Though infrequently, I sometimes choose to listen to music as I work. More often than not, this ends up being the music of the soundtrack to an indie Mac/PC game called Starbound. (It’s still in beta, but it’s a real gem. Watch a trailer if you ever happen to have time.) The game itself centers around the exploration of an infinite number of massive procedurally-generated worlds, and I find that the orchestral music does an amazing job of evoking the vast expanse of space while creating a warm sense of wonder and awe. Go ahead and listen to some of the following track as you read – it quotes the game’s main theme, which I’ll also link to at the bottom of the post. You should definitely listen to the second one too, but not while you’re reading – it’s more involved.
Why does most of the music lend itself to being good work music for me? I suppose it’s partially because all of it is instrumental (though vocals, probably synthesized, play a small harmonic part in at least a couple songs) and a lot of it progresses slowly. Overall, many of the pieces have subtle melodies. This is surely in part because the composer created the music with the intention of it being background music, unlike modern instrumental music or classical music – complex music that tends to distract me and make me almost unwillingly focus on its harmonies.
Strangely, in spite of how relaxing they are, the songs don’t immediately put me to sleep when I’m working, though they surely would if I was instead lying in bed. Also, they don’t usually cause my thoughts to run off on tangents about the game itself. Instead, they serve to calm my mind and help me to concentrate on the matters at hand. I tend to listen to the soundtrack mostly when I am doing math or computer science homework, both of which I find that I can do on autopilot, unlike more mentally involved pursuits such as reading. The entire soundtrack also happens to be either 4 or 6 hours long depending on whether or not one counts songs that are coded into the game but not actually implemented, meaning I always have plenty enough material to listen to. The individual songs can be repetitive but never in such a way that they become grating.
The game’s beautiful main theme which is frequently quoted in its other songs (including the one above):