It should be no surprise that this week’s Playlist from Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova—our favorite curiosity cicerone and curator of eclectic interestingness—is loaded with musical resources and discoveries we’ve not yet covered on Lifework. Take a moment to get out your thinking cap, then sit back and enjoy a few tunes from her constantly changing workspace.
What do you listen to while you work? If I am to bill myself a curator, I kind of have to walk the walk in all aspects of life. And music is a big part of mine, so I take great care to curate specific thematic playlists for myself (and, occasionally, others). I think music has a tremendous impact on your mood, mindset, and creative outlook, and playlists are to music what “functional beverages” are to drinking—a potent blend of ingredients designed to serve a specific physiological or psychological purpose. I have different playlists for writing long-form content (some classical music, some drawn-out indie tunes), for tweeting, for research, for technical work, for design.
I also have a few podcasts I listen to at work every once in a while—I really like Coverville, a treasure trove of cover music. I love CD Baby’s 60′s Pop Podcast. NPR’s All Songs Considered is a staple. I’m quite the music geek, so most of the emerging artists they feature aren’t really new to me, but the show is beautifully curated and narrated.
How do you listen? Headphones,always. Playing from my laptop. In fact, I can’t work or concentrate without headphones on. Even if there’s nothing playing. It’s just how I’ve wired my brain to signal focus time.
Do you have any favorite music websites/providers? I actually take a lot of pleasure in curating my own playlists. But, on occasion, I like the sort of controlled serendipity that recommendation engines offer. Pandora, every so often, manages to surprise me in wonderful ways. Stereomood also has some neat thematic mood playlists. I’ve been getting more and more into Spotify.
Does music influence your work? Absolutely. It’s a less direct influence than saying a specific song or album is reflected in a specific piece of writing. But I certainly have certain types of music that I use to get myself in certain creative spaces and mindsets. For example, I have a playlist I use for long-form writing, which features some classical standbys—Vivaldi, mostly—and a bit of Eastern-inspired indie music. I’m particularly taken with Taken By Trees’ latest album, East of Eden. That’s Victoria Bergman’s solo project. She’s probably best known as the female vocal on Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.” For this album, she traveled to Pakistan and incorporated a lot of Pakistani folk influences into her signature Scandinavian vocal sensibility. Beautiful work.
And when I do research for a story, I like to dig out some of those dusty vintage gems— Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Basey—often with a modern remix twist.
Then for my Twitter time, which is really quite a lot of time, I listen to incredibly eclectic stuff across my entire music library—from ethnic-inspired dub and pop like Balkan Beatbox and Fool’s Gold to jazz classics like Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong to some indie favorites, any list of which would be tragically incomplete. But a few all-time favorites include Emiliana Torrini, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Zee Avi, Angus & Julia Stone, Federico Aubele, and Kings of Convenience.
Where do you find music recommendations? Who influences your musical taste? I don’t really read any of the music blogs. Some of the new music I discover is actually through some sort of recommendation algorithm based on my existing likes. I use Amazon’s recommendations quite a bit; I find they hit the spot. Pandora, of course, is also great for that. But I’m a big believer in human-curated content, so the majority of new discoveries come from a handful of well curated new music podcasts I subscribe to: NPR’s All Songs Considered, KCRW and KEXP’s song of the day podcasts, and Wired Underwire.
As far as taste goes, though, I can’t really say anything influences mine. After all, these recommendations and new music discoveries are only effective to the extent that they reflect my existing taste, which is pretty static in terms of the actual musical qualities of what appeals to me. Certain types of rhythms, a certain lyrical sensibility, a few very specific touches like handclaps and vocal harmonies. You can outsource discovery but you can never outsource taste—what you actually like, what makes you happy, rather than what you broadcast liking as a badge of the type of person you are, your brand. Music should always be about what makes you happy.
If your work was a song or a musician, what or who would it be? Probably something very diverse and eclectic like Thievery Corporation. They mix elements of acid jazz, dub, Middle-Eastern, bossa nova, lounge, even reggae, and are very much about creative collaborations—their roster of guest vocalists spans an incredibly wide spectrum of talent, from David Byrne to Pam Bricker to The Flaming Lips to Emiliana Torrini. That’s what Brain Pickings is all about—the cross-pollination of disciplines and ideas as a petri dish for creativity.
Walk in the Sky, Bonobo (ft. Bajka)
Where Do I Begin (awayTEAM remix), Shirley Bassey
Like a Child, Junior Boys
Sweet Tides, Thievery Corporation (ft. Lou Lou)
On the Radio, Regina Spektor
Keep It Quiet, Ra Ra Riot
Day By Day, Taken By Trees
Hold Heart, Emiliana Torrini
Failure, Kings of Convenience
Strictly Rule, Vetiver
Made Up Love Song #43, Guillemots
Sweet Darlin’, She & Him
Blue Skies, Noah and the Whale
Images: Maria Popova