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First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

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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Track of the Day: 'Apotheosis' by Austin Wintory

Reader M.J. has a wonderful find for the new series:

As a PhD researcher, it’s difficult to find the right kind of music to work to. Music with lyrics distracts from reading and typing. Absolute silence is just as distracting as a complete din. I’ve sometimes used one of the white-noise or nature-sounds websites, but they get boring.

After some searching, I’ve found that the classical music used in video games is very helpful. Thanks to sites like Bandcamp, it’s easy to find and buy music from indie games (ones that often aren’t focussed on shooting as many people as possible). My latest find is the composer Austin Wintory, especially the soundtrack to Journey. Highly recommended.

The video game and its music got many plaudits:

Journey won several “game of the year” awards and received several other awards and nominations, including a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination for the 2013 Grammy Awards. The music, composed by Austin Wintory, dynamically responds to the player’s actions, building a single theme to represent the game's emotional arc throughout the story. Reviewers of the game praised the visual and auditory art as well as the sense of companionship created by playing with a stranger, calling it a moving and emotional experience, and have since listed it as one of the greatest games of all time.

The full soundtrack is available on YouTube, and its most popular track, “Apotheosis,” is embedded above.

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

Yesterday—in attempt to get a new TotD series going, centered on songs that are great to listen to while working—a reader gave a shoutout to the post-rock band This Will Destroy You. I just checked out their eponymous 2008 album—which you can listen to in full on YouTube—and immediately recognized one of its tracks, “The Mighty Rio Grande,” but I wasn’t sure from where. A quick googling turned up the answer: the 2011 film Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name chronicling the Oakland A’s efforts to revamp their struggling team based on sabermetrics. I’m listening to the moody atmospheric track as I type and it’s simultaneously soothing without slowing my productivity.

Do you have any recommendations for similar songs—ones with little or no lyrics that are great to have in the background while you’re typing away at work or trying to write something at home? Please drop us a note: hello@theatlantic.com. Update from a reader, Jack, who mentions a movie that’s been high on my to-see list:

“The Mighty Rio Grande” was also featured in Room, which came out last year and was nominated for Best Picture. It’s in the pivotal scene of the movie and the music fits it perfectly. Such a great scene.

(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Our social media team runs a Writers group on Facebook, and one of their recent posts, “What’s your favorite music to write to?,” reminded me of an idea I’ve had for another Track of the Day series (to join cinematic songs, transformative covers, weird workout songs, etc): songs to work to.

Personally I can’t listen to music with lyrics; they’re too distracting. But curiously that’s not the case when I lack control over the music, like when I’m working in a coffeeshop and the lyrics over the speakers are melding with the ambient noise. (That mixture of sounds is so comforting that I often work to Coffitivity, an awkwardly named site that provides a variety of ambient tracks from the cafe.)

So what’s your favorite piece of music to work to, either as an individual track or a whole album? Please send us your pick to hello@theatlantic.com and describe a little why you like the track or album so much. Benjamin, one of the readers in the Writers groups, sounds off:

I usually write to Radiohead, Sigur Ros, or St. Vincent. Sometimes I throw a little Nick Cave in the mix, but he has a lot of words and an imposing voice so ... not always.

The Austin-based post-rock band Explosions in the Sky is big on my list. When I plugged their album The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place in the Facebook group, Roberta replied:

Love, love Explosions in the Sky. Their music is an experience and it's really inspirational. Check out the band This Will Destroy You if you’re into the post-rock ambient sound.

Ria gets vivid:

Closing my eyes, I listen to Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” [embedded above] and imagine myself sitting inside an ancient, ruined cathedral, while it’s raining outside. I rest my back on the damp, mossy wall of the cathedral and watch the blurred view of the green valley. I have a blank notebook and a pen. The notebook lies open on my lap. My heart longs to write something. I open my eyes and start writing.

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