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So here is a thing I am in the way of wanting to know.

Over the years, my attitudes towards listening to music while I write have 'evolved', by which I mean they have 'wimped the fuck out'. In my ordinary day-to-daily, as you may know, I listen to all sorts of music, but I generally tend to favor, for causal outrocking, heavy metal, hardcore hip-hop, and the more aggressive sorts of indie rock. However, these things make me want to be up and about, active, "doing something". I can listen to that sort of music at work, and it helps pass the time, or I can listen to it when I'm editing or proofing someone else's work, but when I'm doing the actual work of writing, or even researching or editing my own whatnot, I tend to find it too distracting. (Same thing applies to the tee vee -- I can have it on when I'm doing really basic, mindless work, but if I'm writing anything, it instantly becomes a distraction and I can't get any work done, unless what I'm writing is a review of what I'm watching.)

Now, I'm not exactly proud of this. I could be looking at the past with my special I-am-awesome spectacles, but it seems like I used to be able to write while listening to whatever the fuck I pleased. Beyond that, listening to music while I write is an efficient use of my time, since I'm always trying to hear me some new music, and it seems like I always got some writing to work on. But facts is facts, and the facts of this situation is, I find most beat-driven music, and almost all music with lyrics, too distracting when I'm writing. No matter how hard I try, I end up listening to the music instead of paying attention to what I'm doing.

There's a few exceptions to this: I can generally listen to my absurdly overweight collection of field recordings (French elevator noises, water sounds, and the so forth) when I'm writing. Most concert music of a non-atonal sort, and a lot of instrumental jazz, is okay; in fact, hard bop is my preferred music for writing these days*. And I can listen to certain types of ambient electronica, the stuff you can't really dance to.

So this is my cross to bear, but is it yours? That's my Question o' the Day for you -- if/when you're engaged in what you consider 'creative' work, be it writin' or drawin' or fashion designin' or what have ye, what do you like to listen to? Do you find you get distracted by certain types of music, or do you listen to any goddamn thing you please, or do you gots to work in silence like a ninja? Let a fella know, I gots the insatiable curiosity like I was Marilyn Chambers.

EDITED TO ADD: As an aside, the ONLY time I find music a distraction is when I'm writing. At all other times, I try to have it on always. It doesn't bother me at all when I drive -- in fact, I'm one of those dicks who booms his system, inasmuch as the system in a 10-year old Saturn station wagon is capable of booming. When I'm at home and not working, I almost always have either music on the stereo or a movie on the TV. I would listen to music all day at work if I didn't share an office with someone who finds it distracting. I can listen to music or video programming as I drift off to sleep. I INSIST on blaring loud music when I cook. And I seem to recall that I used to like listening to music when I had sex**, although I was sorta picky about what it was.

It's only when I'm writing that it seems like a distraction. Odd.

*: As a total aside, I was shocked to discover this weekend that MusicChoice is pretty good. I dunno if you know this, but it's the digital music service that comes with your cable service (or, at least, that comes with my cable service) -- like a hundred stations or so at the end of your cable dial in various genres. I always assumed it was mainstreamy crap, but I happened to tune in to the Jazz station last night, and it was actually terrific -- a good blend of new and classic stuff, lots of different styles from ragtime to post-bop, no shitty 'light' jazz. There was some kinda mediocre modern stuff, but some good, adventurous stuff too, and the classic stuff wasn't light at all: lots of guys like McCoy Tyner and Charlie Mingus, and not just the more mainstreamy stuff, but their avant-garde work as well. It never drifted into free jazz or experimentalism, but for what it was, it was surprisingly high quality. 'Course the visuals are for shit, but the music was damn good -- makes me wanna see what else his happening when you flip past the upper reaches of the PPV porn.

**: Sex is a thing I remember doing once or twice when I was younger. I'm no longer sure what it is.


Jan. 12th, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
Interesting subject, L.

