Audio Visual Environment

Estimated read time: 6 min

Originally published on November 6th, 2012 (Last updated on July 3rd, 2020)

I’m a high­ly audio-visu­al human being. I like to lis­ten to music any­where I go, at any giv­en time, large­ly for the sake of being enter­tained, but also because I can’t (and don’t want to) lis­ten to oth­er peo­ple talk­ing. I live in the city and don’t own a car myself, so I’m tak­ing the train or bus almost everywhere.

But in this arti­cle, I want to focus on cod­ing sounds”, the audio visu­al envi­ron­ment i cre­ate for myself to help me stay focused for long peri­ods of time.

What qual­i­fies good cod­ing sounds #

Per­son­al­ly, I think good cod­ing sounds are like a good film sound­track: You don’t notice it. When the music blends into the back­ground and you don’t even notice it’s there, you have found what you’re look­ing for.

Music helps you to get into your cur­rent task. When you’re in, you should­n’t notice the music (or any­thing) around you, just like as if you where in a tunnel.

Depend­ing on your cur­rent task, the choice of sound might great­ly dif­fer. For some rea­son, I have found the sound of rain and waves more inspir­ing when writ­ing arti­cles (like this one), but clas­sic music more help­ful when cod­ing. Although when I’m out on the street’s, I like to lis­ten to more pep­py music.

Cod­ing sounds #

The ques­tion of what do you lis­ten to while cod­ing” has been answered mul­ti­ple times all over the inter­net. Lets look at some com­mon responses.

Silence #

A sur­pris­ing­ly large amount of pro­gram­mers favor pure silence over any kind of music (or they lis­ten to 433 by John Cage).

For me per­son­al­ly, I some­times (long hours into cod­ing) take a short break and real­ize, that I did actu­al­ly not play any music while doing my work. And from that moment on, it’s both­er­ing me. This often hap­pens when short work” extends into an unplanned, long-term cod­ing session.

There is research in this field, show­ing that silence can actu­al­ly be bet­ter than any kind of sound:

Per­for­mance was best in the silent con­di­tion and worst in the famil­iar music con­di­tion, […]
The find­ings that how often music is lis­tened to does not affect per­for­mance in any con­di­tion does not sup­port Etaugh & Ptas­nik (1982) that peo­ple per­form bet­ter in their cho­sen con­di­tion. How­ev­er as silence had the best over­all per­for­mance it would still be advis­able that peo­ple work in silence.

Oth­er than at home or in your own office, absolute silence might be very hard to come by. So, when work­ing in an office with mul­ti­ple oth­er employ­ees (which might have oth­er music-habits of their own), Noise-Can­cel­ing Head­phones can be a good investment.

Ambi­ent Noise #

Anoth­er thing that works sur­pris­ing­ly well (even for me) is gen­er­at­ed or record­ed noise. There is a vari­ety of noise-gen­er­a­tors on the inter­net. The noise nor­mal­ly comes in mul­ti­ple fla­vors like white, brown or pink. We also have record­ed noise, for exam­ple from a rainy day in California.

Mixed togeth­er this can make up for a very inter­est­ing and relax­ing audio­vi­su­al envi­ron­ment. To back up this claim, here is some research in this area:

[…] Stall (2004) also dis­cuss­es the pos­si­bil­i­ty of con­tin­u­ous vs. inter­mit­tent nois­es hav­ing dif­fer­en­tial impact such that con­tin­u­ous may be ben­e­fi­cial while inter­mit­tent is harm­ful, though there is no cur­rent agree­ment in the literature […] 

[Con­clu­sion by the Answer­er] White noise will improve per­for­mance to the extent to which it masks nois­es that may cause over-arousal or atten­tion shifts away from the task with­out caus­ing over-arousal itself. Prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, if you’re in a qui­et envi­ron­ment, white noise is unlike­ly to have a pos­i­tive effect on your con­cen­tra­tion. If you are in a some­what noisy envi­ron­ment, white noise will like­ly have a pos­i­tive effect. How­ev­er, in a very noisy envi­ron­ment it will like­ly have either no or a neg­a­tive effect.

