I wanted to share some ideas that have helped me on my journey towards greater focus. Over the next wee while I will post some ideas that I have found to work for me - they might not work for you but I have found them helpful.
First off in this irregular series is music... I listen to music that let's me think of other things and this music acts as a catalyst for thought.
If I were to boil down what I look for from music to help me concentrate, I tend to look for the following characteristics...
- It must be instrumental... preferably without field-recordings too. I can't listening to music with singing when I am trying to concentrate because, try as I might, I tend to tune into the words. I could never listen to ’the sound of silence’ for example... the words are too good.
- It must be repetitive... or at least not prone to dramatic change. I tend to choose music to soundtrack my work that has a degree of repetition or is lacking in dramatic change: in theme, motif or percussion; because I find it easier to ’lose myself’ in the sound. Change brings my head back into the song and when I am concentrating, that's not a good thing. This is why I can't listen to most post-rock... too many ups and downs.
- It must be longer in duration... shorter tracks, if not mixed together, leave gaps and these short periods of silence distract me and bring me back. 30 minutes or more of uninterrupted sound really helps my focus.
With these characteristics in mind, I tend to listen to three specific genres of music when I am seeking to drown out distraction and focus: classical, ambient electronic, and dub techno.
With regards classical, I look for the more pastoral, ambient orchestrated soundscapes... and not the virtuoso-led pieces.
My current favourite is Bruckner’s 9 symphonies... I have them all on one of my iPod Shuffles... and find them truly beautiful whilst allowing me to let go. I know some of the symphonies contain vocals but I don't find these vocals too intrusive for thought.
I also like Gorecki's third symphony but do find the vocals, at times, distracting. I also struggle to dis-associate from the sadness and melancholy of the piece... it's too hard because it is such an awesome piece of music.
I used to listen to some orchestrated soundtracks and found the soundscapes helpful because they are intentionally designed to be in the ’background’... but I found the majority tracks tended towards being too short thus presenting gaps of silence.
With regards ambient electronic, I look for the longer form soundscapes... pieces that soothe the soul and give my head time to think. Pieces that give me space and room to breathe but aren't to ’out there’ or overly dramatic.
The some of the more minimal Earlyguard soundscapes are prime examples of this... his ’Zen’ album, for example, is almost 3 hours long with 4 tracks of approximately 45 mins each. Again, a truly beautiful piece... but one that, when I want it to, it doesn’t hold me too tightly.
Whereas ’Rubycon’ by Tangerine Dream has a sense of movement and variety of sound that intrusively demands my attention. It is an amazing piece of music but not one I can benefit from when I am seeking focus.
Lastly, with regards ’dub techno’ I am talking about a style of electronic music that is sparse, minimal and repetitive but infused with dubby styling and otherworldliness.
I look for long-form (1 hour or more) mixes... and I particularly love the mixes on www.mixotic.net. I gravitate towards the work of Tom Larsson... his mixes really bring out the best in dub techno. I find real depth in what he presents and can easily lose myself within these soundscapes. His 'Klänge der Nacht’ series is particularly strong and whilst the music maybe sparse and repetitive, his skill in presenting tunes to ensure his mix remains lively and interesting is truly evident.
At the end of the day, the music described above helps me to remove distraction and create a oasis in the busy-ness of today (especially in work) for me to think and focus.
I hope this makes sense? Try it for yourself. Find what works for you and build up a library of tracks that can help you remove distraction. Oh and please leave a comment with what you find that works.