Reporter's Notebook

The Best Songs to Work To
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A collection from readers of the songs they most enjoy listening to while reading and writing for work (typically sans lyrics).

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For those struggling back to productivity after the long weekend, reader Barbara has several recommendations—starting with the soundtrack to a Washington Post video about Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument:

I really liked the music that was used, but the credit was remarkably unhelpful: “Podington Bear.” No track name or album name. Some exploring did not identify the track, but it did inform me that Podington is Chad Crouch, who has a lot of ambient music available online. I listened to the album Springtime more than once—I like the cheerful aspect, and sometimes I work best with a little bounciness to goose me to more productivity. The tracks are short, but “Sidecar” and “Transmogrify” are fun, and “Golden Hour” [embedded above] is lush and relaxing. Several albums are on the Free Music Archive, which was also a new discovery for me.

I listened to “Golden Hour” a few times this morning, and can confirm both bounciness and relaxation. Back to Barbara’s list:

Reader Barbara, who recommended a full playlist of classical music earlier this week, shares a lyrical description for her top choice:

The champion long-running compositions for working, for me, are the J.S. Bach Cello Suites, performed by Mstislav Rostropovich. (These do require a quiet environment or headphones that limit competing noise). The notes push onward inevitably, flowing and cascading, for a couple of hours if I play all six suites.

It’s like going into a large, high-ceilinged room that has minimal furniture, but very rich textures—bookcases with leather-bound volumes, silk oriental rugs, deep-cushioned velvet upholstery, satin pillows, a lacquered chest, taffeta draperies, window seats with brocade cushions, and glazed plaster walls, all in aquamarine, emerald, sapphire, ruby, pearl, and silver tones, with one or two cloisonne tchotchkes, an arrangement of tulips or apple blossom or pussy willows, and a marble fireplace with an enormous mirror above it.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Coming off a two-week vacation, traveling through several airports, I especially need our “songs to work to” series to help transition back to office mode. Sarah is the latest reader to lend a hand:

Since I spend a lot of my days reading and deciphering complex scientific papers and work in a noisy office, music is often the only way to get anything done. Like many people, I listen to a lot of classical music to focus, especially the Karajan recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies that I’ve loved since I was little, as well as Bach’s B minor mass and “St. Matthew Passion”—because nothing soothes the soul like Bach (and that opening of the Passion gets me every. single. time.). Josquin Des Prez’s “Ave Maria” and “Missa L’Homme Arme” have also been favourites since I heard them in my first year of music school.

When I stray away from classical, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports [first part embedded above] or Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven are longtime favourites—waves of lovely, lovely sound.

And when I’m doing work that doesn’t require intense focus, like answering emails, it’s Beyoncé of course. I often think of it as a little treat to myself for getting through a complicated math or physics paper. Yes I’m lame.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader Doug digs deeper into his collection:

“Skylight” by Gramatik. The title of this album, Beatz & Pieces, Vol. 1, pretty much sums up my taste in “working music”—heavy beat, probably some mixing / sampling or something that sounds like it, brought together by great composition.

“Imagination” by CFCF. A little less electronic, slightly more jazzy than some of the other stuff on this list, but still has that solid underlying rhythm layered with the more complex melodic stuff on top.

“Ce matin-la” by Air. Just relaxing, easy instrumentals. Nice changes of pace, combination of a bunch of different instruments ... working gold.

That song from Air is off their album Moon Safari, available on YouTube, and one of their others, Talkie Walkie—available here—was a favorite during my senior year of college, so highly recommended.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader David recommends a popular soundtrack whose movie—a George Clooney vehicle directed by Steven Soderbergh—got a mediocre Rotten rating:

Hello! I listen to a lot of ambient and film music while I work, and one of my all-time favorites is the soundtrack to the 2002 sci-fi film Solaris, composed by Cliff Martinez. Ambient beds of synthesizers and the occasional swell of strings (real? electronic?) mingle with steel drum sounds—yes, steel drums!— to create an otherworldly soundscape that’s simultaneously free-floating and grounded in pulsating rhythm.

You can hear the whole album here on YouTube.

One of its most popular tracks is embedded above, and the bouncing audio visualizer adds a nice touch.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader Doug keeps alive our series of “songs to work to” with a score by Nick Cave set to an enchanting timelapse of scenes from San Francisco:

Pretty sure I picked this one up from the Dish, but it’s a phenomenal instrumental song that tends toward the more relaxing, if that’s what you’re craving.

You may recognize it from the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

It’s rare to see something end well on the internet. Most ongoing projects—whether blogs, podcasts, or novelty Tumblrs—don’t really ever formally end; instead, their creator loses interest in them over time, and then they have a busy couple months at work, and then maybe they have a new kid on the way, and obligations stack up until eventually an unpaid server bill takes the long-fallow page out of its misery.

So I want to congratulate and also thank Hoverbird (also known as Patrick Ewing) for formally and lovingly ending his tremendous online radio show, Warm Focus, this Wednesday. You can listen to the final episode on’s website.

For the past 18 months or so, Warm Focus has run early on Wednesday afternoons on, capturing a nameless but very weekday-in-autumn vibe: the popping-synapses, bright-but-background, happy-and-humming, in-the-flow feeling that characterizes music for good work getting done well. Hoverbird himself says the genre walks the line “between mellow & energetic, digital & analog, high & low BPM.”