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10 Albums for the Inspired Writer

If you’re like me, and you work with words a lot, for fun and/or profit, then at the end of the day you want to hear music that has no lyrics whatsoever (or lyrics in a language you can’t understand, which serves somewhat the same purpose). The mind can detach then from verbal formulations and engage instead simply with rhythm and tone. In fact, I suspect the music is itself assisting with clearing the mind.

This was how I first discovered some of my favorite wordless music which I then began playing while I worked with words. The right soundtrack can make you feel more whole while you are writing, more grounded in your experience and more enthusiastic about the prospects of what you are doing.

And so, I bring you five (actually ten) of my favorite wordless or foreign language albums along with some notes of what kinds of project they might be best suited for.

Journey in Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane. The widow of jazz saxophone great John Coltrane, and a monster on the jazz harp in her own right, this album was written just before Coltrane suffered a two year-period of hallucinating voices and retired to an ashram. The devotional Hindu kirtan pieces that came after that are pretty awesome, too.

Use when: trying to effect an actual change in consciousness.


*You might also try: World Galaxy by Alice Coltrane, especially the avant-garde version of “My Favorite Things” which there’s no way in hell Julie Andrews would recognize.


Ethiopiques, vol. 21: Emahoy. You may have heard this in the background of a recent Walmart commercial, but now you know it is was written by an Ethiopian nun who just passed away at the age of 99. Norah Jones says, “This album is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard: part Duke Ellington, part modal scales, part the blues, part church music.” 

Use when: you are working with a single voice and/or a delicate subject matter.

*You might also try: Weder Harder Guzo by Hailu Mergia. Ethiopian music and Reggae share similar instrumentation (and a belief in the divinity of former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie). You won’t realize it’s on, until it ends, and then you’ll wish it had lasted forever.

Dreams by Gabor Szabo. Szabo was a Hungarian guitarist who brought his Gypsy- and folk-inflected jazz to San Francisco in the1960s. He was on the bill the night Jimi Hendrix gave his first American performance. The Jimi Hendrix Experience first, then Szab

o, then Jefferson Airplane. And that’s the concert I bring up when people ask what concert would you most have liked to see.

Use when: you don’t really know what you’re doing with a particular piece, but you’re open to trying different alternatives.

*You might also try: In Stockholm by Gabor Szabo and Janne Schaffer. It’s two guitars now, both speaking, not quite in words, but they might help you figure out yours.

Interludes for the Dead by Circles Around the Sun. It has the trippy jams and good instrumentation of a Grateful Dead show without the lyrics about going out on a high note despite the tragic state of affairs. The loops create long spaces which can be both heartbeat and wallpaper.

Use when: you are drunk, as Baudelaire says, “On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

*You might also try: Live/Dead by the Grateful Dead. Apart from some minimal intrusion reminding you are going to die, this live album will take you on flights of fancy as far out as you may have ever considered going.

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud by Miles Davis. A noir thriller soundtrack that Miles composed with both members of his band and French session players. The plan was simple: get together, watch the film, and jam. The result: a priceless energy of exploration with the simultaneous resistance of perfection.

Use when: you’re writing the first draft of something and you don’t want to get carried away with knowing its final state or where it goes exactly because — whoops — the song is over already.

*You might also try: La Planete Sauvage by Alain Goraguer. A weirder and more sci-fi version of the same concept. 25 songs in 38 minutes, Got your idea? Good. Next!..

Filed under: Stuff We Love

Comments (6)

  1. Jennifer D. Diamond says:

    I couldn’t love this any more than I already do! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Natalie says:

      Too cool, thanks Stuart, can’t wait to check these out.

      1. Stuart Horwitz says:

        Awesome, Natalie — let me know what you like in particular!

  2. Stuart Horwitz says:

    Thanks so much, Jennifer!
    Happy listening and hope all is well.

  3. Tim Flood says:

    And now my journey into story is accompanied by great music. Thanks!

    1. Stuart Horwitz says:

      Amazing, Tim — so glad to hear it!

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