I’m definitely one of those people who need background noise to work. Whether that is traffic, a buzz of conversation in a café, or a carefully constructed playlist.
I don’t exactly know why this is the case, but I suspect a couple of reasons:
- I think there’s a lot of weight in silence. When I was younger and in bands, we used to talk a lot about the silences being just as, if not more, important as the rest of the music. Silence is so rare, that I think it holds a weight, an expectation, and, ultimately, a pressure that is not conducive to being productive.
Exam halls and Libraries are places that hold this sort of uncomfortable, sacred silence. It makes sense in these contexts, but anywhere else it just feels artificial to me.
- We all want to feel part of something. A huge part of why I moved to London is the anonymity of a big city. Everyone’s busy, but no one’s bothering you. When you’re walking down a busy street, you are separate from everything and everyone else, yet still very much a cog in a machine. You have place and purpose.
Noise is very much a manifestation of that feeling. Having background noise means you are part of something, whether or not you are directly contributing to that something doesn’t especially matter.
The appeal of the playlist, I think, is the feeling that you are able to somehow curate your own background noise. Not only to you get to feel part of something while you’re writing or replying to emails, but you get to decide what that something looks, feels and sounds like.
Last year, in the last hours before a deadline, I sat cross legged on my bed in my student flat in Central London, opened my laptop, put on A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and feverishly typed half an essay before the album finished.
It was my first time listening to that album. It had been on my radar for some time as ‘one of those albums you HAVE to listen to, man’, but something about the situation drew me to it. If you’ve listened to it, you’ll know that A Love Supreme is a deeply spiritual and transcendant album. Writing to it, I had the feeling that I was floating somehwere above London, peacefully coexisting with the massive skyscrapers that the bankers shuffle ant-like into everyday.
This wasn’t the first time I’d used a soundtrack in a purely functional way. As a kid, I used to listen to the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean on my iPod Classic on the bus to school (which I highly recommend to anyone). It made the daily monotony of routine feel like a driven and purposeful adventure.
This is nothing particularly groundbreaking. Athletes use music all the time to psych themselves up. When I had my audition for Guildhall School and Music and Drama in May 2014, I listened to Respect Me by Dizzee Rascal on repeat. It felt like the best and only way to get in the zone.
The realisation at the core of this blog post is the fact that, although I was well versed in using music in a very practical and functional way in my everyday life, I never really thought about it in that way when it came to my practise as an artist until that day listening to A Love Supreme.
So what does my current ‘Getting Shit Done’ Playlist look like? Well there’s a lot of Jazz, which is something I will probably write about in the near future. For many reasons Jazz has become very important to me. Aside from that, there are some subtle hints of my guitar-based roots in the shape of Fugazi, Jamie T and Elvis Costello. There’s a link to my ‘Getting Shit Done’ Playlist below. What would be on yours?