My situation is in some ways a mirror of yours--the question is "what I can I have on in the background while I'm writing music?". Concert music is right out, of course. I can have the tv on, maybe with a movie I've seen countless times, or even some popular music.
Jan. 12th, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
See, I find it totally fascinating that you can listen to anything while writing music. Doesn't it worm its way into whatever music you're organizing in your head? That's amazing.
Jan. 12th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
It does worm it's way in in interesting ways. When I was writing my Viola Concerto, I was listening alot to an REM record that had an oboe solo, and oboe solos found their way into the piece. Also, several albums I was listening to at the times had images of rivers, and that found it's way into my Concerto, too.
Jan. 12th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
When I'm writing I can't stand having noise around me at all, be it television or music playing. For any other activity music is fine, though, and sometimes even preferable. The only other vaguely creative thing I do is photography, but I quite like having music on when I'm editing, and the same for cooking. I've always assumed it has something to do with the way I process music using the same sort of attention as the way I process words, which would probably be supported by the fact that nearly all of the music I like has vocals in it.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 12th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
What sort of music do you write?
Jan. 12th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
when I'm writing or editing photos I often have to have music on, and sometimes it has to be one song repeated over and over again. for writing, it's usually something melodic and dreamy, sometimes instrumental; for editing photos, something violent and stupid. (my tastes are usually embarrassingly mainstream, so I won't name names.)
Jan. 12th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
If I'm writing or reading I can't have music on at all: much too distracting. Same goes for the teevee - I'll end up paying more attention to it than to the task at hand. When I'm doing other creative things, which, for me, include cooking and crafty stuff, I prefer to have music playing, and it can really be anything. When I'm cooking, I prefer to have the radio on this station in my area that has no commercials and plays a continual mix of album-rock-type stuff. I like that because it's constant and I don't have to worry about hearing irritating ads and I don't have to worry about changing CDs. I guess I should point out that though I have an iPod and some music on my computer, we have not reached the point in our house where these are our primary listening devices. When music plays in our house it comes out of the regular radio or the stereo's CD player, tape deck, or record player. It is difficult to listen to records when I'm doing anything productive, unless it's something I don't mind putting down often when it's time to flip the LP.
Jan. 12th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Since 98% of the stuff I write is actual straight-up music criticism, it'd be a big confusing headache to listen to anything other than the album I'm actually reviewing and/or other work by the artist for context.

(I know some people may not believe that someone with a Pitchfork byline listens to an album before and/or while he is reviewing it but it's true, swear to god)
Jan. 12th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
There's a specific kind of creative thinking that for me precludes listening to music. Er, thinking really hard, I guess? Like serious creative problem solving.

For writing, whatever I'm listening to needs to not have words or the words need to not be in a language I know. I listened to a lot of Midival Punditz and opera last semester.

For everything else, bring the music on! I particularly like the more techno/industrial/dance kind of goth; stuff like Covenant. I can just put Northern Light on repeat and happily blitz through an evening of drawing or model building.
Jan. 12th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
That's my Question o' the Day for you -- if/when you're engaged in what you consider 'creative' work, be it writin' or drawin' or fashion designin' or what have ye, what do you like to listen to?

I need deathly silence when I write. I can't write in a coffeeshop; I can't write on the train; I can't write with music playing; I can't write with another human being in the room sitting perfectly still. Anything less than silence and dim lighting and it just won't work.
Jan. 12th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
music isn't quite essential while drawing, but it sure helps! Could be almost anything, as long as I digs it.
Jan. 12th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
Also, (and this is only a thing because I like to listen to albums rather than shuffle up the whole library or what have you) I will often become so absorbed in what I'm doing that I won't notice when the record ends, and work in blissful inadvertent silence for some time thereafter. But I can't seem to start that way.
Jan. 12th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
I used to be able to listen to anything and write. In college I became intolerant to anything with lyrics in it, or anything else too insistent. I was pretty much down to jazz and classical. And nowadays I can't suffer so much as the fucking heat kicking on while I write. I have a theory that it might actually help to just have a low level hum of white noise in the room, if only to help tune out other distractions, but I haven't really tested this.
Jan. 12th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
I consider listening to music — good music, or music that I enjoy, anyway, — to be something you “do,” like, actively. So I could no more write while listening to such music than I could write while doing the dishes.

When I was very young (like, teens or early twenties) I would actually listen to the local dentist office music station while I wrote. I’m not talking about Light FM or loooooooooooooooooooooove songs, nothing but looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove songs. I mean actual, literal Muzak, like you would hear in an elevator in the olden days. Not because I liked it, but just because I found writing in silence to be kind of eerie, and the 1001 Strings version of Stairway to Heaven created a kind of bland, gelatinous creamy white noise that I found comforting but which was, for obvious reasons, impossible to be distracted by. Also, weirdly, I found that having some kind of music actually seemed to encourage me to write, or at least to type. I would actually pick up a rhythm on the keyboard from whatever music I was listening to. But they don’t really have those stations anymore, and anything more interesting than that would just call too much attention to itself, so I don’t listen to anything anymore, really. I mean, not while writing.

While I was writing the book I wrote a few years back, I would occasionally listen to Michael Penn CDs. I don’t know why, and this was a major exception for me. That’s the only thing I can think of listening to in mid-write for over twenty years.

Also, not that you asked, but I would have to — HAVE to — have music playing if I ever had sex again, because I know for a fact that I can hear people breathing, sneezing and snoring in the apartments surrounding mine, and I would be too self-conscious to do anything if there weren’t some kind of background noise to mask the fact to the neighbors.

