With those ominous deadlines and exams looming on the horizon, or perhaps just the back-to-work blues settling in after the bank holiday weekend, it’s a fairly safe bet that many of you are currently trying to distract yourselves from your academic and/or professional responsibilities – whether it’s staring off into space, refreshing your Facebook page for the fiftieth time in ten minutes or YouTubing clips of cats falling off various kitchen surfaces, anything’s better than having to look at that scarily blank Word document again, right?
Wrong! Help is at hand. We’ve scoured the four corners of the Internet and beyond to bring you our essential roundup of the best non-distracting background sounds around, so you can tune in, focus and GET BACK TO WORK...
Strange, hypnotic and oddly soothing (and one of the coolest site concepts we’ve seen in ages to boot), the idea behind Youarelistening.to is simple: pick a US city, and the site begins to play livestreamed police radio from that city, layering the sound over hazy, atmosphere-heavy tracks (ambient, drone etc). The police transmissions are muffled and indistinct enough to work as background sound, keeping you set on working mode (although they are occasionally quite interesting when the odd murder or car chase gets reported). A good feed for late-night work sessions.
A non-commercial online radio station, Stillstream plays nothing but ambient music 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s a whole host of artists played, including electronic composers like Jason Sloan or more famous names like Brian Eno and Steve Roach – but for the most part it’s a real gamble what you’re going to get. Whether it’s mood music, textural abstract sounds or impenetrable dark ambient (no, we don’t know either) that’s being streamed, you’ll be instantly so chilled-out and relaxed that the next 3,000 words you’re supposed to write will fly by. Probably.
Another radio resource, SomaFM broadcasts out of a warehouse in San Francisco, and has a range of unusual alternative shows that are well worth a listen. We like ‘Groove Salad’, which serves up a nice healthy selection of ambient beats to get down and productive to – but our absolute favourite has to be ‘Mission Control’, which mixes electronic tracks with live and historic NASA mission audio.
If you find listening to actual music too distracting, but can’t take pure silence (or the sound of your co-workers boiling the kettle again) without feeling that you’re slowly going insane, then it might be that sound masking is the option for you. By adding natural or artificial sound (white noise or pink noise are often recommended as the best work aides) into your work environment, the idea is that pre-existing sounds are ‘masked’ from your awareness, meaning you can concentrate better. Simplynoise.com is a great site to try this theory out; it offers three frequencies to choose from (white, pink or brown), as well as an optional ‘oscillating’ feature to add some variety to the sound. The site also offers downloadable 60-minute soundscapes, including ‘Summer Waves’ and ‘Thunderstorm’, as well as a Simplynoise app for iTunes and Android. You’ll never lose focus again!
If it’s all just getting too much, and you’re close to either collapsing, bursting into tears or putting your foot through your computer screen – or all three – you need to stop, take a deep breath and head over to the Buddha Machine Wall. Inspired by the Sam Poh Buddhist Temple in Malaysia, and composed and performed by Beijing-based electronic duo FM3, this page is literally a wall of calming, tranquil instrumental music, complete with different 'boxes' of sounds for you to combine and layer. It's a great way to centre yourself and channel some Zen into your stressful day (without having to resort to tranquilisers).