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In college I learned about Patient H M. Two Fridays ago I watched his brain be dissected. Patient H M, who, in his twenties, lost his ability to form memories, died this December 1st. His brain was immediately flown across the country to a lab of research students ready to undertake what amounted to a 53-hour procedure at UC San Diego. The slicing was broadcast over livestream. I sneaked peeks at it while at my desk job – muted my music when I did. One camera focused on the slicing, another on some lab equipment and a third was a wide shot of the space. At first, watching the slicing of the brain was profoundly inconsequential, like a successful gulp of too much water. With no music, later, like watching someone wipe a kitchen counter from the vantage of another room. During the occipital lobe, toward the end of the surgery, a hand appeared in the upper right frame and put a Post-It on the lab equipment – “STAN GETZ”. (No screen shot, mea culpa). Nodding. Yes, I would have rather liked to imagine everyone in the lab listening to Biz Markie or something. Second thought: At college again, a leading research biologist gives our graduation address and says the thing that my hippie parents argue long afterward, the only thing impressed on my memory of the speech to this day, it has been found most people’s music tastes stop evolving after their twenties, that most continue through their life listening to the same music they listened to around that time. Twenty…

In appreciation of Twenty Favorites and all the music posts at Big Other of late, online dissections and empirical studies, I ask you,

How has your taste in the music you listen to while writing evolved?

10 thoughts on “Post-It

  1. All of my writer friends are into music, and I am not. This has made me feel weird and lonely.

    The only music I can listen to while writing is the sound of birds. I have a huge bird-feeder outside my window and they chirp and caw.

    A side note, is there any other writer NOT into music so much? I bet not. I haven’t met one yet. So, I feel weird.

    1. Meaning, Sean, that you don’t listen to much music at all? Don’t buy it, collect it, etc.? I have a couple friends who go through stages of listening to very little music. It’s always a wonder to them that I can “keep up” with music trends, when really, I don’t feel like I’m keeping up with anything at all. Chris’s recent music post blew me away. I’ve never heard of all but one of those bands. I just don’t know how I’d make the time to explore it.

      But I’d never say “I’m not into music.”

  2. I listen to mostly instrumental music while writing.

    I’ve had the same standbys for the past few years: Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Mogwai–more recently Russian Circles and This Will Destroy You. Pretty much all standard, instrumental post-rock (Sigur Ros I consider basically instrumental since I don’t know Icelandic, and Jonsi uses his voice so much as instrument anyway).

    I have noticed myself getting bored with music in the past few years since I started my job as a tech writer. I used to listen to music throughout the day as a way to stay sane against the office white noise. Sometimes now, I simply sit there with the earbuds in my ears, no music playing–like the pressure of the earbuds in my ears is enough, and anything more is annoying.

  3. I don’t know if mine has “evolved,” per se…if I listen to music while I write, it has to be the kind that I can ignore. I keep it fairly “standard,” and quiet. Easy on the nerves. Classical–Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, records if I’m at home or Pandora if I’m elsewhere, although I dislike, generally, wearing earphones. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Stephane Grappelli. Aimee Mann. Cat Power. Built to Spill. Beulah. Sufjan Stevens. NPR-speak, volume down so low that I can’t hear the words. Blah blah, not much to see here, I know.

    Sean, I like listening to nothing/birds/nature too.

    I don’t think I listen to music to feel inspired or “get into the zone” or anything like that. More so, there’s a ritual element to it, and I enjoy rituals…that idea of “preparing” to write. Coffee. Turning things on. Putting on a sweater. Putting on a record or the radio. Etc. I used to smoke, and when I would be writing and reach an impasse, I’d step outside for a cigarette. So impasses had their own reward. I don’t have that reprieve anymore, and I kind of like not having it. I pace a lot when I get stuck. Getting up to flip or change a record is a nice way to mobilize the stuckedness, too.

  4. Being able to ignore Cat Power and Built to Spill should be a super power if it isn’t already.

    There’s definitely something in that idea of ritual–I think we use music in similar ways, not as an “in the zone” aspect, but as something for background, and using the flipping of a record as an excuse to get away from the screen for a few minutes, to stretch muscles and cartilage, to take some necessary bigger breaths, pour another coffee, etc.

  5. Ha! It seems this is a topic that can’t be exhausted. I asked similar questions here:

    Yes, I’ve been reduced to a writer who gets frazzled by the slightest sound while working, who needs absolute silence and will, in lieu of that, listen to a continuous blast of white noise (www.simplynoise.com).

    I think this may be payback for my having, in high school, organized my entire class to simultaneously crumple sheets of paper into balls and then, a short while later, to tap their pencils and pens on their desks in order to annoy a teacher who would sigh and roll his eyes, and say “Excuse you!” every time any extraneous sound was made.

    I wish I could listen to Built to Spill while writing. I love that band. After their last record–which is as perfect as any record can be, at least for me–it took awhile for me to latch onto the new one, but it’s since grown on me.

  6. God, I hope our musical tastes keep evolving, if I kept listening to Aqualung I might have been a different person.

  7. Thanks for the link John and the pencils image. Ahh, the question of how one’s taste has evolved. Like ce I took to wearing a headset while writing, no music playing. Like Kristin’s post a bit back about rereading, there’s a bit of guilt in trying to ignore the music I play while writing too. Maybe that’s part of it Sean…? Yes, at work there’s trying to avoid other people like Shya says, but when writing, at home, wearing headsets is keeping one’s door closed even with no one else there. Seeing how I wear earplugs when I sleep, I write now with nothing. The point being the evolution occurred both outside of music or the writing. In rereading the plagiarism post at Html I was thinking about influences, the relationship can be more pragmatically based though, maybe something more to do with information saturation in general, or with, might I say, age. Ahh, Aqualung.

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