Music has been as much a part of my creative life as writing, and for many years threatened to be the ‘thing-I-wanted-to-do’. I’ve been in bands, recorded stuff for pleasure and still regularly play my old guitar (oh, for a shiny new one…). So these days when I write, I have to have music playing, and ideally something inspiring/relevant to what I’m writing. But it has to be instrumental. Lyrics get in the way when words are being composed. So I’m always on the hunt for new stuff, but it seems to be harder than you might think.
There are various criteria for good writing music. A lot of what I write tends toward the apocalyptic/weird/bleak side of things (although not always…) so Tijuana Brass isn’t going to work. And some things can be too repetitive or too loud or too dramatic at the wrong moments.
Default writing music, for me, tends to be Philip Glass. In particular, his soundtracks are great – Koyannisqatsi, The Secret Agent, The Illusionist, The Hours, Kundun, Mishima. The Concerto for violin and orchestra, and Symphony no.8 have been favourites amongst others.
Film soundtracks in general are usually good fodder, and recently I’ve been using Hans Zimmer’s scores for Inception and The Thin Red Line. Clint Mansell’s wonderful music for The Fountain and Moon. I’ve used Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtracks, but they can be a bit over the top at times.Very recently I’ve been employing Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, which is better than you might think. Zbigniew Preisner’s soundtrack work can also be good, but a bit soft and too minimal at times – especially if you’re trying to mask exterior noise. Yann Tiersen has some terrific soundtrack work, along with his normal albums and I’ve just about played that to death in the last six months. The soundtrack to Baraka is also very good for trippy imagery.
Then there are normal bands and artists – Mogwai, Air, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Django Rheinhart, Jean-Michel Jarre (of Oxygene/Equinox era), DJ Shadow, Ashra, some Tangerine Dream, some Can.
Classical composers – difficult one, as many works are too distracting in their complexity, but I find Ravel, Satie, some Beethoven, some Chopin Nocturnes, Dvorak, Vaughan-Williams all to be conducive to writing.
Sounds like a lot to choose from, but it’s easy to get fed up of the same music, and I’m always trying to find new ear food.
I’d be curious what others might recommend.