Posted on

Background Noise

What brought me here today:

I know that there are people who prefer to work in an almost silent environment. They find noises not connected to what they are working on as distracting. On the other hand, there are people who much prefer a more cacophenous work environment. With music, movies, people talking, etc., going on around then while they complete their tasks.

I’ve worked in both types of environments. As an elementary art teacher, I was once told by my boss Janet that I “tollerated a high level of noise in my classroom”. She also noted that the children were all actively engaged in their work and explorations. Janet chalked-it up to this tollerance being my own personal work style as an art teacher.

When I was much younger, and doing a lot of clerical temp work, the levels of noise would vary. Some offices were quiet as the grave, while others were a hub-bub of voices and office machinery. I was not encouraged to bring my own headphones or music to listen to while I worked by any of the agencies I worked for. And the office radio would never have been something that I would have touched either.

At first:

While we were still in Finland, my husband and I worked in very close proxilty to one another. My husband tends to ‘run hot’ temperature-wise. This makes wearing his large, sound-dampening headphones difficult. Especially during the warm parts of the year. I usually put my headphones in and attached them to my laptop. That way I wouldn’t bother him with whatever I was listening to.

I must admit, I rather liked wearing the earbud headphones. They were lightweight, and it helped to get me into the frame of mind to work by wearing them. My only complaint was that they had a very short cable. Sometimes I ripped one or both earbuds out of my ears when reaching for something just a little too far out of my grasp.

Wireless earbuds that would work with my MacBook were something I couldn’t justify spending money on. My MacBook was old. And I had no plans on replacing it with another Apple product. I did purchase an inexpensive pair of bluetooth headphones to use with my mobile. They worked well in the winter when my cap kept them snuggly in my ears.


I have a metric tonne of music on my old MacBook Pro. When I first started wearing my earbud headhones to work, I mostly listened to music. That didn’t last long. I have the irritating habit of singling along with the music I’m listening to. This includes keeping the beat with my hands, feet, and whatever is on my desk as well. My poor husband tried t see if he could get used to it. But in the end, the music had to be changed to something else less noise-provoking on my part.

Somthing different:

I turned to YouTube to find something else to listen to. At first, I listened to a lot of documentaries on subjects that I wanted to learn more about. Many of them history documetaries. I discovered some presenters that I enjoyed and listened to their entire library of videos. I listened to a lot of American Experience documentaries as well. That is, until YouTube took a bunch of them down.

There were also old television shows I found, like Fireball XLR and Supercar. Then there was Captain Scarlett and Thunderbirds. While I thought these shows were immensely cool, they all have terrible instances of misogeny, racism, and blind nationalist furvor that are just so wrong. Sometimes I was blown-away by the fact that these shows were for children!

I then discovered that YouTube had all the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes. As I type, I’m listening to one right now, The Solitary Cyclist. From there, I worked my way through all the Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple  and the Hercule Poirot series. The majority of what I’ve listed above are things that I’ve listened to once and have been done with it. (with the exception of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes)

Watching or listening?

You may have noticed that I say I’ve listened to these videos instead of watching them. Yes. I listen to them instead of watchinging them. Some people might think that I would be better off listening to audio books instead. No. For me reading is something I enjoy doing with a physical book. I need the physicality of the book to get into reading and processing the information.

What I’m doing by listening to videos while I work is creating a sufficient and comfortable level of background noise. This background noise allows me to concentrate on what I’m creating. Having the background noise also lets me slip into a nice flow state as well. My own thoughts simply become one of the levels of noise, albeit closer to the surface.

Two sides to a coin:

There are two large categories that I’ve divided my background noise into: murder and humor. Perhaps more aptly put, comedy and tragedy? These two categories are filled mostly by any kind of true-crime. Even the really horribly produced ones from the early 90’s. Now that we’re in the US, I’ve been plowing my way through all twenty-three back seasons of Dateline on Peacock TV. Prior to moving, I’d already devoured every crime documentary that YouTube had available.

There always comes a point during the day in which I find myself completely disgusted with the actions of the criminals on Dateline. I have to turn it off. This is when I switch over to the humor category. And back to YouTube to listen to Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I’ve also added Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic and The Mads to the rotation as well. All four are part and parcel of one another. Sharing creators and writers.

I’ve been a huge fan of MST3K for a long, long time. I think it’s interesting that I know the dialogue of these shows so well. Sometimes when I sit down and actually watch the movie I’m surprised at how much that can be missed when only listening, instead of watching. After watching how wantonly cruel humans can be to one another on Dateline, MST3K is a great palate cleanser.

Present day:

The apartment that my husband and I have moved into is rather long. His office is at one end, connected to mine via a hallway. The construction of the building is such that if he tries to talk to me from his office, while I’m in mine, I cannot hear him at all. For the first month we were here, I continued using the earbud headphones with my laptop. So I didn’t disturb my husband. The temperatures were in the middle 30’s and he was having a rougher time than I was. There was no way I would make him wear his headphones!

Once I had my desk set up and started working in my little studio, he told me that I didn’t have to wear my earbud headphones anymore. He couldn’t hear anything that was being played on my end of the apartment. This meant that my talking back to the computer during the time I listened to my “murder shows” wouldn’t bother him. Many times, I’m saying “Get there faster.” and “That’s because you’re dumb.” to the people who thought they could get away with murder.

What does any of this have to do with creating artwork?!

I’m not actually sure. It does help me to generate names for the pieces I make. Which I suppose is rather macabre when looked at from a certain point of view. It’s much easier to see how MST3K and Rifftrax influences my artwork. Thinking that my “murder shows” have any kind of influences on my artwork is a little disturbing. Perhaps if the influence was to show me how not to be a horrible person would be okay I guess. However, I figured out a long time ago that murder was really super-wrong and icky. And had no plans to embark on some sort of career in murder anyway.

So…yeah. Hmm. Not gonna murder.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.