We Can Work From Home: TRACKS FOR THE WORK FROM HOME GENERATION

 © Jon Hopkins

By Oliver Hockings

Whether you’re crunching numbers from a cluttered office in a crowded apartment outside London, or burning the midnight oil from a dingy student bedroom, self-motivation has never been more taxing for the stay-at-home generation. If you’ve found yourself struggling to maintain focus or needing a kick into productive action, this list may have what you’ve been seeking. I’ve compiled tracks ranging from contemporary classical, through ambient, to the left-field corners of electronic music that have helped me through this difficult period when a black coffee and an impending deadline just isn’t cutting it! 

1. ‘Scene Suspended’ – Jon Hopkins

I first came across Jon Hopkins’ work on realising his role in coproducing much of Coldplay’s early albums (give ‘Light Through the Veins’ a spin if you need convincing!) and his close ties with Brian Eno. A personal favourite artist of mine from my years of discovering new music, Hopkins has, in my view, an unrivalled ability to blend truly beautiful classical melodies with hard-hitting and transcendental techno. His new ‘Polarity’ tour of opera houses across Europe, is a masterful demonstration of this ability to weave the seemingly paradoxical genres together and was the last gig I managed to catch before the pandemic called time on live music. ‘Scene Suspended’ is one of Hopkins more recent productions, firmly on the classical end of the spectrum and a perfect soundtrack when clarity of mind and focus is what you’re after. 

For fans of: Brian Eno, Biosphere

2. ‘Everything You Do Is A Balloon’ – Boards of Canada

You could do far worse than sticking any Boards of Canada album on shuffle if you’re in need of a late night grind at the desktop. I’ve opted however for one of the brother’s earliest tracks, from their 1996 EP ‘Hi Scores’ that I feel captures both a love of the vintage analogue synthesizer sound and catchy trip-hop beats. The EP as a whole perfectly represents the stripped back, lo-fi sound the duo have crafted over the years and is the perfect soundtrack for those more reflective moments of concentration.

For fans of: Autechre, The Future Sound of London

3. ‘Recovery’ – Rival Consoles

Leicester-born producer Ryan Lee West (Rival Consoles) has been a staple on the London-based Erased Tapes record label with a repertoire ranging from complex IDM and glitch, to harder club-orientated tracks. I first heard ‘Recovery’ played in a Boiler Room set from Italian electronic duo Mind Against back in 2015 when the track first released and I’ve not tired of it since. Expect an emotional backdrop of eerie synths accompanied by an erratic yet melancholy lead and a powerful yet subtle drum arrangement. This track is brain food at its finest!

For fans of: Kiasmos, Max Cooper 

4. ‘Styge’ (Ochre Remix) – Ed Chamberlain

The track that immediately springs to mind under the ‘braindance’ genre (if that’s not too pretentious a category), ‘Styge’ is an electro-infused composition that really encapsulates intelligent dance music. Dug up from the depths of the underground and given a delicate remix from Ochre, this 2008 version features the same warping ambience and complex drum patterns of the original, but the melody is complemented by a harp rhythm which gives the track a tranquil and relaxing tone overall. A fitting demonstration of how electronic music can be shaped for different environments and a must-have on your focus playlist.

For fans of: Four Tet, Skee Mask 

5. ‘Negative Returns’ (Four Tet Remix) – Krust 

Upping the tempo somewhat, Kieran Hebden’s (Four Tet) recent take on Kirk George Thompson’s ‘Negative Returns’ is exactly what you’d expect from the former artist. This remix is completely new territory for Hebden who has produced extensively but never released a remix in the 170+bpm range. Unsurprisingly however, for those familiar with Four Tet’s discography, the track is rearranged and mastered beautifully. It strips back the aggression and ‘noise’ of the original and leaves a delicate and floating liquid d’n’b track which hits those frequencies that really allow you to tune into what you’re doing. Expect emotional and ethereal synths paired with the sample selections we know and love, as well as something a little bit new when it comes to the drums. 

For fans of: Floating Points, Calibre

6. ‘Lone Swordsman’ – Daniel Avery

A favourite selection on Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC Radio 6 morning slot, ‘Lone Swordsman’ is a track from Daniel Avery’s ‘Dusting for Smoke’ EP released on Phantasy records last year. Avery’s track has a simple and contemplative feel befitting of its purpose as a homage to the late Andrew Weatherall, a true musical pioneer in acid house, rock and beyond. The lead melody is dainty and catchy and the accompaniment from the synth chords and drums is understated and yet exactly what this track demands. A real winner from an artist who continues to impress.

