Friday, February 17, 2012

Music to Write By

Music, the creation of such, is one particular art form of which I have always been in complete and utter awe. Whatever I am doing, wherever I am going, there is always music inside my head, above the little voices. Just kidding! No little voices…not usually, anyway.

I often wonder if other artists write or work to music, or perhaps more specifically, what music they do work to. I suspect that this has been the case since humans started creating art. It’s not impossible that the doe-skin clad person in a cave in southern France was humming or whistling some sort of rhythm as he or she applied paint or pigment to the walls to illustrate a recent hunt or a depiction of a group of animals that held some importance or mystery for their people.

In ancient Greece, perhaps Praxiteles himself enjoyed having a young girl or boy serenade him on the aulos or cythera at a particular stage in the process of artistic creation.

When writing, I usually have some music playing, something specifically chosen to help reinforce the mood that I am prone to in a particular scene. Movie soundtracks are a particular favourite background for me but I never use music that fits exactly with what I am writing. For instance, I am currently working on a large novel of Alexander the Great but, I would never listen to the soundtrack from that particular movie for fear that the images of the film would influence my own writing. I love the Vangelis soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s creation, but my work must be my own. Likewise I won’t read a book on a subject or person about which or whom I am writing a novel at the same time. Finish the novel, then read the other person’s book. Same with the music or watching the movie.

Music doesn’t always have to be full-blown either. Sometimes, it can be a slight intonation that gives a sense of something more, perhaps an unearthly presence represented by a deep reverberation or a single vibrating string. Music by Lisa Gerrard and Dead Can Dance is good for that sort of thing. Other times, I like listening to 'traditional' music from somewhere like Egypt or Morocco. For Children of Apollo, this helped with market scenes in the cities of Roman North Africa.

I suspect too that for many artists, silence is sometimes the best thing. For myself, I need silence when writing dialogue, at least most of the time. I need to hear the characters’ voices (yes, those are the little voices I referred to in the beginning). White noise helps too. How many writers hunker down in a coffee shop for hours on end to write, sometimes with headphones on but often without. When in England, I wrote large parts of Children of Apollo at the Costa coffee shop in Cribbs Causeway mall, outside of Bristol. At the time, the general hubbub of all those people helped me to focus on the pages I was writing and nothing else, kind of like walking through a very crowded marketplace focused solely on the task of finding and purchasing one particular item.

A lot of us may not realize that we are actually listening to or more importantly being influenced by music as we go about our day. Next time, try to note every time you find yourself humming a tune, tapping your finger or playing that mental track to help get you through a task or the day as a whole. Whether it is Gladiator or Green Day, I’ll bet the music is there. 
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