Weekly Head Voices #75: Nature White Noise.

This post is going to be really short, so I’m giving you this 80s theme song to compensate:


In week 25, I finally got around to writing that level sets blog post I’ve been warning everyone about. If you’re into that type of thing, the level set method is an interesting alternative way to represent N-dimensional surfaces evolving through space. Read all about it in Level sets: The practical 10 minute introduction.

Tina Wen, an engineer at Dropbox, wrote up her how I work blog post at lifehacker. I’m a sucker for those types of posts, but what stuck with me this time, was her description of how she keeps out ambient noise at work:

I use earplugs, with headphones over them playing white noise, to tune out the commotion of the office. … Always the same album—Sounds of Nature White Noise for Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation. It’s just the sound of a mountain stream, and it helps me tune out distractions when I’m trying to get stuff done.

Crazy engineer! Listening to the same album over and over…

Well, the album she mentions can be found on YouTube, and now I’ve been listening to it over and over. I have to report that it works surprisingly well at helping to zone out ambient noise and zone into programming work.

This stuff is relatively mild. It turns out there’s a whole industry built on the pseudo-science of brainwave entrapment, using terms like binaural beats and isochronic tones, all claiming to be able to reprogram your brainwaves!

Whatever the case may be, it’s fun going through some of the tracks, with titles like the intriguing “Increase Concentration With Study Focus Pulsating Synth (Isochronic Tones)”, and the especially dangerous-sounding “WARNING! Extremely Powerful Brainwave Binaural – Mind Control Power – Alpha”. You might want to avoid the comments (just in case some of that stuff is contagious), instead reading this blog post debunking the current state of affairs.

Pipe up in the comments if you’ve played with white noise and other types of audio to zone out your environment and into your work!

After a more than sufficient amount of white noise and extreme programming during the week, we spent the shortest and most wintery day of the year (winter solstice, yeah!) in the Helderberg Nature Reserve, more or less in my backyard. It looked like this:


11 thoughts on “Weekly Head Voices #75: Nature White Noise.”

    1. Now that’s pretty awesome! Also do note that the comments on your link, and on the linked 24 Hours of Star Trek TNG Ambient Engine noise (YES it exists http://youtu.be/ZPoqNeR3_UA ) are mostly pretty thoughtful and sometimes even humorous.

      I couldn’t help then clicking through to 2 hours of Deep Space Ambient Mix (http://youtu.be/DVemWCm_uzE ), which is going on my “concentration” play list, and which has fabulous comments, for example:

      Jacob Nelson 4 months ago (edited): “And I’m back, floating in the deep. Deep in the void of the universe, the purity of existence. There are no troubles. This is not an escape from reality, as reality is all there is. Release from the ego that demands answers. The heart of being does not require anything. Take off your shoes and put down that bag. Close your eyes and remember who you are. Stop running. The chase will still be there when you open your eyes. Remember who you are.”

      and then answering:

      AdjacentAgent8 1 month ago: “How did he know two months ago that I would be wearing shoes and carrying a bag? Freaky. Good advice, though, because this music was much easier to appreciate once I’d dumped my workwear.”


  1. I use Atmosphere Lite to mix nature sounds myself, it also has cool presets like Deep Forest, Rainy Day, Night stream, Dawn Chorus, Rainforest and Woodland Campfire :) It’s randomly generated using weights for all the sample, so an endless source of office noise covering sounds ^^

    1. You should upload those to YouTube, because then you’d become even more famous, and Windows-less hippies such as myself would be able to co-enjoy. :D

  2. Somehow, I got used to


    Research shows it’s pretty hard to be creative in a quiet space. And a loud workplace can be frustrating and distracting. But, the mix of calm and commotion in an environment like a coffee house is proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing. Our team has delivered the vibe of a coffee shop right to your desktop, which means when your workspace just isn’t quite cutting it, we’ve got you covered.

    Enough noise to work.

    Full article: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/665048

  3. Yes I have tried the noise. My preference is for pink noise – it is half static, and half ocean.
    Here is your generator, for white, pink and brown: http://simplynoise.com/

    In the end the static got a bit annoying.

    Decided the winning productivity noise is the same old trick of ambient repetitive trance music.Should do it more often. :) My artist of choice is Solar Fields (Carbon Based Lifeforms / Asura also work well). Listening to the same tracks again and again creates the familiar comfort that lets my brain focus on other tasks, while the beat keeps my alert. And it blocks out the open office nicely. That and my most amazing pair of Bose QC15 headphones (a gift from someone very important in my life). But I’m getting all nostalgic again.


  4. I’ve used white/brown/pink noise on an in-ear headset to help falling asleep in noisy environments. Also tried this sleepy app on my phone “Smart Alarm” which has binaural beats to doze off with. When listening to this during work I find them to be too much of an aural overload (has to be loud to make office noise inaudible). Instead I now use downtempo electronic music, something like or familiar old-school Brian Eno albums. For me, the key is repetition, no vocals or voice-samples, downtempo and no ‘off-key’ or noises in the music. The combo of in-ear headset playing music and an over-ear noise cancellation headset also kills almost any noise — great for cars and planes but perhaps overkill for the office.

  5. Have you tried creating your own ambient sound from existing tracks using Paul Stretch? The tracks in your concentration playlist reminded me of this pretty cool tool! The sounds it produces is way more abstract though.

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