For fans of: Avalon Emerson, Leon Vynehall

7. ‘Love’ – Ben Lukas Boysen

Renown for crafting mesmerising soundscapes that owe much to an early mastering of sampling techniques, Boysen has made his name in sound design working alongside major clients in the advertising, film and gaming industry. This track from his 2020 release ‘Mirage’, available from Erased Tapes records, is a showcase of an exciting genre of avant-garde, experimental electronic music that draws on classical influences. It features a slow and emotional build-up of arpeggiated synths set to the backdrop of a string section reminiscent of a Nils Frahm production. Definitely one of the more dramatic tracks to feature on this list but one that captures an intricate genre that’s worth considering if you’ve always thought classical meant little more than Beethoven’s sixth symphony!

For fans of: Nils Frahm, Rival Consoles, Plaid

8. ‘Fundamental Values’ – Nils Frahm

To wrap up this list we come to an artist who’s love of the black and white keys and modern twist on classical music has earned him global critical acclaim. While working with a true arsenal of equipment and scaling up to full blown orchestras in his live performances, Frahm’s compositions centre on a real appreciation and command of the piano. ‘Fundamental Values’ takes the listener on a mesmerising 14 minute journey. It begins with spritely, delayed synth patterns and slightly eerie chords before the piano comes in. The track is a testimony to Frahm’s ability to marry electronic minimalism and looping techniques with a dynamic and free flowing grand piano lead. The track slowly gathers momentum and drama as Frahm introduces and manipulates backing vocals before it enters its final phase in the last four minutes with high feedback on the synths and rapid percussive elements. A true masterclass in the ‘not quite classical’ bracket! 

For fans of: Jon Hopkins, Hans Zimmer

While these tracks may not be a definitive, catch-all solution to getting stuff done, hopefully they serve as a starting point for those unfamiliar with an interesting and burgeoning genre exploring the intersection between electronic music and new classical. Whether they end up being used as a backing playlist to work or study to, or simply tracks to look out the window and ponder the meaning of life at 2am is entirely up to you! 

Enopolis – The Initial Conversation

© Eno, The Green Standard

The year is 2028… Wait, actually; what led to this year, many dozens of months prior, was a period of societal turbulence, related to the policies of those formerly in power. Having taken what was once known as the ‘United Kingdom’ off-piste; their ineptitude in administration, gluttonous mismanagement of the economy and persistent attempts at fostering division gradually turned an apathetic populace against them. Authority withering into disrepair, the ‘Ancien Régime’ stood little chance against the seething mob. Clamouring for new leadership, free from the decadence and limitations of the past, one man heeded the call of the masses. 

Straight away, he got to work, and before long rectified the mischief. The formality of title occurs not with he, whom goes only by the given name and only… the name given. A return to the year of relevance; Vincent is a fellow who, as of late, has been in a coma. Awoken, the society once familiar has long since departed. Numbed with aesthesia and greeted by alienation; he has little grasp on where the tide has swept… with value and purpose each an axis disparate. A figure stands at his side… a doctor, an erstwhile friend, the unassuming harbinger…? Blurred perception receding, an ID tag sighting and a room adorned with ornamental oddities: it looks as though ‘Bill’ is about to say something…

Bill: Ahoy there!  

Vincent: (No response)

Bill: You look well; I suppose you want an explanation?

Vincent: (Looks around cautiously) I don’t even… What…!? The decorum…? That light shining through…? An aged strobe-light…? or just another delusion? (In reference to a colour-shifting light source coming through the window, adjacent to his bed)

Bill: Oh, that’s just another one of those society-scaled generative art installations…

Vincent: Gener…

Bill: I’ll explain, you recall what Brian did for that hospital in Brighton, earlier in the century? Well, now the idyllic luminosity stretches beyond the 4 capacity room, and into the urban cityscape, far grander in scope. Its presence; placating and ever-changing, is here to reassure us Enonians we aren’t blunted ants tarred in the hierarchical pick & mix of before, but relevant entities within a dynamic ecosystem, free from the axe-job of Social Darwinism…!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is educating-brian.png

Vincent: Brian?

Bill: Oh…? (Slight look of pity) Haven’t you a clue? E…N…O? You know from Roxy Music.

Vincent: (Squints eyes) I recall his production work on that Coldplay album…

Bill: (Nods head) Well, he’s moved onto bigger things, leadership namely.

Vincent: Political?

Bill: You bet, a benevolent dictator of sorts… bit of an oxymoron I know, but in this case he’s the Crisp McCoy! 

Vincent: You’re taking the piss aren’t you?

