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  • Writer's picturePhilip Bryer

Turn on, Tune in, Turn it off.

Updated: May 10, 2020

I start work early these days, before dawn. When these shifts kicked off last year, I found what I needed to accompany my early morning typing was music. Not just any old tunes from my Spotify lists – and certainly not the lively stuff I use when I’m cooking - but something quieter. I knocked up some playlists in a hurry, with the theme of not being too loud or obtrusive. One of popular music, and one of classical. This new set of rules meant I was soon applying ticks and crosses to songs I used to listen to almost without a thought, and certainly without imposing conditions. The problem, you see, was being alone, downstairs in a creaky old house, in the lamplight, and with the mind playing tricks.

Soon after its inception, these had to be culled from the classical list:

Barrington Pheloung’s Inspector Morse album – for giving me the jitters with its here-comes-a-nasty-shock strings.

‘Jetsex’ by Tonto’s Expanding Headband – for its unsettling electronica and weird noises. If you were to ask me why this was on the classical list, I'd have to say I have no idea.

Mozart requiems – for obvious spooky reasons.

Any opera that sounds like a big bloke with a beard is telling me off.

Those cut from the pop list included:

The Simon and Garfunkel album track ‘Voices of Old People’, which is exactly that, and guaranteed to give the unwary worker a dose of the willies when they pipe up unexpectedly.

I dropped most of what I found to be the rather slight oeuvre of a highly-regarded acoustic warbler from the sixties and early seventies, as tracks kept popping up which prompted me to lose concentration on the task at hand to muse, “What is this rubbish?”

For disrupting the attention span, the songs which Leonard Cohen delivers more like poetry readings than melodious happenings. (I know all of The Cohen's work comprises poems, but in some of them I see him reclining on a sofa in a silk smoking jacket, puffing on a Turkish cigarette, and declaiming his latest rhyme to a doe-eyed admirer, while in those I can cope with it’s Leonard with that corking band of his latter years.)

Under normal circumstances I will speak up for Joni Mitchell, but at this time of the morning what might be described as her ‘unique vocal stylings’ are as irritating as the jackdaws that get up when I do and put me off my stroke by squawking down the chimney.

If all this sounds over-fussy, well, if I took a step back I’d probably agree with you. However, in amongst all of these peaceable tunes lurks a hand grenade, which, when the system is set to ‘shuffle’, can go off at any time:

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