Photograph of a still lake at night underneath Mount Hood, with the Milky Way above

Designing and developing to music is great, but lyrics and a driving tempo often increase distraction, while the emotional engagement can color your work. Sometimes work requires a neutral audio palette, something designed to simply block out the noise.

The best hardware solution I’ve found is a set of Bose QuietComfort noise cancelling earbuds, which have been an absolute godsend for work, as well as finally allowing me to sleep during long-haul flights. Ideally, they’re used to pump in ambient noise while I am concentrating, further masking any distractions. My recent favorite sources include 12 ~ 24 hour seamless loops of ambient sound from some of my favorite SF films:

Some further suggestions:

  • The incredible Ambient Mixer offers hundreds of soundscapes both natural and artificial. Some are directly inspired by movies: the echoing environment of the Gryffindor Common Room from Harry Potter, for example - while others are historical (the sounds of a medieval marketplace). The multichannel effects are infinite, programmable and customisable; the only downside is that they are delivered via Flash.
  • RainyMood. The sounds of a rainy night can be especially nice when they are paired with the RainyMood YouTube feed and appropriate music using YouTube Doubler.
  • There’s A Soft Murmur, which allows you to create your own mix of naturalistic sounds (wind, rain, crickets, ocean, etc) to customize your own audio environment.
  • If even distant thunder and raindrops are a little too structured for you, SimplyNoise is your friend.
  • Or you might like the electronic sounds of the city: You Are Listening To Los Angeles is a hypnotic mashup of ambient music overlaid with live feed captures from the radio traffic of the Los Angeles Police Department. (Or, if you prefer French, Montréal. Other cities are also available, including Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Austin, Baltimore and Minneapolis.) I find the new NASA mix especially effective, integrating as it does both recorded space communication and a live view of the Earth from the International Space Station.

Have your own favorite source of music or masking audio for development? Share it in the comments below to continue the conversation.

Photograph of Lost Lake, Oregon by Dave Morrow, licensed under Creative Commons.

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