I don’t really consider myself a music person, per se. Certainly not the music most people think about when they think ‘music person’. But I do have a collection, and my collection is overwhelming a certain type of music, one that’s frequently unappreciated but is, in my mind, indispensable: soundtracks.
Whether I am writing, editing, designing, or doing the laundry, chances are there is a soundtrack song or two in the mix. They’re perfect for working to because they are by definition designed to be accompaniments rather than the main event. Generally they don’t have vocals (which might get in the way of one’s writing); often they are designed around a theme or to convey a mood. And with the exception of big showy soundtracks I feel like they don’t get talked about enough. So I’ve decided to share my favourites (I have many) once a week, along with a ‘flavour profile’, if you will, and links to both listen to the music for free (to see if you like it) and to buy (supporting artists is important).
I’m a big fan of the Myst series, so I have a soft spot for the original soundtrack but it’s Riven that holds my heart. I bought the CD from a HMV (yep, I am dating myself) in 1997 when the game first came out and it has hardly left my listening since. That’s twenty years of stories, projects, paintings, crafts–all done with one particular CD in the background.
Riven in particular is more thematic than Myst; while both soundtracks are great for working to–they were literally designed to put you in the mood to solve problems without getting in the way of your concentration–Riven is more complex and moody. There’s a quiet to it, a calm, that’s both relaxing and unsettling. It is both the sound of a walk along a boardwalk listening to lapping waves but also vaguely aware that you’re being watched. It doesn’t put me to sleep but rather makes me focus on what I’m doing. I feel more alert, but at the same time calm and ready. Which is what makes it so great for background music while I’m working.
The Myst 3 & 4 soundtracks by Jack Wall take that that notion of both sweeping vistas but also that you’re being watched and ramps it up. Myst 4 moves even further into ‘movie soundtrack’ territory but still remains its background quality. Myst 5 and Uru soundtracks (composed by Tim Larkin) I found–like the games themselves–rather disjointed. While there are beautiful moments, some of the songs are a bit jarring and they lose that ‘calm but alert’ feeling almost entirely. So I tend to pick and choose songs out of Myst 4, 5, and Uru rather than listening to the albums in their entirety. But if you were making a playlist of all 5 albums, there’s more than enough good tracks to outweigh the jarring ones.
Still. Sometimes you want something simple in a loop, and for that I recommend Riven. I’ve been listening to it for 20 years now and it still is one of my go-to concentration choices.
(Links open up in a new window. Soundcloud and Bandcamp are my preferred links since you can listen to it for free until you decide you like it. I’ll include YouTube playlists too where applicable. I’m assuming you’re all adults who know how to buy music if you find something you enjoy. And in case it needs saying, no, I am not making any money off this. It’s just what I enjoy, and want to share.)
Myst, by Robyn Miller, via Soundcloud
Riven by Robyn Miller, via Soundcloud