Music To Program To

Saturday, February 27, 2021.

Programming is deep work. Tuning out distractions is key, and music is one of the most effective tools at your disposal.

But not all music helps you program. Music with lyrics can interfere with your ability to read and write code. Music with too many surprises can add rather than remove distraction. After some experimentation, many programmers arrive at the same conclusion: repetitive electronic music helps them program.

After a couple decades of programming, including a decade of remote work with the awesome musician-programmers at blend.io and ROLI, here's some of the music I turn to when I need to Get Shit Done. All music has a Spotify embed and a quick review. Know the mood you're after? Start with this index of mental states. YMMV. Enjoy! ✌️

By Desired Mental State

Focus, Intensity, Urgency 🎯

Calmness, Contemplation, Perfection 🧘

Creative, Energetic, Mischevious 👿

Wistful, Reflection 🍂

Playlists

If you're not sure where to start, pick one of these 2+ hour playlists and dig in. These artists have deeper catalogs you can branch out into.

Deep Dark Minimal

Repetitive, trance-inducing electronic music for intense focus and deep work. No vocals or lame chord progressions. Mostly German.

Modern Acid

The tasty sounds of the 303 / 707 / 808 / 909 used in new ways. All tracks post 2000. Higher energy, faster tempos, and busier arrangements for active brains. 🧠

Albums

Some full-length albums that won't disappoint. Each is good for about an hour of listening.

Microlith: Dance With Me

An album of sublime electro from Maltese producer Rhys Celeste. Everything Rhys made until his tragic death at age 24 is worth a listen. See also Float House.

Beatwife: Cornbrail Acid 2

A Scottish acid madman with an artist name you can't mention in polite company. Fast, frenetic music with a quirky sense of humor. See also Braindance.

Tin Man: Dripping Acid

How much acid is too much acid? This monster neo acid album may provide the answer. Haunting, hypnotic tunes with slow builds.

Mikron: Severance

Peaceful, aquatic, ambient techno landscapes from an Irish duo. "Ghost Node" emerges triumphant from the fog.

Anthony Naples: Fog FM

Another foggy one with some breakout surprises.

Boards of Canada: Music Has The Right To Children

By law I am required to include this album. I'm happy to comply. A landmark in electronic music from the Scottish duo. As good today as it ever was.

Maurizio: M-Series

Minimal dub techno from the master of the genre, Basic Channel co-founder Moritz von Oswald. If you're new to dub techno you may be forgiven for thinking "nothing ever happens." That's kind of the point, but it's also not quite true: there's lots of subtle variation if you start looking for it, but never enough to distract if you aren't.

TM404: TM404

Even darker minimal dub techno from Swedish producer Andreas Tilliander.

CN: The Expedition Beyond

The year is 3984, and this is the soundtrack to our mysterious space explorations. CN is one of several projects from the outrageously talented and prolific Norwegian producer Stian Gjevik. There's a second album that picks up where this one left off.

Martin Schulte: Slow Beauty

Ambient that gets its inspiration from nature. While most music is busy painting portraits, these tracks are content to paint landscapes. If you like this stuff, Schulte has a whole series of albums exploring different seasons and places.

Four Tet: New Energy

Natural inspiration in this one too, which comes to you from a cabin in upstate New York.

Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians

A minimalist classical masterpiece from 1976 that anticipated electronic music as we know it: layering, envelopes, precise rhythms, repetitiveness, gradual rather than sudden harmonic changes...it's all in there. I find it incredible that 18 skilled humans can approximate dense electronic like this. Structurally, 18 Musicans is interesting too, as the interior sections are organized around a cycle of eleven chords. Lots to uncover in repeat listens.

Terry Riley: In C

The granddaddy of all minimalist classical masterpieces. For about an hour we never leave the key of C. Unlike Spinal Tap, Riley pulls it off. It's a fascinating and elevating listen.

EPs

These are half-albums that nonetheless stand out as excellent music to work to. They vary in length, but are ½ an hour on average.

EOD: Utrecht

Lush synth landscapes collide with hard-edge acid techno, leaving you stranded in the best of both worlds. EOD is Norwegian producer Stian Gjevik's main shingle. His melodic gift and impeccable arrangements are on full display here.

EOD: Questionmarks

On this EP Gjevik strips away the lushness and really lets the hard-edge techno rip. The sweet melodies and intricate arrangements are still there, but there's an urgency and raw speed that verges on frightening. Don't worry: Gjevik is a professional driver on a closed course.

Automatic Tasty: Fieldwork EP

Morning, afternoon, evening, night. What a nice four-part cyclic structure for an EP! Although the instrumentation borrows from the somewhat-dated sounds of early techno, Dillon also weaves in real field recordings from different times of day. The result is charming and feel-good.

The Field: Sound of Light - Nordic Light Hotel

Another four-part day cycle EP from Sweden. True to form, these tracks are driving, repetitive, and awash in sound -- the kind of thing that makes you hitch up the sled dogs and log a couple hundred miles of frozen tundra. This is music you can really get lost in.

DMX Krew: Broken SD140 Part II

What is an SD140, and are we sure it's safe to use a broken one? I have no idea, but it sounds great. Harsh electro rhythm sounds topped with sweet melodies. "Apple Grid" is a standout.

Khotin: Baikal Acid

Dancy, imaginative acid house from up north. Khotin saves the best for last: side B has not one, but two lovely, warm tunes.

Jonas Kopp: Desire EP

German minimal techno by way of Argentina. It's dark, but the opener is funkier than your typical Tresor track, and the deep-breathing closer feels like some kind of...weird ascension ritual?

Etapp Kyle: Klockworks 10

Dark, driving, haunted minimal techno of the German variety. All of the albums on Ben Klok's Klockworks series are worth a listen, but Klockworks 10 and 16 from this Ukranian producer are standouts.

Luke Hess: Facette

Modern Detroit minimal techno. A propulsion system made from deep, dark textures and thumping beats.

Artist Samplers

Some artists don't fit well into the album box. And some artists make albums of such breadth that they no longer fit into the "music to work to" box. Here's a few sampler playlists from artists not featured above, but no less deserving.

Basic Channel - Sampler

Basic Channel is legend. They more or less invented minimal dub techno. Except for BCD and BCD-2, their output consists of a series of cryptically labeled singles. Here's a curated selection.

Trickfinger - Sampler

Did you know John Frusciante -- yes, that John Frusciante -- has a side gig making acid techno? Insane. I guess that explains the name. There are a couple tracks here where it really does sound like he plucked out techno melodies on the guitar.

Ceephax - Sampler

No list would be complete without Andy Jenkinson, AKA Ceephax. Personally I like his stuff more than his brother's. It's funny, nostalgic, a bit unhinged, and full of bonafide musical genius.

Posted by Alan on Saturday, February 27, 2021.