I really enjoy working while listening to music but it’s sometimes a difficult balancing act to get right. You can’t listen to something you like so much that you become more involved in the music rather than the work.
The sort of work I’m describing here is reading and writing rather than trimming the hedge or vacuuming the house. The music can’t be too intense but still needs to have some presence. You probably want to avoid ‘musak’ but have music that is familiar with few surprises.
Here are some of the pieces of music that really work for me.
Steven Isserlis - Bach Cello Suites
This recording of wonderful cello playing feels very intimate, great for listening through headphones.
Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
I always think this music is like being trapped inside a machine. It’s minimal and repetitive but is great for maintaining a trance-like concentration.
Gregory Alan Isakov
I generally find listening to singers to be distracting but Gregory Alan Isakov, an indie/folk singer from the US, has a pleasant voice that I can work to. Wikipedia describes his singing as having a humble quality and I think this encapsulates why he is engaging without demanding too much attention.
Elena Riu - Piano Icons for the 21st Century
I have listened to Elena Riu’s CD of contemporary piano music for years and love the spiritual quality of these works. The central work of the disc is the recording of Sir John Tavener’s Ypakoe which was written especially for Riu. Sadly apart from an album of blues piano music Riu doesn’t seem to have produced many other recordings.
I’ve listened to David Sylvian ever since I was a student (entranced by ‘Ghosts’) and just love wallowing in his voice. Any album will do.