As a music major, I never really listened to music for the lyrics; I could rarely understand the singers anyway. (That’s why, during the final seasons of BSG, I missed the fun when they started quoting “All Along the Watchtower,” but that’s beside the point, really.)
Naturally, therefore, music has been incredibly important to my mind. It’s always been there, providing a soundtrack to my life, driving me onward or soothing my savage breast, lifting my spirits or challenging my assumptions with new and unusual combinations of sounds and tonalities.
When I switched from being a working musician to a struggling writer, music continued to play a big part. A very important part, as it turns out.
I cannot “tune out” the world around me; some people can, and I envy them that. Perhaps it comes from spending 30 years in orchestras, where I had to learn to listen to everything. Dunno. But now I can’t listen to just one thing or one person in a room full of others. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly at parties. It’s not that I can’t hear you talk, it’s that I can’t not hear all the other people talking at the same time.
Writing, though, requires a level of concentration that our busy world and homes often cannot provide. Enter (or re-enter) Music. I can use music to mask the noise and distractions of the real world, freeing my mind to focus on the worlds of my imagining.
But not just any music will do. Ironically, music with lyrics—specifically, music with English lyrics—is unsuitable. I can’t be searching for the perfect word with singers shouting words in my ears. So, music without lyrics is preferable, although foreign language lyrics are acceptable (provided I don’t speak the language…which is a pretty good bet). Moreover, music that evokes a “mood” is what I want, and that mood must match what I’m writing, either chapter-by-chapter or overall.
Sometimes this is ethnic music (Native American music was often playing during The Fallen Cloud Saga, and Egyptian oud music got a lot of play during Dreams of the Desert Wind), but usually it is just instrumental. Soundtracks are a great source of powerful, evocative, instrumental music, but recently I’ve found a new sub-genre that is working really well.
“Trailer Music” is increasing in popularity, and with this increase, the subgenre is evolving. What started as a few scattered wavefiles of repetitive, formulaic, straight-up trailer background music available for the intrepid internet music hound has grown into a following with “name” artists who produce long, involved, often excruciatingly beautiful works of musical artistry. Some of the artists in this genre are still putting out albums filled with dozens of two-minute rising-pattern interludes, and I always (always!) sample a new artist’s offerings before I purchase an album, but I can recommend some names wholeheartedly.
Favorites in the past months include:
- “SkyWorld”, “Archangel”, and “Invincible”— Two Steps from Hell
- “Illusions” — Thomas Bergersen
- any album by E.S. Posthumus
- most any album by Adiemus
These albums have surrounded me with power and drama for hours and hours. Check them out on iTunes and see if I’m not right.