Bill: Not at all, not at all… You remember all that austerity bollocks; the unemployment, the rising cost of living, the proliferation of poverty, rampant corruption, reactionary-on-deck no.1, reactionary-on-deck no.2…? Well, to simplify things… that all got cast into a giant sinkhole, courtesy of our untitled-in-chief… (Proceeds to smile) 

Vincent: (Gasping for air) Ho… how!?

Bill: (laughs) This sachet of wonder! (Proceeds to drop a pack of cards on the bedside table… they read ‘Oblique Strategies’)

Vincent: (Slumps into his bed) Oh boy…

(A mechanical clock, peculiar in design yet musical in chime… chimes, causing momentary silence)

Bill: (While offering a cup of tea, mug tastefully… bespoke) But the inception Vincent, but the inception…

Vincent: (Collects his thoughts, after observing the clock) What about education? I suppose we’re gonna be whizzing around on egg chairs equipped with florescent wheels, while the professor does some eyeliner?

Bill: (Smirks) Good question my friend, allow me to explain; Brian’s experiences at Winchester College of Art in the late 1960’s had a lasting impact on his worldview. Ironing out a new curriculum from the ground-up with his old tutor, Tom Philips, they have completely broken off from the inadequacies of the past… you know that OFSTED-led tripe? Well, SCENIUS now… SCENIUS tomorrow… and while we’re still on the subject (Bangs fist on the bedside table), SCENIUS for long duration!!! (Regains composure, and continues) They also borrowed from the Finnish system: children are now encouraged to be themselves and focus on what actually interests them. No longer are they cajoled into the generational sausage-maker of that ‘honest vocation’ crap, which seemed only effective at producing unwitting salarymen out of what were once… fledgling minds. (Clenches fist in the air) So far it’s been a gigantic success; I can show you some statistics if you’d li…

Vincent: (Interrupting) Another topic please!

Bill: Sure thing (unclenches fist)… Going back to your eyeliner remark, you recall the discourse about transgender people and the issues they faced from certain elements against their integration into the general fold?

Vincent: (Attentive) Go on…

Bill: Well, owing to Brian’s gender-bending antics in the 70’s, it indirectly afforded him a few qualifications in understanding the plight of the LGBTQ community… plus, his experiences as an ageing man with a lack of hair has…

Vincent: …created a mutual understanding between both gammon and… gammon-not?

Bill: Couldn’t have put it better myself Vince!        

Vincent: (Whispers to himself) He really is the Third Uncle…

Bill: (Inquisitive) What’s that?

Vincent: (Slightly perturbed) Nothing, do continue…

Bill: Hmmm… (Scratches chin) Where next might we traverse…?

(15 seconds elapse)

Vincent: (Breaks the impasse) What of foreign policy? Has the international climate changed that much?

Bill: (Nods with satisfaction) Aha! Brian’s stance against human rights abuses, notably with regard to the Israeli Occupied Territories, has prompted him to break off and embargo all who violate the rights of their own citizens. Other countries followed suit and within months the Likud’s grip on power collapsed.

Vincent: So?

Bill: Odd coincidences aside… an appropriate settlement is now being negotiated, after nearly 80 years, peace is at hand! 

Vincent: Whoa… (Hint of suspicion) As great as this all seems… there has to be a cost to all this…? (Thinking cap attached) Surely anyone with that kind of authority would succumb to… what was the word… ah, megalomania…? As certain “case studies” have indicated?

Bill: (Passively acknowledges) Ah the Cult of Personality thing…? Well to be honest, the only aspects I can think of are… the construction projects he favours, as you have already seen, (whispers) slightly… Yet, the employment opportunities generated from this construction boom and the benefits subsequent… have played a big part in the economy’s defibrillation! In turn, the supply & demand situation buoyed, stabilising the prices of commercial goods and public necessities… which, unbeknownst to you, plagued the preceding ‘system’… To take an objective viewpoint (doesn’t take an objective viewpoint), even if society continues to be moulded in Brian’s image, who cares? Taste will always triumph over practicality! (Looks up at the ceiling momentarily)

Vincent: (Visibly perplexed) …Over practicality? I don’t recall any proponents of that idea? Maybe IT IS time I see those statistics…? 

Bill: (Looks back at his friend) Yeah… gains and losses or something (waves left hand dismissively)… Anyway, to wrap up this subject, don’t expect to see any gaudy statues or 50ft by 70ft posters portraying Brian as yet another striped-sash strongman, for he is not… Although, I hope you don’t mind hearing more of his ever-expanding discography? Take for instance my earlier train journey; they played the entirety of No Pussyfooting through the speakers, surround sound…!

