Someone asked me the other day, "Do you have a playlist of music for Flight of the Vajra?" The short answer is yes, and at some point I'll post it here, but that gave me an opportunity to talk about the odd relationship I have with music in my writing.
The other books I've created do all have playlists to go with them as well, but in every single case I can think of, I haven't listened to the music in them while actually writing the book. I listen to the music in them at other times — walking around, for instance. As soon as I sit down, I have to put on either nothing at all, or one of a small list of "pre-cleared" music titles which I can listen to without getting hopelessly distracted. The music in those "for work" playlists are generally totally unlike anything in the "for the book itself" playlists, both in terms of sharing no common material and having no common mood.
So, a few of the albums I listen to when actually writing, due to their highly ambient and undistracting nature:
Cliff Martinez, Traffic (paid link)— My first choice for just having something to listen to when working on any writing project. Almost everything Cliff Martinez has done for various film scores works as well (Solaris (paid link), Narc (paid link), etc.)
Brian Eno, Music For Films (paid link) and More Music For Films (paid link)— My second choice for just having something to listen to, etc. etc. I can play these albums at any time and never feel distracted by them.
Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (paid link) — Funny how this record manages to seep into the background of whatever I'm doing, even when I know it's a good deal louder and more prominent musically than anything else on this list.
Tangerine Dream, Zeit (paid link) — I added this to my for-work playlist while writing Vajra, in big part because the "space music" nature of the album fit nicely with the "space opera" nature of the book.
Various Artists, Vajra (paid link) — Nice compilation of chill / ambient material, which also worked its way onto the work playlist for a certain book for obvious reasons.
Amon Düül, Tanz der Lemminge (paid link) — Mostly for the sake of the sidelong track "The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church", but the rest of it is also suitable.
Some jazz titles (early Miles Davis, for instance) also work.
Oddly, a lot of artists I think should be on this list don't make it there. I would love for, say, Boards of Canada or Autechre to be shortlisted here, but for some reason they have gained specific associations with me that make it difficult to write when I have them playing. They suggest themselves too strongly as soundtracks for particular works, not as soundtracks for work. So a lot of it is about whether or not the music in question has attached itself to the headspace also shared by a given writing project.
(When I post full playlists, I'm considering offering links to Amazon / Spotify / iTunes / et al as needed.)