In case you wonder what I listen to when I write—because I have to listen to something—it’s an eclectic mix of new age, fusion, jazz, world, electronic, progressive rock and the odd movie score. I tend to avoid anything with lyrics unless I’m familiar enough with them that I don’t hear them, or they’re in a language I don’t understand. Otherwise the words interfere with my words. I go for variety.
But every now and then I get seriously enamoured of a single piece of music and it can get associated in my mind with a certain piece of writing.
I was on a heck of a kick for “The Brazilian” by Genesis, off their album Invisible Touch, for a lot of the time I was writing asa kraiya. There’s something inevitable and inescapable and shattering about this instrumental piece that says asa kraiya to me.
“Brave New World” (warning, crappy sound quality compared to the original) from the album Beyond the Mind’s Eye by Jan Hammer is totally the theme music for The Games. Shirley can back me up on this. (That book is at least half-written already, by the way.)
Most recently, while writing The Philosopher in Arms, I am flipping over “The Roots of Coincidence” by the Pat Metheny Group, as well as “Across the Sky,” the ethereal piece that immediately precedes it on the album Imaginary Day. I’ve long been a Pat Metheny fan but somehow I missed this one, and happened to discover it while visiting Shirley and listening to an online radio station that plays nothing but Pat Metheny. A commenter on another Youtube version of “The Roots of Coincidence” described it well:
this composition has always disturbed the hell out of me
it's a nightmare done in audio
brilliant? yes of course
enjoyable? i cant say that
i listen to it on rare occasions
i have to prepare myself for it
it's an onslaught of aural sensations
disorienting and confusing
like being lost in a black lite lit maze of cracked mirrors w/ strobe lites flashing too
I don't have exactly the same reaction--I find it more ecstatic, enjoy the disorientation, and can listen to it over and over--but you get the idea. Another commenter described it, equally aptly, as being like “meeting the shadow”.
Another unbelievable piece of music off the same album is “The Heat of the Day” (warning: more crappy sound quality). Check out the incredible piano solo by Lyle Mays. This is currently the tune most likely to stick in my head when I have no other music playing.
And then there’s the awesome “Sensorium” by Delerium, from their album Semantic Spaces. (No link as I couldn’t find a video.)
It would have been very logical to listen to the Gladiator soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard while writing the Mezem portions of The Philosopher in Arms, but I didn’t that much. It’s actually almost too intense. Still, a great album.
Other fave artists include Afro-Celt Sound System, Enigma, Peter Gabriel, Enya (especially those pieces of hers with lyrics in Latin), Andreas Wollenweider, Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Gentle Giant, Jeff Beck, Dead Can Dance (small doses), every single Cirque du Soleil soundtrack ever produced, and many more.
I love Thomas Dolby and would listen to him while writing except that my 12-year-old son Raphi is such a Dolby fanatic that every time we are together in my car, we must listen to Golden Age of Wireless or Aliens Ate My Buick or Astronauts and Heretics. I am not sure what he has against The Flat Earth. Thank the Gods he has taste; if it was Twisted Sister, I’d have to put him up for adoption. Despite being autistic, this kid knows every single word of every song and started working out the tunes and rhythms on my keyboards when he was nine. He also has perfect pitch. He and I actually do a fairly credible version of “Budapest by Blimp,” which is not a simple song, on my piano and other keyboards.
I would fit in with my family more if I were a musician rather than a writer, actually, and I thought I might go that way when I was a teen, until I noticed I spent more time writing. I have one brother who is a professional jazz musician, playing sax and flute in the UK, and my mother and sister both taught music for the Toronto school board. As talented amateurs, my father played classical guitar, my sister plays flute and recently decided to get louder by picking up the sax, my other brother plays a mean electric guitar, and some of my nieces and nephews are musically inclined, too. I read music a little, but one of my hobbies is working out complicated pieces or difficult-to-understand chord progressions by ear (those subtle layered four-note chords for “Budapest by Blimp” were a real challenge). I also do a little composing. If I ever a) find the time and b) overcome the shyness, I might just finish recording the main theme for PA and let actual people actually hear it.
When I look for the common thread among my faves, it’s virtuoso instrumental work (I like to marvel that it’s even possible for human beings to play), complexity of melody and harmony (figuring out my faves by ear is either extremely difficult or impossible) some degree of chaos (I generally avoid classical, because it’s all too orderly and predictable--except for Stravinsky, whose stuff I love), strong, fast and complex rhythms, emotional intensity, and that tinge of darkness mixed with ecstasy.
I guess I am trying to create writing that is like my favourite music. Or else that music is my favourite because it is like what I want my writing to be.
If there ever is a Chevenga movie, I have my list of preferred composers/musicians to do the soundtrack. What I want to do is hire the awesome team of Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, but add Andreas Wollenweider. And Thomas Dolby. Maybe even Pat Metheny.
BTW if you know of any artists I have not mentioned whose work is similar to those I have, please sing out.