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Music To Write By: Deuter

How many of you work, write, study, speculate about life on distant planets and the extent of the universe or ponder life’s true meaning while also listening to music? If so, what music genre predominates your thinking hours? I wrote about this issue two weeks ago. Here’s the second in this series.

But before we answer that question, let’s first ask – does working to music make a real difference to the outcome? What does the science tell us about working to music. Does it really make us more productive?

In March 2020, BBC Worklife (Zaria Gorvett) published a post entitled: “Does music help us work better? It depends.” Great title – there’s nothing we love more than a definitive answer!

This fascinating article talks about an experiment from World War II (mid-1940, to be exact, when things were not going well for England). Further to a request from the British government – the BBC came up with the “Music While You Work” program. It broadcast live, upbeat music in factories twice a day, with the hope of increasing the pace of work and helping the military get the munitions they so badly needed to fight the war.

The program turned out to be a hit. “In a report on the show’s success, BBC executives cited the numerous letters and reports they had received from managers nationwide. One described its impact as “incalculable”, while another estimated that, for an hour or so after a session of music, output at their factory increased by 12.5-15%.”

Well, that’s all to the good: in certain conditions and with a certain music genre, it works.

But times and technology have evolved. Sea shanties helped sailors work in unison in the days of sailing ships. Clearly, factory floors and repetitive, boring tasks in the industrial world were open to improvement. But now, in this post-industrial era, we have a vast range of genres and people largely immobile (except for their fingers) at their computer stations.

How does it play now? The article reports on a 2019 survey of Britons, which indicated that about 50% work to music and feel it helps them. Some companies even broadcast music throughout the workspaces. Every Starbucks has its daily playlist, as do many grocery stores. State of the art elevators used to have Muzak so we wouldn’t get bored going up and down all those floors. That fad ended years ago and, since then, the company behind the idea went into bankruptcy protection (there’s another story).

Two aspects are at play here – the contribution of music both to mood-enhancement and to productivity. Those two goals aren’t always in sync. The need to concentrate is often at odds with staff motivation. Music divides just as easily as it unites. Not everyone loves Jay-Z and Billie Eilish; far from it. Country versus rap? New age versus easy listening? How about Gregorian chant (a personal favourite)? Demographics are also important – an 18 year-old intern has different tastes than a aging boomer.

The post goes on to say that while individuals claim their performance has improved due to music, it admits it’s never been scientifically proven. The results are “murky at best.”

According to the BBC post, one meta-analysis from 2011 concluded that background music “disturbs the reading process, has some small detrimental effects on memory, but has a positive impact on emotional reactions and improves achievements in sports”. This might explain why the BBC’s wartime music programme improved productivity. Building munitions was tedious manual labour rather than intellectually challenging work. Music might be helpful in the office or it might not but it can make us feel good. And that’s about as far as anyone can go in answering my initial question.

But is writing really work? There are days when I’d say the creative process is so pleasurable, I’d consider it more like fun. But not every day. The great majority of time, I write at home by myself (on an 11-inch MacBook with a monitor), in a separate room, and I write with as much silence as I can get.

There are times, however, when music contributes to the kind of writing I do. As noted in my last post, when I’m creating scenes heavy on nature (forests, birds, streams, etc.), I listen to nature sounds. Although there’s a plethora of free options on the internet, most of it is music-oriented yoga or meditation-type. What I’m looking for is pure unadulterated nature – the sound of the rainforest at night, an approaching thunderstorm, a babbling brook, birds at dawn or sunset, that sort of thing. All incredibly soothing and contributing both to mindfulness and to idea creation.

But when I’m listening to actual composed music, I gravitate to one of three composers/performers. Today I’m going to talk about one – Deuter. Thanks to a family subscription, I invariably listen to his – and all the others – on Youtube music.

According to his website, Deuter was born in 1945, in Falkenhagen, Germany just after World War 2 ended. Although professionally, he uses only his last name, I see that his initials are CG and his name is Georg. He started out playing the banjo in a high-school band but gravitated towards journalism. Following a traffic accident, he went back to that first love, deciding to devote his life to music, traveling extensively in Asia (especially India) in the 1970’s and 1980’s, where he was clearly influenced by the music and instruments. He now lives, composes and records in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

His first album came out in 1971 (entitled simply D); his last one in 2021, called The Song of the Last Tree. It’s a prolific career, spanning almost 50 years. His personal website provides a link to and samples of his latest work.

Deuter’s genre is new age, his style being meditative, relaxing and healing. If I had only one word to describe it, that word would be ethereal. Self-taught and self-recorded, he seems to have mastered every musical instrument there is (a slight exaggeration on my part), including flutes, shakuhachi, guitar, banjo, sitar, santoor, piano, cello, Tibetan bells and singing bowls, koto, bouzouki, keyboards, and viola da gamba. According to the website, he has “recorded and released over 60 albums, all the while never ceasing to explore new frequencies and resonances.”

For some historical and personal photos of Deuter and more detail on his love of nature, life in Santa Fe, philosophy and inspiration, see New Earth Records.com.

The following is a quote from these conversations:

“The music basically is made for myself. For me, music was always a bridge to reach the divine. Music helps me to get into silence, get into meditation and find myself. That’s what I make the music for. When I make music, there’s no thinking about the album, titles, the money, or the world. It’s just the music coming, I’m working inside this music and listening to what the music is saying.

“My goal is to create a bridge from sound to silence, and to bring something from the silence to the listener. To create the silence in the listener. To create a moment of silence in the music. To create a vibration when you listen to the music, through the laws of resonance, we are all vibrating systems, and if you put one sound into another, you can create a certain frequency in the system. That frequency can bring you closer to silence. I have two principals in my music: one is entertainment, and the other is silence.”

I can attest to that sense of silence. It resonates throughout his music, especially one piece that stands out for me. It is called Sound of Invisible Waters, a 9:32 minute cut on the 2007 album Koyasan: Reiki Sound Healing. Beyond the sheer pleasure of the piece, the title has inspired me to create an episode for the prequel to The Ravenstones.

I’ll have more to say on the other two composers in my next two posts.

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