The horror of Someone Else’s Music

Okay, who picks the tunes?

When I was studying for my GCSEs, I remember hearing someone on the local radio station discussing the merits of listening to music during revision sessions. I needed no further reason to whack up the volume on OK Computer and The Fat Of The Land (have you guessed the year yet?), and since then I’ve always played music while I worked.

It’s fine when you get to choose the tunes yourself, but what if you’re one of many in a workspace? The factory I worked at in school holidays would never budge from the local dance music station, and subsequent offices have kept strictly to one channel, usually the one with five ever-repeating tunes.

We maintain a music server at 42nd and Treadmill, with a surprisingly-wide variety of stuff, though people who have access to it are generally expected to keep it to themselves, dammit. I occasionally raid it for single tracks, often at Trini’s suggestion, but in general, what plays in my office is my iTunes install, currently closing in on 4000 songs, mostly ripped from my own Stacks O’ Wax.

Then again, I spent 99 cents yesterday for Leo Kottke’s “Up Tempo,” from his eponymous 1976 album, mostly because I hadn’t heard it in a long time and I figured it would be a while before I got around to ripping that LP. At 1:41, that’s almost one cent per second, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t download, say, Quadrophenia.


  1. sya »

    5 December 2008 · 8:28 pm

    I almost never get to choose the music I like at work. Generally I can tune things out and if I can’t, I have an mp3 player and some really good earphones which block out all outside sound. (Actually, the only time I got in control of the music was when I finally got fed up with the non-stop country and switched it to classical. At least the other people in lab exclaimed “Thank God!” when I changed it rather than beating me to a pulp.)

  2. CGHill »

    5 December 2008 · 8:54 pm

    If I have to concentrate on something that has to be done two hours ago, I usually crank up the classical stuff. Sometimes it helps.

  3. fillyjonk »

    6 December 2008 · 7:16 am

    I am lucky in that I am the only person in my own little office. So I alternate between KING-fm (a classical station out of Seattle that is generally good) or my various baroque or British Light Music channels on “Pandora” (if KING happens to be doing “20th Century Atonal Music Day” or if their servers are borked). I work better with some kind of quiet instrumental classical going in the background; it drowns out the co-eds clopping down the halls in their platform shoes and the people talking and the cell phones going off.

    I cannot write or read (and could not study, when a student) to music that had words if they were in a language I understood (or even marginally understood).

  4. Tatyana »

    6 December 2008 · 7:38 am

    Music, of any variety, is undesirable distraction when I work. It has its own pace, not necessarily corresponding with mine, especially when the work involves thinking: the process is not linear, no music can keep up with ups and downs, and is often becomes an added annoyance.

    With more automatic kinds of work, though, I don’t mind some instrumental in the background, usually chamber ensembles. Drawing from drafts and sketches, selecting materials or colors, calling the vendors, etc – some irregular noise in the back is not bad, then.

    I am always amazed to see people in the office with their headphones all day long. How could they concentrate? I’ve been amazed of my own son, with his habit of turning on RHCP when studying complicated math – and having 3-4 windows open with ongoing conversations, with TV news station buzzing on in the background.

  5. Old Grouch »

    6 December 2008 · 11:55 am

    Re: Classical, I’ve been told that the stream from Classic FM in the U.K. is quite attractive.

    @fillyjonk, are you aware of the light music series issued by Guild Records? They’re very good transfers of historic recordings, really unusual repertoire. Physical CDs are around $15 each. Guild is distributed in the U.S. by Albany Music, which means any decent record store should be able to order them.

    My office is “just me,” so I get to listen to what I like. Right now I’ve got 900-some tracks worth of pre-1940 dance orchestra and pop loaded into FooBar, which I’ll sometimes let play for days on end. (Can’t get high speed there, so most streams are out.) OTOH, my personal active-listening collection is 80% classical, but I can’t use that (except for chug-chug-chug baroque stuff) for working to.

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