drums and Scott Colley on bass, but the first disc puts the legendary Hall and his former student Frisell alone in a room together.  The result is ten highly improvisatory tracks that run the gamut from “safe at home” to “lost in e-space.”  Each bears repeat listening and close attention but also functions well as background music for performing thinking tasks.

Listen, if you please, to the way Hall and Frisell transform Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” into something that does not protest, that reminds me less of Dylan’s angry, vengeful lyrics (And I hope that you die/And your death’ll come soon/I will follow your casket/In the pale afternoon) than of the stoic verses of “The Chess Players” by Ricardo Reis:

Houses were burning, walls were torn down
And coffers plundered;
Women were raped and propped against
The crumbling walls;
Children, pierced by spears, were so much
Blood in the streets…
But the two chess players stayed where they were
Close to the city
And far from its clamor, and kept on playing
Their game of chess.

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Music to Write To

Before working on a dissertation and at a full-time job, I might not have distinguished quite so readily between work/writing music and other music, though I’ve always had albums I loved to work or fall asleep to, such as Colleen’s Golden Morning Breaks and Brian Eno’s Apollo Soundtrack, respectively.

While I cannot say that working and writing have changed the kind of music I like, these realities have changed the way I listen and the time I can spend letting an album unfold its mysteries over time. Working 40-hour work weeks gives me patience, you might say. While I’m driving, walking, exercising, or just hanging around, I’m unlikely to pop on a sleepy album, which meant in the past that I got to listen to more subdued albums less frequently. I’m usually on the hunt for albums with a ton of energy.

But at work, my constant task-shifting and the need to think while reading admission applications or writing text for a publication has compelled me to spend more time with more ambient, quiet, contemplative albums than I have in a while. Or perhaps it simply is that being pinned to my desk as I am for so much time, I need musical accompaniment. Thanks to Lala.com, I’ve been able to listen to dozens of albums a day and get connected to many other listeners who work full-time jobs and need constant aural companionship.

So I attribute my being drawn to Keiran Hebden of Four Tet’s recent release, There Is Love in You, to the power of the office. I almost dismissed it out-of-hand after the first track, one of the least compelling on the album. But then I found my way to “Love Cry” and “This Unfolds,” the latter an apt title for a song that begins slowly and adds more layers, depth, and complexity as it builds, or unfolds, if you will.

And with that, back to working on my dissertation.

Four Tet, “Love Cry”
Four Tet, “This Unfolds”

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