It’s sci­ence.

Music #

Music has been an inspi­ra­tion for peo­ple ever since. And, as always, art is in the eye of the behold­er. It depends on your taste and nature. A large audi­ence in the pro­gram­ming busi­ness (includ­ing myself) enjoys music with­out any vocals, oth­ers have been report­ed to lis­ten to Ramm­stein while coding.

There is actu­al­ly a lot of research around music and how it influ­ences pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and the abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate (espe­cial­ly in the field of clas­si­cal music). To just quote one source:

In bygone ages, con­ven­tion­al wis­dom was that music of ANY kind ruins study. Recent stud­ies indi­cate that slow-to-medi­um paced, non-vocal, non per­cus­sive music can actu­al­ly enhance study, depend­ing on the type of study you’re doing. This means you should lis­ten to: clas­si­cal (espe­cial­ly Baroque pieces, such as those by Bach), non-vocal jazz, ambi­ent music, or oth­er forms of easy lis­tenin” music.

In anoth­er, very inter­est­ing ques­tion, found on Stack­Over­flow, an answer­er tries to span a line between actu­al­ly com­pos­ing music and coding:

[…] I think that the process of com­pos­ing music is more relat­ed to the process of writ­ing a specification (or at least think­ing about HOW you’re going to write a par­tic­u­lar pro­gram), while the cod­ing itself is more like play­ing the music, after it has been decid­ed what the goal should be.

Anoth­er obser­va­tion states, that chil­dren which lis­ten to Mozard per­form bet­ter in Math tests. There is a lot of research here too, but I think this arti­cle writ­ten from a Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy point of view, sums it up pret­ty well:

In con­clu­sion, my research into math and music does seem to sug­gest that music enhances math­e­mat­ics skills. Music tar­gets one spe­cif­ic area of the brain to stim­u­late the use of spa­tial-tem­po­ral rea­son­ing, which is use­ful in math­e­mat­i­cal think­ing. How­ev­er, as to the ques­tion of whether or not music is the mag­i­cal por­tion that will ele­vate any­one’s abil­i­ty to do math, the answer unfor­tu­nate­ly… would be no. Just because most math­e­mati­cians are fond of music, does­n’t mean that all musi­cians are fond of mathematics.

All this sug­gests that there is a con­nec­tion between music and the abil­i­ty to per­form cer­tain (log­i­cal) tasks. Although the impact of that con­nec­tion seems to depend on the indi­vid­ual person.

Sources for sounds #

As for the usu­al conclusion”-part, this will be a list of sound-sources you’ll want to pay a visit.

Ambi­ent Noise #

As a lit­tle per­son­al note, try com­bin­ing the above to cre­ate new noise-pat­terns. For exam­ple, if you mix the brown noise and it’s oscillating”-feature, it sounds like waves on the beach. Com­bine that with the rain and you have a rainy day on the beach.

Clas­sic Music #

Most of the time, I skim through big music libraries like iTunes and look out for com­pi­la­tions. Then, check online and lis­ten to the tracks on YouTube or any oth­er plat­form with decent qual­i­ty. If you like five pieces, buy the CD (they are usu­al­ly not that expensive).

For starters, here are some com­pi­la­tions I have found to be good:

Sound­tracks #

Movie-sound­tracks are often a great col­lec­tion of non-vocal sounds. Try pick­ing up the OST (Orig­i­nal Sound Track) of your favorite movies or games and check to see if there is any­thing good on those.

Here are some fur­ther exam­ples of good movie sound­tracks (per­son­al opinion):

Net­la­bels #

Good music does not have to cost any­thing. Net­la­bels put music online free of charge (and legal). Some of my per­son­al favorites include:

Posted by Lukas Knuth


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