Noise. Some like it, some don't. I go back and forth myself, donning a pair of noise-cancelling earphones when I have to fly but keeping the radio tuned to a classical station when I'm working. But, unlike a lot of people, I don't plug into music when I'm wandering out and about, preferring city noise to earbuds.
If you're one who likes "ambient" sounds when you're working, relaxing or dropping off to sleep, I've got some links for you — and even some research that suggests a mild amount of ambient noise can boost your creativity.
Let's stop by the coffee shop first, where, you'll have noticed, a lot of people are working amid the clatter and chatter — and hogging the tables so there's no place for us to sit. Well now the laptop gang can bring the coffee shop to themselves elsewhere and free up those tables for the rest of us. Coffitivity is a website that simulates the noise of a coffee shop. They suggest you drop the volume of this background to just below the volume of your music, for the right blend, as it were.
It's Coffitivity that pointed out a paper in the Journal of Consumer Research:
Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs creativity.
I think what they're saying is that a somewhat irritating level of noise forces you to concentrate, which produces more abstract thinking. But the garbage trucks have arrived outside my window and I got distracted by the bin din — annoyed, really.
For many, it's not the happy buzz of their fellow citizens that's wanted in an aural mist, but rather the sounds of nature. If this is what works for you, take a listen to NatureSoundsFor.Me, which features a simple four-channel sound mixer that let's you combine your favourite nature noises, controlling the relative volumes of each and their frequency (how many loon warbles per minute). What's particularly good is that the site lets you bookmark your composition so that when you've built the perfect Eden you can get back to the garden whenever you wish, or, better still, download a file that contains your ambient sounds. A tip: there are links to compositions by others, and as they play you can see the sounds they've used and how they've controlled their progress.
Another similar site is Ambient Mixer, where you'll find dozens of "atmospheric" compositions and the ability to modify them with a somewhat more complex mixing board. My only complaint is that too many of the composers feel the need to introduce music into the mix, when a crackling campfire all by itself is what I'm after. But that's easily fixed by muting the offending channel (which, for you, might be the wolf howls, of course).