Vincent: (He flinches… followed by faux-enthusiasm) Oh goody, should I expect to hear ‘After The Heat’ while I’m out shopping for garden ornaments? Or maybe his co-credits on David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, as I skip about on a narrow-boat I’ve just stolen!?

Bill: (Appears unsure) That’s entirely possible, although predictability has never been a word I would dare associate with a man… such as Brian…

Vincent: (Ponders what next to discuss) Slogan…eering… That Scenius thing you were oddly raving about earlier, that’s taken central fiddle?

Bill: Just a bit… Communities are once again being subsidised… and the aspirants of that god awful Neoliberalism ‘experiment’ are being rightly penalised for their former exploitation. Remember Richard Branson? Well, the bearded prick’s assets have been expropriated; take Necker Island for instance, its only purpose now is to house in-transit refugees fleeing from what was once the United States. Even Brian’s old chum, Bono, whom thought he could get off easy owing to their past working relationship, has been made to pay his fair share in tax… for wise-man Brian makes no distinction, friend or stranger. 

Vincent: America’s no more?

Bill: Balkanised, some parts are better off than others…

Vincent: Huh, well… (Sense of satisfaction) Sayonara, Uncle Sam! (Laughs)

Bill: Seems there wasn’t a particular care for that… Laissez-faire! (Joins in on the laughter)

(Laughter ceases after 30 seconds)

Vincent: So… would it be correct to assume Branson and Bono are toiling in a cobalt mine somewhere…? Perhaps shackled together by-foot, as they pickaxe the earth to help fuel the Eno-Bahn or whatever next is on the construction roster?

Bill: Not quite, reprisals and score-settling of that nature would conflict with the tenants and teachings of Brian…

Vincent: (Tilts head) And what might that be? Thou shan’t slapeth thy head? 

(The clock chimes yet again, its Geneva wheels gyrating as ever)

Bill: (Turns to look out of the window) Musings like altruism and egalitarianism were just the ‘speak of the turtleneck folk’ some decades prior, but now, via the Big Here Initiative, they are inveterate to our society, by order of the Eno! (Looks around nervously, before resuming his previous position)

© Eno, obvs

Vincent: (Detached) Swell… I presume Stoicism has been deemed obsolete, owing to the damaging effects it can have on one’s mental health?

Bill: (Turns away from the window, visibly humoured) Been consulting EBSCO while on the drip, eh Vince?  

Vincent: (Inverted smile) But a measured hypothesis, Bill…

Bill: (Visibly impressed) You know, scholarly types are in much demand nowadays… getting your foot in the cupboard would be an easy triumph, I’m sure…        

Vincent: That’s a new one (Snorts)… Actually, what about law and order? How could that old hippie understand such a concept? 

Bill: Well, rather than brutalising his subjects with batons and tear gas, Brian has made rehabilitation and fairness the norm. His vocal criticism of the former United States’ prison system, ya know; lobbyists bending legislation, inmates as penal labour and… the general shoddiness of the whole thing have compelled him away from coat-tailing the stars-and-stripes, as was the norm prior…

Vincent: (Briefly does jazz hands) Most riveting… err, how’s the field of invention looking… any quantum leaps there, during my comatose absence? Permanent hair restoration…? Speech recognition software for pigeons?

Bill: Ah, the technological angle… Well, Eno’s… (Pauses, then clears throat) Forgive me, Brian’s retrospection on the Manhattan Project, you know, what birthed nuclear weapons… Was summed up by him as brilliant in what could be achieved by humanity’s collective efforts, albeit for entirely the wrong reason! Being the egghead he is, Brian has put the entire scientific potential of our nation to work, away from the capital-drainage of that research & development shit, which he always much despised. Investments are now being directed towards things relevant to progress… cures for diseases still ravishing the modern world for instance. How do you think you recovered?    

Vincent: Huh? (Walks over to the mirror and examines where his wounds once were… not a trace)

Bill: (Winks with a thumbs up) 

Vincent: (Pleasantly surprised) I’d buy that for a Brian…

Bill: (Agreeable) You certainly would… (Briefly glances at the clock) Right then, you’ve probably heard enough talk of our bald-headed saviour, go and get yourself ready and we’ll hop on the ENO // RAIL… it makes those old bullet trains look like foil-wrapped rolling pins!

Vincent: (Unsurprised) Nice… how did our Brian manage that?

Bill: (Playfully points at his friend) I believe… (pointing ceases) it had something to do with… an oversized living room, a few soldering irons… and quite possibly a set or ten of those Hornby Railway carriages, not to scale of course (half smiles).

(Abrupt freeze-frame on the Clock)

© Eno and the gang…