What is so striking about this album is that it grabs you right away on the first track with a brilliance of blooming harmony, and then the album lulls you into colorful melodies so textured and layered, you'll swear you're listening to an abstract painting. Kronos Quartet is a string section who have been performing for nearly 40 years, and they're internationally renowned as one of the most influential groups in contemporary music. And on this 1995 album, they play music written by another powerhouse, Philip Glass — a brilliant composer known for minimalism, operas, and film scoring. While you're studying or being creative, the repetition, the sonic intimacy, will have you so focused on the work in front of you, of your own space, you might lose track of your surroundings and forget where you are.
When it comes to modern composers, our contemporary Beethovens and Mozarts just might be creating the soundtrack to your favorite movies. Take for instance Thomas Newman. Newman was the composer who wrote the soundtracks for American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Road to Perdition. These soundtracks are perfect for studying or writing or being creative, because they're designed to reflect a narrative, a story, and drive the viewer/listener forward. While you can't find the whole soundtrack on Spotify, try either buying it or making it a radio station on Pandora. The textures, the sonic colors, and the pulling narrative of The Road to Perdition might help bring longevity and focus to those long study sessions. But hey, I'm not a neurologist.
For me, Ma Sicong's music played by Hsiao-mei Ku (violin) and Ning Lu (Piano) is one of my favorite albums, because it puts me in a mind frame of peace and relaxation. The way the violin just elongates these strings of melody, there's something, well, almost therapeutic about it, something unbelievably heart breaking, too. Ma Sicong is recognized as one of China's leading violin players and composers. Some of the best pieces are the “Tone Poems of Tibet.” They're visual and mood invoking — snow-covered mountains and open spaces. You can find this album on Spotify.
Like sitting outside your window with a pen and paper and listening to the rain, the notes from Erik Satie's, Gymnopedies, sound like music that was meant to be a permanent structure of nature. Gymnopedies is just the piano, and it's simple and subtle but spectacular. Satie was a French composer who was labeled as a minimalist — even though he hated that term. It's music that is subtle — almost mathematical — that pulsates with life and energy. There is a lot of space between the notes, but the melody is haunting, and it's been in so many movies and television shows — including Star Treck: The Next Generation, Chocolat, The Royal Tenenbaums — it will be hard not pull the melody out of some memory.
In a way, studying or being creative is kind of like sex. Yes, you can probably have it any time you want (some of us, anyway), but sometimes, it's really about being in the right mood. And well, Chopin's nocturnes is like an aphrodisiac for the mind. Chopin was famous for his nocturnes, and they're dreamy and pensive compositions — usually melancholic. They're beautifully dark pieces, and the visual comparison would be like staring at some of Van Gogh's various version of landscapes and star-filled skies at night. You can find Feltsman's album on Spotify, but there are many versions out there, too. Put on this album, put your pen to paper or open that book, and allow the contemplative atmosphere to infiltrate.
Claude Debussy is one of the best French composers and probably artists, and that says a hell of lot. His compositions were analogous to the paintings of the impressionists, and he hoped when you listened to his music, you saw, literally, similar visualizations of Monet. That's why he called his work Images. You can find an album by Simon Trpceski on Spotify. Take for instance Debussy's, “Clair De Lune.” It's probably one of the most famous works in music — played in everything from lullabies to film scores. And really, it's not just a song. It's a painting that will set all 100,000,000,000 neurons in the average human brain on fire. It will open up the creative process. Allow you to dream, to wonder, to be in awe. It will free the listener from their office, from their coffee shop with the annoying couples, and transport them somewhere else. Where that place is, I imagine, is different for everyone.
Whenever I want to sit down and write in a space for creativity, my first choice is, almost always, Philip Glass' The Hours soundtrack. It's an album with so much repetition of ideas but with such stunning variations, it creates this overall composition that just sucks me in, puts me in another headspace, and allows me to forget all the other crap going on in my life. I don't have to worry about bills; I don't have to worry if my car is going to start when I leave the library; I don't have to worry about anything else but the work in front of me. It's truly a poetic album, and it was written by one of the world's best composers with a unique and unforgettable style. For me, there is no better album for the mind, for being in the moment, than Philip Glass' The Hours. Just listen and let the music speak for itself.