Jan. 12th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
I think what probably happens (and I'm not being snotty here, I really think this) is that most people who are still writing by the time they hit their thirties probably (a) take it pretty seriously and (b) care enough to have bothered maturing as writers and ideally getting better at it.

I think when you're a kid, you think, damn, I'm really good at this! Writing is a breeze! It's effortless! And you can listen to music or watch TV or do anything else that more-or-less leaves your hands free while you write. I think as you get older, you become more critical, more self-aware, more conscious of the flaws and rough spots, and you want to start paying more attention to

I don't think it's that you lose your ability to multitask -- if anything, I can juggle way more simultaneous activities now than I could then. I think it's simply that you become less willing to compromise. You don't stop being "able" to, e.g., listen to music while writing. YOu probably just stop being willing to. You can listen to music while you're in the shower, or driving, or washing the dishes, or whatever.

The only time when you can write is when you write. It's a matter of evolving priorities. IMO.
Jan. 12th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
Sorry. You want to start paying more attention to the process of writing, understanding your abilities better, your weaknesses better, etc. That requires focus. You don't want to be distracted.
Jan. 12th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
I find any music with a fast tempo, including bluegrass, far too distracting when I'm writing. I do like to listen to music when writing, though, and lyrics don't bother me, so I tend to go for music that calms my mind: quiet indie rock (like Low or latter-day Yo La Tengo or even, for some reason, Bedhead or My Bloody Valentine, despite the 30 guitars on each track), Bill Evans-ish jazz, various folky artists. Having two little kids in the house means that any music quickly turns into cacophony, so we rarely play music at home these days. I get most of my listening in while driving, working (metal & hip-hop don't bother me at work, strangely enough), or just listening on headphones after the kids have gone to bed.
Jan. 12th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
When I'm writing, I tend to have the TV on. There's a trick to it though, it can't be anything drama or plot orientated. Things like the Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and The Food Network are ideal. It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as I don't actively hate it, like Rachel Ray, or Ghost Hunters. It seems that hating something makes me pay attention to it solely for the purpose of complaining about how much I hate it.

For the most part, it's just background noise, but I've found that I can actually retain an astonishing amount of information from that background noise. It's almost like the information from the documentary type shows can sneak into my brain while I'm not paying attention to it.

That's my preference, but sometimes I need more focus and the TV does end up being too distracting. For those instances, I go old school and put on some classical music. I tend to prefer Mozart and Bach for some reason, but really any classical concerto type music without lyrics works.
Jan. 12th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
If I'm studying or writing, I have to have music playing. It's as if half my brain is a toddler, and I have to plunk it down in front of some Herbie Hancock in order to allow the other half of my brain to get some work done. However, it has to be something without crazy outside solos or broad dynamic variations, or I'm all "write write write write HOLY SHIT FREDDIE HUBBARD WHAT WAS THAT...what was I doing?"
Jan. 12th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
when playing tetris, i can only listen to music i know well. new stuff gets my brin ajumbled.
Jan. 12th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
Unless I am doing something completely and utterly mindless, I cannot listen to background music at all. Either I listen to the music and ignore what I'm doing, or I focus on what I'm doing and ignore the music. I am world's worst multitasker, and can only concentrate on one thing at a time. When I want to listen to music, I just sit and listen to music and don't do anything else. Because this is time-consuming, I don't listen to much music.
Jan. 12th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
For writing, no hway can I usually have music playing - or especially the goddamned tv. I like superpeace-n-quiet. ALTHOUGH last night for some reason I found I was incredibly productive word-wise with Bing Crosby playing in the background. But I was writing about Perth, and Bing never sang about Western Australia as far as I can tell, so he couldn't intrude on the tale. I titled the piece, incidentally, "I'm Dreaming Of A White Sand Dune."

But that was prose. For poetry, as quiet as possible, or else any sound and rhythms go all higgledy-piggledy. Not even Der Bingle is allowed in the clubhouse then.
Jan. 12th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
Since I have a light touch of the ADD I find it helpful to have something that kind of catches my wandering mind without holding its attention too long. I find there is a genre of enjoyable but tune-out-able music in the kind of singer songwriter/alt country genre that I like enough to listen to while I am writing but isn't so complicated or interesting that I will stop to actually LISTEN. I sometimes choose someone in this arena (Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch) and put them into last.fm and have that play until I am tired of it. It's a delicate balance, though, so it doesn't always work.
Jan. 13th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
* Same up here in Canadaland. The blues station is actually really good with a good mix of Delta, Chicago, Texas and Keb' Mo'-ish Nubluz or whatever you want to call it.

** It's embarassing to look at and kinda smelly, but I still find it fun.

Music IS my "creative work", so no, I don't find it destracting. Of course, I can't read, write or watch TV (except the big screen the bars refuse to EVER turn off)while I'm working, distracting or not.


flavored with age
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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