There is music, and there is music you can listen to while working on your laptops with your earphones on—which is what most of us are doing presently from our homes amidst a global pandemic. Songs are intrusive, simply because lyrics demand your attention. Instrumentals are more abstract. But again, not all instrumental pieces make for good writing music. Dramatic film score may not be the best thing to listen to when you are trying to concentrate on something else. Calmer music works much better; or maybe it’s just me. This is a subjective list: a bunch of instrumental pieces from movies and TV shows that gets me into the mood.
Une barque sur l’océan from Mirroirs (Call Me By Your Name)
This classical piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel is meant to evoke the feeling of “a boat as it sails upon the waves of the ocean”, but thanks to director Luca Guadagnino, it has been forever enmeshed with the Edenic atmosphere of Call Me By Your Name.
You’re so Cool (True Romance)
Long before Hans Zimmer got typecast with apocalyptic horn-driven scores from Christopher Nolan blockbusters, he made this dreamy escape of a theme for the doomed lovers who hit the road in True Romance.
The Path of the Wind (My Neighbour Totoro)
A track that captures, both, the Studio Ghibli spirit and the synth wave of the 80s, this one’s a magic button to a happy place, composed by Joe Hisaishi, a man known as the John Williams of Japan.
Love Theme (Chinatown)
Rich, dark and moody with a sense of nostalgia and longing, Jerry Goldsmith’s Chinatown Theme evokes, in equal parts, the glory days of studio-era Hollywood and its seamy underbelly.
Can’t Leave The Night (Better Call Saul)
With its old school analogue-sounding synths and drums, the really slick track by Canadian instrumental music group BADBADNOTGOOD always makes me find my groove. I discovered it from Better Call Saul, whose music supervisor Thomas Golubić (who also worked on Breaking Bad) is a fantastic source of music you would have never heard otherwise.
Ebb Tide (Mad Men)
For some reason I’ve always imagined this beauty by American organist Kenneth W Griffin as a soundtrack to an early sci-fi movie. It sounds so old that it has acquired this ghostly quality.
Theme from a Summer Place (Mad Men)
The Mad Men soundtrack is a gift that keeps giving, and this piece by Canadian bandleader and composer Percy Faith—who specialised in pop and Christmas standards—is a lush, unironic escape to 50s America.
Quarantine (First Man)
A track which assumes a whole different dimension in the context of the Coronavirus shutdown, Justin Hurwitz’s lone work after La La Land, featuring a wailing Theremin, puts you into a space.
Rain, Tear and Sweat (Chungking Express)
Someone in the YouTube comments section compared it to a soft-core porn soundtrack, and it’s not far off the mark. It’s sensuous, enigmatic and full of cheap, lurid beauty–words you can also use for a Wong Kar Wai movie.
Playful Pizzicato (Moonrise Kingdom)
With its fast playing pizzicatos—where you pluck the string of the instrument instead of playing it with a bow—a sense of mischief runs through this work by British composer and conductor Benjamin Britten for children: a perfect fit for the whimsical world of Wes Anderson.
Plus Tot (Sharp Objects)
As if looking at life’s flashback through a home movie montage, this piece by Neo-classical pianist Alexandra Stréliski casts a spell of calm. Also has a stunning video.
Watermelon in Easter Hay (Y Tu Mama Tambien)
Frank Zappa’s “Watermelon in Easter Hay”, featuring seductive guitar solos, is like a call of the forbidden, much like Alphonso Cuaron’s road trip movie. “The tone of that song is the mood we were aiming for,” Cuaron said of the track, adding that the script was written over endless repetitions of the track.
Feel free to add to this list with your own favourites in the comments section.