I've heard a number of times that many people who are serious about classical music go through a phase where they only want to listen to Bach. I believe I'm entering that phase. The lucidity, inventiveness, and deep humanity of his music all add up to a mentally clarifying, even spiritual, experience. I just plain feel better when I listen to Bach. Today, my copy of the Brilliant Classics Bach Edition arrived. This is the complete collection of all his works (leaving aside attribution controversies), and runs to 160 CDs... yes, 160. I can't wait to go home and start overflowing my iPod... in particular, I'm eager to delve into the Cantatas, which form an enormous part of his output, and which I barely know.
Chris Howard and I were talking at lunch today about we listen to while working - me painting, him writing. This has actually risen in conversation before, and I've been intrigued that he said the background music while writing can almost become like the soundtrack to the action he's working on... and that it can in no way be distracting or at odds with what he's writing.
While there's no direct analogy with a soundtrack in painting, I am pretty careful about what I listen to while working. I actually have broad tastes in music, and if I'm just doing chores in my studio, anything can be playing. But if I'm painting, it pretty much exclusively has to be classical music. I don't doubt that you can make a good painting while listening to System of a Down or Aretha Franklin, but I'd rather listen to that while driving. Painting to me is essentially a meditative, contemplative act, and I personally find that serious, elevating music puts me in the zone. On a certain level, what goes into the process of making the painting influences the final result. Another consideration is just plain length. Movements of classical pieces tend to be longer than the 3 to 5 minute length of the average pop/rock song... sometimes by a significant multiple. Having a much lengthier musical thought just tends to more successfully foster concentration than if everything changes every 3 minutes.
Interestingly enough, the fact that it's classical music does not stop my studio neighbors from occassionally complaining about the volume :)